India, Bangladesh sign water-sharing deal, in boost to ties

·3 min read

NEW DELHI (AP) — India and Bangladesh on Tuesday signed a water-sharing agreement and six other pacts, including ones on space technology and scientific collaboration, aimed at boosting ties between the two countries.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is making a four-day visit to India that is seen as politically significant in her home country, which is scheduled to hold a general election next year.

The two leaders agreed to share the waters of the Kushiyara, a common river, in the first such arrangement between the countries since 1996. The agreement will benefit southern parts of Assam state in India and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.

But a much-anticipated agreement on another river remained at an impasse. For decades, Bangladesh has pushed for a pact on water sharing for the Teesta River, a major transboundary river that begins in India’s Sikkim state and runs through the north of West Bengal state before flowing into Bangladesh.

In 2011, India agreed to share water during the dry season, between December and March, but the deal was never finalized due to strong opposition from West Bengal state’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee. The unresolved issue has long irritated Bangladesh, where many have been critical of Modi for not making progress on the agreement.

Hasina, who has maintained a warm relationship with India since becoming prime minister in 2009, reiterated the need for a formal agreement. “We hope that all our outstanding issues, including the Teesta water sharing treaty, would be concluded at an early date,” she said at a news conference.

The two leaders also spoke about mitigating floods, terrorism and nuclear energy partnerships.

They also announced the completion of the first unit of the Maitree Thermal Power Plant, a joint project that will enhance Bangladesh’s power generation capacities. Since its inception in 2010, the project has faced local and global opposition.

In 2016, UNESCO said it poses a threat to the world’s largest mangrove forests, in the Sundarbans national park, which are less than 15 kilometers (10 miles) away.

The power plant is expected to emit up to 592 million tons of carbon dioxide over its lifetime, according to a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. With South Asia among the hardest-hit by climate change, such a large fossil fuel project is expected to add to emissions problems rather than help resolve the issue.

Still, authorities in both countries have backed the project, especially as energy prices have soared after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Given this, the plant will “increase the availability of affordable electricity in Bangladesh,” Modi said.

Last month, Bangladesh ordered schools to close an additional day each week and government offices to cut short their work days by an hour to reduce electricity usage amid concerns over rising fuel prices and the impact of the Ukraine war.

With China involved in many major infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, India has been eager to get involved in more joint projects such as the power plant. India is currently Bangladesh’s largest trading partner in South Asia, with bilateral trade reaching a record $18 billion in the last financial year, Indian officials said.

Both leaders have directed their ministers to begin negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement this year.

Hasina echoed her country’s historic friendship with India, calling it “the most important, closest neighbor for Bangladesh.”

On Monday, Hasina met with Indian industrialist Gautam Adani, who recently became the world’s third-richest person, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. She also spoke with India’s foreign minister and is to meet with the vice president and president while in New Delhi before leaving for the Indian city of Jaipur on Thursday.

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Associated Press writers Julhas Alam in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Sibi Arasu in Bengaluru, India, contributed to this report.

The Associated Press