Feni river agreement offers hope

Feni river agreement offers hope

[Commentary] Feni river agreement offers hope, but water sharing remains contentious

In the first transboundary river water sharing agreement in decades in South Asia, Bangladesh allowed India to withdraw 1.82 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Feni river. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on October 5 in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina when the latter was on a visit to India.

This not only comes as a relief to the people of Sabroom in southern Tripura because it will ease a severe drinking water scarcity in the border town, but also for the fact that two countries amicably reached an understanding to share water of a transboundary river in a region where allocation of this scarce resource has typically been bitterly contentious. India and Bangladesh share as many as 54 rivers and there’s only one agreement between them — to share the waters of the Ganga river that was signed in December 1996.

There have been discussions over the sharing of the waters of Feni river, which forms the border between India’s northeastern Tripura state and Khagrachari district in Bangladesh, for more than 50 years. It is expected that the 2019 water-sharing agreement will lead to closer ties between India and Bangladesh at a time when neighbourly relation amongst countries in South Asia is less than cordial.

Bangladesh and India also agreed to exchange data and prepare the frameworks for interim water-sharing agreements of six more transboundary rivers — Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla, and Dudhkumar. The leaders of the two nations also held discussions on a feasibility study for the proposed Ganga-Padma Barrage Project in Bangladesh to optimally utilise the water Bangladesh receives as per the Ganga Water Sharing Treaty of 1996. The 1996 treaty is an agreement to share surface waters of the Ganga at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border.

India is keen to build a bridge across the Feni so that the landlocked border town of Sabroom is connected to Ramgarh in Bangladesh. This will open up access to Chittagong, Bangladesh’s largest seaport on the Bay of Bengal. Presently, India’s northeast is connected to the rest of the country through a narrow corridor in West Bengal known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’. A direct road to Chittagong port will make trade with southeast and east Asia easier for India.

In June 2015, Modi and Hasina had jointly laid the foundation stone for the friendship bridge over Feni river when the Indian Prime Minister was on a visit to Bangladesh. The 150 m bridge is expected to cost Rs. 940 million, which will be paid for by India. The distance from Sabroom to Chittagong port is about 70 km.