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Dhaka in river link scramble
- Storm brews as Bangla sends team to stop project

New Delhi, Sept. 27: A fresh water-sharing row seems to be brewing between India and Bangladesh.

Alarmed at India’s attempt to inter-link the Ganga and the Brahmaputra that both countries share, Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia is sending a high-level delegation to Delhi tomorrow for talks to deter the Vajpayee government.

The Bangladeshi team, led by water resources minister Hafiz Uddin Ahmed, will appeal to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee not to go ahead with the project that could put a new strain on bilateral relations.

The team also plans to visit Bengal and hold talks with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on the proposed project on October 3.

Bhattacharjee is scheduled to visit the two observation sites at the Farakka barrage on the Ganga two days before the guests call on him.

The two-day talks between India and Bangladesh will start from Monday. Since senior officials of the Joint River Commission are part of the meeting, discussions will also be held to finalise an agreement on sharing Teesta water.

But Ahmed’s focus will be on the proposed project to inter-link the Ganga and the Brahmaputra.

Ahmed’s Indian counterpart, Arjun Charan Sethi, will head the Indian delegation, which includes senior officials of the foreign ministry, at the two-day meeting. Delhi has tried to allay Dhaka’s fears by making it clear that the proposal to inter-link the two rivers was at a “conceptual” stage and there were no plans of diverting water from the Ganga. It has argued that any diversion of water from the Brahmaputra’s northern tributaries will benefit both countries.

But Bangladesh is sceptical. It feels Delhi’s attempt to link the two rivers is contrary to international laws and conventions.

“Bangladesh will have to face grave consequences if water from the Ganga and Brahmaputra are withdrawn,” Khaleda told Parliament last week.

“Irreparable destruction of the environment, agriculture, industry, fisheries and forest resources will be the result if water from the two rivers is withdrawn,” she added.

Water sharing between upper riparian India and lower riparian Bangladesh has always been a sensitive issue.

After years of hard-nosed bargaining resulting in a lot of bad blood, the two countries signed an agreement on the sharing of Ganga water in 1996. Despite minor hiccups, the agreement has so far worked well. But if India goes ahead with the new proposal, it might trigger a fresh row.

Khaleda expressed a similar apprehension when she told the Parliament: “Since our country is committed to good neighbourly relations and is a member of the Saarc, Bangladesh always maintains good relations with India. Bangladesh has never behaved in any way that is harmful to India…. Similarly, Bangladesh expects that India, too, will refrain from any plan that will be harmful to Bangladesh.”

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