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How is the China-India balance in the Teesta Grand Plan?

Logan D Suza

India’s interest in participating in the Teesta Master Plan has created new challenges for Bangladesh.

India’s interest in participating in the Teesta Master Plan has created new challenges for Bangladesh. Some analysts see this interest as India’s geopolitical game after China’s initial survey. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is going to China next July after visiting India. Only then will you get a clear idea about the matter. How Bangladesh will maintain balance between the two countries will depend on China’s stance on the project.

Analysts say there is geopolitics in India’s interest in the project without an agreement on Teesta water sharing.

• Loans to China
Before visiting India on June 21 and 22, Member of Parliament for Kurigram-2 Constituency in the National Parliament on June 12. In response to a question from Hamidul Haque Khandkar, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina presented the latest information on the Teesta Master Plan. He said that a loan has been requested from China for the implementation of this project.

The Prime Minister said that in the 51st meeting of the Foreign Aid Inquiry Committee of the Economic Relations Department (ERD), it was decided to request the Chinese government to get a loan on easy terms for the purpose of implementing the project. With the aim of implementing the Teesta Master Plan, completed the survey with the financial support of the Chinese government and submitted the PDPP (Preliminary Development Project Proposal) worth around 8,210 crores to the ERD in August 2020.

Sheikh Hasina said that the Chinese government has suggested a more detailed survey for the phased implementation of the project. The Power China Authority has sent a proposal to the Bangladesh Water Development Board to amend the Feasibility Study Report on August 27 last year under the guidance of the Chinese government. In this context, the following activities are being implemented.

• What is known about Grand Plan
Since 2011, Bangladesh has been seeking a uniform Teesta water sharing agreement with India. But despite the repeated promises of the central government, the water agreement was not reached. As a result, Bangladesh does not get water in the dry season. And during the rainy season, it is swept away by floods. It is having a huge negative impact in the northern part of the country. As a solution to that, the government brought forward the Teesta Master Plan.

Its work started in 2019 with China. In August last year, the Prime Minister announced the implementation of Teesta Master Plan before the public of Rangpur region. The Water Development Board says that in the master plan, it is being said to implement this plan at a cost of 8,210 crore rupees around the Teesta river for the people of the northern region. Under the project, 220 km of guide dams will be constructed on both sides of Teesta river. Planned satellite towns, river dredging and governance, erosion control systems, modern agricultural irrigation systems, fish farming projects, tourism centers will be established on both banks of the Teesta. It will provide employment to 7 to 1 million people.

The China Power Company has completed the initial design and feasibility study of this project called “Tista River Comprehensive Management and Restoration”. They worked in Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Rangpur and Gaibandha on the banks of Teesta river.

There will be a marine drive like a beach on both sides of the guide embankment on both sides of the Teesta. So that tourists can go on long drives. Besides, goods will be transported through this road. Hotels, motels, restaurants and tourism cities will be built on both sides of the river.

However, water and river expert and former director of river research institute engineer. Inamul Haque said, “I have doubts about the extent to which the Teesta Master Plan will be useful or implemented.” Because if India does not give Teesta water what will happen if the plan is implemented. Teesta water is needed first. And it is doubtful whether the infrastructure that is being built will survive the monsoon season. Because then even if the river is deep, the width will decrease. I have heard that the three kilometer wide river will be shortened a lot.

He also questioned India’s interest in this project. “I don’t think India’s interest in this project without giving Teesta water is for any good purpose,” he said. Now India has started competing with China over Bangladesh. And the government actually wants to show something to the people about this project. They are doing China and sometimes India for their own interest.

• China-Indian dispute over Teesta Master Plan
Diplomats of India and China have been talking about the Teesta Master Plan for a long time. India initially objected to the implementation of this project with the help of China. But India now wants to withdraw its objections and cooperate in the implementation of the project. It was formally informed during the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to India. In the meeting of the Prime Ministers of the two countries, besides the distribution of Teesta river water, the Teesta Grand Project was discussed.

In a joint press conference in Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that a technical team will soon visit Bangladesh to discuss the conservation and management of the Teesta River in Bangladesh. He said, “India and Bangladesh are connected by 54 rivers. We are cooperating in flood management, early warning, drinking water projects. We have decided to initiate technical level discussions on the renewal of the 1996 Ganga Water Treaty.

Meanwhile, in response to journalists’ questions about the Teesta project at a seminar in Dhaka on December 7 before the elections on January 7, Yao Wen, the Chinese ambassador to Dhaka, said that his country is interested in working on the development of the Teesta river. He also expressed hope that the Teesta project will start after the January 7 elections.

On January 28, in response to journalists’ questions on this issue, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Sehli Sabreen said, “China is one of Bangladesh’s development partners. Geopolitical considerations will be taken if neighboring India raises any objection to working with China on the development project of the Bangladesh part of the Teesta River.

• What will the government do to balance?
It is said that the Teesta Master Plan will be given importance during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to China in July. But in this case, how will the balance of relations with the two countries be? Former ambassador and former head of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies Munsi Faiz Ahmed said, “India is not giving us Teesta water. Still if there is an opportunity for them to participate in the Teesta mega project the government may consider it…India’s interest in the Teesta project is natural as it does not look favorably on anyone else’s involvement in the region. That’s why they want to be involved here. And even if they want, it won’t happen. Our foreign minister has said that it will be done according to the needs of the people of the country. It is not India or China, it will be done by those who can do it. And if there is one country, another country cannot exist, it is not like that,” he said.

He thinks that in the end the government will try to maintain balance between the two countries. But how that will happen cannot be said for sure right now.

Former Foreign Secretary. Tauhid Hossain said, “When India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra came to Dhaka to invite the Prime Minister in May, he expressed India’s interest in financing the Teesta project. It is a big project through which the entire Teesta River will be managed. I think, now if India comes in the middle then the matter will hang. I don’t know how the Chinese will take it. It will be understood after the Prime Minister’s visit to China.

He said, “The problem is that India does not provide Teesta water. If water was given, this project might not have been needed. And we are not able to pressure India because of not giving water. Can we stress? Even if they do not give water, their interests are not disturbed here. They are getting everything they want.

How will Bangladesh deal with both India and China with the Teesta project? In response to this question, he said, “It is possible that if India now gives 40 percent of Teesta water, although we want 50 percent. Then Bangladesh can tell China that our problem is solved for now. We will see the project later. This is a theoretical discussion of mine. Although I don’t think it will ever be possible in reality.”

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