THE water resources ministers of India and Bangladesh held two-day long discussions over the gamut of their common rivers-related concerns and reached agreements on certain aspects last Wednesday. The same include a pledge in the agreed minutes for the water resources ministers to jointly visit the affected sites of river erosion and prepare a report on the same in a couple of months time. In the press conference following the Joint River Commission (JRC) meeting, the Indian minister admitted that the adverse effects of river erosion were serious for Bangladesh and the same called for urgent actions.
The sharing of the waters of the six common rivers including the Teesta was a vital talking point for Bangladesh. No agreement in respect of a water sharing formula over these rivers was agreed at this 36th meeting of the JRC in Dhaka. But it was agreed that the matter would be referred to a joint technical committee for that body to submit its report to the JRC for the taking of a decision. This seems reasonable because a technical committee would be best to narrow or remove the differences of the two sides for the full body of the JRC to take the ultimate decision. River talks between sovereign countries can be a long and contentious process involving a long time spent on negotiations. Thus, it is nothing unusual that the same process will be seen in the sharing of the waters of these six rivers between India and Bangladesh.
A progress was marked in the agreed minutes after this 36th JRC meeting that, from now on, once the date for a meeting of the JRC is decided, both sides would try their best to hold it on the scheduled date. The next or the 37th meeting of the JRC has been scheduled for holding in India within six months and all the unresolved business from the just concluded JRC meeting are expected to be carried over to it for further discussions. There was also agreement in the Dhaka meeting of the JRC that Bangladesh would get flood warning information from India earlier than what is now the current practice. The Indian side also assured Bangladesh in the meeting that their government has no plans to link the rivers of the Himalayan basin. Therefore, there is no reason for concern in Bangladesh over the issue. Furthermore, the Indian delegation also sought to dispel misgivings in Bangladesh by stating that the Tipaimukh barrage is not yet in the process of implementation and that they would agree to evaluate the observance of the Ganges water sharing treaty. The Tipaimukh barrage, if constructed and made operational, could economically and ecologically ruin Bangladesh's Sylhet region and its adjoining districts. Bangladesh would need to be extremely wary --notwithstanding these assurances -- because India has a record of keeping the other side off track in negotiations through such assurances while unilaterally pressing ahead with its plans.
Thus, there can be no justification for looking too pessimistically at the results of the 36th JRC meeting as entirely barren and unproductive for Bangladesh. No spectacular progress was made but then the same ought not to be expected either because it was observed in all negotiations about rivers round the world that these take a long time for the ultimate reconcilement of the conflicting positions of any two sides. Bangladesh and India cannot realistically be above the process since they are co-riparians and the vital interests of both are linked to their common rivers. Understandably, both sides will seek to maximize their advantages in talks or negotiations which may delay the taking of decisions. But the encouraging aspect is that the two countries appear to have agreed to a framework at their Dhaka meeting to make the JRC a more functional body with timely and frequent holding of its meetings to carry negotiations faster forward towards mutually acceptable solutions.