Will Sikkim be Part of Teesta Talks As Sheikh Hasina Arrives in India?

Experts say it will be difficult to resolve the Teesta issue without keeping Sikkim, from where Teesta originates, in the talks.

Kolkata: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is in India to attend the convocation of Viswa Bharati University, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will have a meeting on Saturday.

The Bengal CM told journalists at Visva Bharati that a separate meeting will be held in Kolkata between the two leaders on the last day of Sheikh Hasina's visit to West Bengal. This has given rise to possible talks over Teesta water dispute.

The meeting assumes significance because of the Teesta Water sharing agreement between the two countries against which Banerjee has publicly expressed her reservation.

The critics though are asking if it is possible or fair to take any decision on Teesta water dispute without keeping Sikkim in the loop?

It will be impossible to resolve the issue without keeping Sikkim, from where Teesta originates, in the talks. According to experts, one of the key solutions to the water crisis could be small storage dams near upper Teesta in Sikkim during the rainy season.

Speaking to News18, former Indian footballer and politician Bhaichung Bhutia – who is officially going to launch his new political party ‘Hamro Sikkim Party’ on May 31 in Sikkim – said, “Teesta River originates in Sikkim’s Chhombo Chhu glacial lake at the tip of the Teesta Khangse glacier. Since the origination of the river is from Sikkim, I think all stakeholders (central government, west Bengal, Bangladesh and Sikkim) should be kept in the loop before taking any final decision.”

With a likely meeting over Teesta by PM Modi, Mamata Banerjee and Sheikh Hasina, he said, “I think our Chief Minister Pawan Chamling is aware of the issue and we are hopeful that he will take a call considering the interest of the people in Sikkim. Ideally, all stakeholders should be on same table to discuss the issue.”

Sikkim-based Physical Geographer Dr Dilli Ram Dahal – who was honoured for his work at Visva Bharati today - too felt that Sikkim should be part of any dialogue related to Teesta.

“Teesta originates from Sikkim and undoubtedly Sikkim role is very important in resolving this water crisis. The central government should also consider as an important stakeholder in this issue,” he told News18.

Bangladesh is a water rich country when compared to India.

India has 1,907.8 billion cubic metres (BCM) water resources, of which West Bengal’s share is 176 BCM. On the other hand, Bangladesh, a much smaller country, has 1,211 BCM water resources.

Teesta is a rain-fed river with an average annual flow of 60 BCM. During lean season between April and June, the average flow in lower areas is just 6 BCM.

Considering these, it will be difficult for India to share water on a 50:50 basis. Also, the catchment area in India is higher at 10,155 sq km, compared with Bangladesh’s 2004 sq km.

River expert Kalyan Rudra, who was requested by Mamata Banerjee to prepare a ground report on Teesta, said, “I have submitted by report on Teesta to the government. I am not supposed to divulge anything in this matter.”

When asked whether Sikkim should be part of Teesta dialogue, he said, “I will not like to comment on this matter.”

Sources said, Mamata may suggest PM Modi to initiate talks with Bhutan to link Sankosh River with Teesta for augmenting water supply. She may also seek funds for augmentation of Teesta water flow at Gazoldoba (near Siliguri) to store more water for the lean seasons.

Farming of drought resistant crops and interlinking of Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganga (MSTG) Rivers for lasting solution might also be Mamata’s formula besides offering Torsa water to Bangladesh.