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‘China twist in India-Bangladesh river dispute’

Published: 31st Aug, 2020

With the India-Bangladesh water-sharing deal stuck, Dhaka has begun to discuss a Chinese loan to manage the river.


With the India-Bangladesh water-sharing deal stuck, Dhaka has begun to discuss a Chinese loan to manage the river.

The current issue

  • Bangladesh is discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river.
  • The project is aimed at managing the river basin efficiently, controlling floods, and tackling the water crisis in summers.
  • India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta.
  • More importantly, Bangladesh’s discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh

How has the Teesta dispute progressed?

  • The two countries were on the verge of signing a water-sharing pact in September 2011, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was going to visit Bangladesh.
  • But, West Bengal Chief minister Mamata Banerjee objected to it, and the deal was scuttled.

Basin details

  • The Teesta River originates from the Pahunri (or Teesta Kangse) glacier above 7,068 m, and flows southward through gorges and rapids in the Sikkim Himalaya.
  • The river then flows past the town of Rangpo where the Rangpo River joins, and where it forms the border between Sikkim and West Bengal up to Teesta Bazaar.
  • Just before the Teesta Bridge, where the roads from Kalimpong and Darjeeling join, the river is met by its main tributary, the Rangeet River.
  • At this point, it changes course southwards flowing into West Bengal.
  • The river then goes merging up with the Brahmaputra River after it bifurcates the city of Jalpaiguri and flows just touching Cooch Behar district at Mekhliganj and moves to Fulchori in Bangladesh.
  • Teesta river ultimately drains into Brahmaputra at Teestamukh Ghat in Kamarjani- Bahadurabad in Rangpur district of Bangladesh.
  • Teesta and most of its tributaries are flashy mountain rivers and carry boulders and considerable quantity of sediment. The flow is turbulent and characterised by high velocities.
  • The Teesta basin in India extends over an area of 9,855 sq.km, which is nearly 0.28% of the total geographical area of the country.
  • The basin lies in the states of Sikkim (72.43%) and West Bengal (27.57%).
  • Teesta is a 414 km long river with total drainage area of 12,540 sq.km,flowing through India and Bangladesh.

India and Bangladesh’s relationship over the years

  • New Delhi has had a robust relationship with Dhaka, carefully cultivated since 2008, especially with the Sheikh Hasina government at the helm.
  • India has benefited from its security ties with Bangladesh, whose crackdown against anti-India outfits has helped the Indian government maintain peace in the eastern and Northeast states.
  • Bangladesh has benefited from its economic and development partnership. Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia.
    • Bilateral trade has grown steadily over the last decade: India’s exports to Bangladesh in 2018-19 stood at $9.21 billion, and imports from Bangladesh at $1.04 billion.
  • India also grants 15 to 20 lakh visas every year to Bangladesh nationals for medical treatment, tourism, work, and just entertainment.
  • For India, Bangladesh has been a key partner in the neighbourhood first policy — and possibly the success story in bilateral ties among its neighbours.
  • However, there have been recent irritants in the relationship.

How Bangladesh and China are growing together?

  • Biggest trading partner: China is the biggest trading partner of Bangladesh and is the foremost source of imports.
  • Increase in exports: Recently, China declared zero duty on 97% of imports from Bangladesh. The concession flowed from China’s duty-free, quota-free programme for the Least Developed Countries.
  • Huge financial assistance: India too has provided developmental assistance worth $10 billion, making Bangladesh the largest recipient of India’s total of $30 billion aid globally. China has promised around $30 billion worth of financial assistance to Bangladesh.
  • Strong defence ties: Additionally, Bangladesh’s strong defence ties with China make the situation complicated.
  • Biggest arm supplier: China is the biggest arms supplier to Bangladesh. Bangladesh forces are equipped with Chinese arms including tanks, missile launchers, fighter aircraft and several weapons systems. Recently, Bangladesh purchased two Ming class submarines from China.

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