Chairman of the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury had an exclusive interview recently with Indian newspaper The Telegraph, following which experts came down heavily on him for his apparent failure to safeguard country interest.
With the headline “Dam mooted to break Teesta logjam: Bangladesh policy maker doesn’t see a chance to get more river water from Bengal,” The Telegraph quoted the NRCC chairman as saying during the interview that diversion of water from West Bengal to Bangladesh during the lean season will not be possible because of West Bengal’s diversion of almost all the water at Gajoldoba through the Mahananda link channel as part of supporting agriculture and drinking water needs there.
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When asked, Manjur said, “If you look at the case from a political point of view, then you can see the weaker position of Trinamul Congress in the northern districts of west Bengal. That’s why, Trinamul Congress will not give consent to share any water from the political capital of the region with its neighbouring country.”
He tried to suggest, on the contrary, that Bangladesh should build a reservoir on the river to store water in monsoon water and seek financial support from India in that case.
Prominent Indian journalist Jayanta Bashu, who recently visited Sylhet for the purpose of attending a conference, wrote in his article that the NRCC chairman’s statement can be considered as a step-down of Bangladesh from its long-standing demand for a mentionable part of Teesta water.
A number of Bangladeshi experts also expressed criticised the NRCC chairman for his views and comments. Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon General Secretary Sharif Jamil said, “Whatever Manjur said is against Bangladesh’s interest, as Bangladesh legally deserves a reasonable share of Teesta’s water. It is a crystal-clear fact that India is depriving Bangladesh of due share of Teesta water in the lean season.”
He added, “If you consider the world perspective, you’ll see that everywhere countries share the water of trans-boundary rivers, and it’s a common practice without any doubt as it is supported by all international treaties and practices. But Manjur’s remarks are against all of these points.”
While speaking on the subject, Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA) Chief Executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, “When making comments on important issues such as the Teessta water division, lawyers should be aware of the government’s position and proceed accordingly. The government of Bangladesh is trying to get what they deserve from Teesta water.”
Former NRCC Chairman Mujibur Rahman Howlader said, “Resolving the problems aroused by trans-boundary rivers is a subject matter of the Joint Rivers Commission. Even Bangladesh’s deserving part of Teesta’s water is acknowledged by the Indian government itself.”
Imtiaz Ahmed, a Dhaka University professor, expressed his displeasure while discussing the subject. He said, “there are about 20 million people living along the Teesta River who have been bearing hardships for years because of not getting water in lean seasons.”
As media approached him, NRCC Chairman Manjur said, “All that I’ve told The Telegraph are my personal opinions, and I don’t think I’ve said anything that should be counted as the one from the chairman of this body. From 2011 to 2012, I wrote multiple articles where I continuously said that India was not going to share any of the portion of water from the Teesta, and I still stick to my opinion.”
He continued, “The topic was also not addressed in the most recent prime ministerial-level discussions, which means it is no longer a subject matter to be talked about in an official manner.” He also claimed that The Telegraph didn’t publish all of his comments regarding the topic, and whatever was revealed there was part of his overall discussion. Asked whether his comments went against Bangladesh’s interests, The NRCC chairman avoided giving any direct answer.