The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi bends to Bangla hilsa dash

New Delhi, Oct. 1: The prospect of Padma’s hilsa losing its taste and eventually disappearing is a concern no Bangladeshi can ignore. It is worse if India — “the regional bully” and favourite whipping boy of Dhaka’s politicians — has a hand in it.

The concerns raised by Bangladesh over India’s proposed project to inter-link the Ganga and the Brahmaputra ranged from damage to the ecology to the adverse effect on navigation. Though the possible disappearance of the hilsa was not put on the table, it must have played an important role in the marathon negotiations.

The talks ended “amicably” this morning after India accepted Bangladesh’s demand of including the issue in the document signed by the two sides. Apart from the inter-linking, the discussions covered sharing of waters of the Teesta and six other rivers.

“The proposed project has serious implications for Bangladesh as it will not only affect the flow of water into our country but also affect the ecology and our navigation,” a Bangladeshi official said. “Moreover, it is likely to affect our hilsa. The hilsa of Padma requires a particular level of salinity for its taste. If India goes ahead with the inter-linking of the two main rivers, the hilsa, which is the pride of Bangladesh, may disappear altogether.”

The two-day talks between Bangladesh water resources minister Hafizuddin Ahmad and his Indian counterpart Arjun Charan Sethi were stalled last night for several hours. Ahmad insisted that the proposed inter-linking project be included in the joint document but Sethi felt the project did not merit mention because it was only at a “conceptual stage”.

After seven hours of negotiations made no headway, Ahmad said if the issue was not included in the document, he would leave without signing it. The Indian side realised this would create another strain in the sensitive Indo-Bangladesh relations that have seen more downs than ups in recent times.

Delhi yielded and the document was signed by Ahmad and Sethi early this morning. It also assured Dhaka that once the task force assigned to do a feasibility study on the project submits its report later this year and if India decides to go ahead, it will consult Bangladesh.

During the talks, the two sides also reviewed the progress of the Ganga water sharing treaty and expressed satisfaction over it.

On sharing of Teesta waters — Bangladeshis are asking for a 50 per cent share and Indians are not willing to give more than 17 per cent — the two sides agreed to hold another round of discussions in December.

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