In an apparent bid to counter criticism of her for blocking the Teesta river water sharing treaty between India and Bangladesh, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee yesterday said Dhaka had set up barrages and structures to change the course of three common rivers — Atrai, Tangon and Punarbhava.
In a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi whom she met for half an hour here in New Delhi, Mamata said the India-Bangladesh Ganga water-sharing treaty had not benefitted West Bengal or ensured the navigability at Kolkata and Haldia ports.
She asked the Indian government to prepare a comprehensive plan to address the problem.
The Atrai, Tangon and Punarbhava originated in Bangladesh and then entered India before flowing back into the country. The natural flow of the waters has been affected by barrages and river-controlling structures in Bangladesh, resulting in a decline in water flow in lean months, Mamata said in the letter, adding that water supply for irrigation, drinking, horticulture and pisciculture was badly affected in Dakshin Dinajpur district of West Bengal.
“It is reported that Bangladesh government has constructed a rubber barrage on Atrai at Mohanipur in Dinajpur (Bangladesh), which is about four km away from Indian border,” reads the letter that was released at a media conference in New Delhi.
Bangladesh suddenly released heavy quantum of water from the river-control structures on the upstream in the last week of April, causing inundation of crops in West Bengal, its chief minister said, putting the loss estimation at Rs 32.80 crore.
Nearly 3,000 farmers were affected by floods in India, she said asking the Indian government to take up the issue with Dhaka at “the appropriate level.”
In the letter, Mamata also claimed that West Bengal Pollution Control Board had found severe level of pollutants in the waters of the Mathabhanga river that originated in Bangladesh and entered Nadia district of West Bengal as the Churni river.
The quality of water of the Churni on the Indo-Bangladesh border is “extremely poor” and cannot be used for purposes like fish farming, she said, asking the Bangladesh government to consider the seriousness of the problem and initiate remedial measures.
Mamata has been facing criticism both in India and Bangladesh for repeatedly obstructing the signing of the Teesta water sharing deal. She refused to budge from her stance during talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Modi when Hasina visited India in April this year.
Mamata said West Bengal government’s experience with the 1996 India-Bangladesh Ganga water sharing treaty was not a happy one. She pointed out the “adverse” impacts on the availability of water in her state and land erosion in Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia districts.
The lack of water in the Ganga during the lean season occasionally causes shutting down of the National Thermal Power Plant in Farakka. “The promise of making water available” has not been fulfilled, according to the letter.
In 2005, the Indian government agreed to take up anti-river-erosion work along a stretch of 120km in the Ganga-Padma river system in Malda and Murshidabad districts, but the commitment was not kept by the Indian government, Mamata said.
As per an estimation made in 2015, the damage of public and private properties due to land erosion was Rs 707 crore. Since then, further erosion along the river has been noticed and the total loss of private and public properties caused by the Farakka barrage would now exceed Rs 1,000 crore, the West Bengal chief minister said.
Mamata asked the Indian PM to direct the Farakka barrage authority to draw up a comprehensive plan in consultation with West Bengal to take up anti-erosion and bank protection work on the entire stretch of the Ganga-Padma river both downstream and upstream.
MAMATA’S OTHER COMPLAINTS
She said Bangladesh sharply hiked the import duty on mangoes from Malda district of West Bengal, which had an adverse impact on the livelihood of lakhs of mango growers on that side of the border.
Bangladesh usually consumes around 70 percent of the mangoes grown in Malda district and the import duty has been increased from Rs 13.5 per kg to Rs 29 per kg in 2016.
This has resulted in drastic reduction of exports from 2,900 tonnes to nearly 46 tonnes from West Bengal to Bangladesh, Mamata said asking the Indian government to discuss the matter with Bangladesh in the interest of mango growers in the state.