Farakka water sharing talks without informing Bengal: Mamata Banerjee

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Kolkata, Jul 8 (PTI) Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday said the state was in the dark even as there were talks of renewal of the Farakka water sharing treaty with Bangladesh, despite West Bengal being a key stakeholder as the river passes through it to the neighbouring country.

She raised apprehensions about potential water sharing from Teesta River with Bangladesh, questioning whether the waterbody has sufficient water throughout the year for such initiatives.

"Without informing us, it is being said that the Farakka (water sharing) treaty will be renewed," she said, maintaining that apart from Bengal, Bihar will also be affected.

"Though we are the main party, we were not informed when our PM held talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart," she told a press conference at the state secretariat on the flood-like situation in North Bengal.

In a letter to PM Narendra Modi on June 24, Banerjee had expressed "strong reservation" over the Centre excluding the state government from discussions with Bangladesh regarding Teesta water sharing and the Farakka Treaty.

Focusing on the 1996 Bangladesh Farakka Treaty, which, according to Banerjee, is currently in the process of renewal ahead of its scheduled expiry in 2026, she urged the PM to not hold any such discussions with the neighbouring country without involving the Bengal government.

"Now, they are talking of sharing water from Teesta," she said, asking whether it has adequate water to go ahead with any such project.

Maintaining that the people of north Bengal will not even get drinking water if it is done, she said water flow in the Teesta during monsoon should not be construed as regular water level in the river throughout the year.

The river has been at spate for the past several days owing to heavy rains in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim, cutting off road connectivity at several places in the hills and inundating low-lying areas in the plains.

Stating that several hydel projects in Sikkim are drawing water from Teesta, Banerjee said, "The central government should have intervened then." Banerjee said despite having taken up the issue a number of times, no action has been taken.

The letter, which was sent by Banerjee in the wake of Modi's recent bilateral talks with Sheikh Hasina in Delhi, followed Banerjee's reported displeasure expressed in close circles after details of the meet between the two heads of state were reported in national media.

"I am writing this letter in context of the recent visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. It seems that water sharing issues relating to the Ganges and Teesta rivers may have been discussed during the meeting. Such unilateral deliberations and discussions without consultation and the opinion of the state government is neither acceptable nor desirable," she said in a three-page letter to Modi.

Bengal has a very close relationship with Bangladesh - geographically, culturally and economically, she noted.

The West Bengal CM said on Monday that the state was not informed when a dam was built over Atreyee river by Bangladesh in its territory, in collaboration with China.

Banerjee said this has led to water crisis in vast areas of South Dinajpur district of the state.

"I had raised the issue during Indo-Bangladesh bilateral meetings, where I used to be invited earlier," she said, maintaining that no steps have been taken to solve the problem.

Banerjee urged greater central government responsibility in addressing issues like erosion in the River Ganga, particularly noting the neglect in dredging operations at Farakka.

"For the last 10 to 12 years, they (Centre) are not looking after it and have not spent a paisa to stop erosion of Ganga," she said.

"When the (Farakka water sharing) treaty was signed with Bangladesh, it was decided that dredging of Ganga will be done to ensure there is no problem here (of water scarcity) owing to the water going to the neighbouring country," she said.

Banerjee said a Rs 700-crore package had also been prepared to stop erosion and build houses of those affected by erosion of Ganga. She said the money has not been paid so far by the Centre to Bengal. PTI AMR MNB

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