Due to India’s withdrawal of water from the Teesta River, the part of the river that flows through Bangladesh has dried up. Experts are saying that due to lack of water flow, the ecosystem of the Teesta River is in peril.
India has built an irrigation barrage on the Indian portion of the Teesta River at Jalpaiguri district’s Malbazar town. This is creating a major water diversion which has caused the Lalmonirhat’s Teesta barrage irrigation area to dry up. The river bed is now filling up with piles of sand.
The Teesta River enters Bangladesh through Lalmonirhat’s Patgram upazila’s Dahagram. From its entrance to Hatibandha Teesta barrage, the water flow is around 800-900 cusecs (a unit of flow, especially of water, equal to one cubic foot per second). However, the flow is much lower from Teesta barrage to Lalmonirhat-Rangpur’s Kaunia area. The water flow there is around 300-400 cusecs.
Local farmers are planting corn and pumpkin on the dry river bed. The Hatibandha Teesta barrage is almost empty. There is virtually no water from Teesta barrage to the Lalmonirhat-Kaunia area.
The Teesta River is around 315km long. The 115km it travels across Bangladesh is in a critical state.
Bangladesh and India have had many meetings regarding the river but none have proved to be fruitful. The ecosystem and biodiversity are suffering due to delays in resolving the water sharing issue.
With the national polls up ahead, discussions regarding the river Teesta is coming to light again. The people living near the river hope the government will sort out the matter soon. But no one knows for sure when that will happen.
Negotiations on how to share the water of the Teesta have been going on since 1983.
In 2007, a meeting between Bangladesh and India Joint River Commission decided that they will divide 80% of the water between them and the rest 20% will be kept free to maintain the flow of the river. Mamata Banerjee disagreed to this and the deal remains unsigned.
A 2011 interim deal – that was supposed to last 15 years – gave India 42.5% of the Teesta's waters and Bangladesh 37.5%. This deal was ultimately left unsigned too.
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In 2007, a meeting between Bangladesh and India Joint River Commission decided that they will divide 80% of the water between them and the rest 20% will be kept free to maintain the flow of the river. Mamata Banerjee disagreed to this and the deal remains unsigned Moazzem Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
More than one lakh hectares of land across five districts in Bangladesh are severely affected by withdrawal of the Teesta's waters in India. Several districts in Bangladesh face acute shortages during the dry season.
According to experts, if this goes on, the existence of the river will be severely threatened in the next few years. The ecosystem surrounding the river is already critically endangered.
According to sources from Bangladesh Water Development Board’s Teesta barrage irrigation project, a 650-metre long structure with 52 gates was constructed from 1979 to 1990. The project was officially inaugurated on August 5, 1990.
The project was first attempted in 1937 by the then government; the main project plan was accepted in 1953. Later in 1957 the project started to take off but was cancelled due to complications.
History of the Teesta River
The Teesta River originates in Chitamu Lake in the Sikkim Himalayas at an altitude of about 7,200m and comes down first to the Darjeeling plain and then to the Duars plain of West Bengal. It flows through a gorge known as Sivok Gola in Darjeeling. It is a wild river in the Darjeeling Hills where its valley is clothed with dense forest, but its drainage area in the mountains is only 12,500sq km. It enters Bangladesh at the Kharibari border of Nilphamari district.
Up to the end of the 18th century it flowed directly into the Ganges. The excessive rains of 1787 created a vast flood and choked the original Atrai channel. This resulted in the Teesta bursting into the Ghaghat which at that time was a very small river. After passing through Lalmonirhat, Rangpur, Kurigram and Gaibandha districts this deluge falls into the Jamuna south of Chilmari riverport. The total length of the river is about 315km, of which nearly 115km lies within Bangladesh.
Land movement, earthquakes, floods, and geological structural changes in the northern part of Bangladesh affected the original flows of the Karatoya, Atrai, and Jamuneshwari rivers. The present Teesta is the result of these changes and the accumulated flows of the Karotoya, Atrai and Jamuneshwari rivers. The Bangla name Teesta comes from Tri-Srota or three flows. The river has a mean monthly discharge of about 2,430 cusecs. A number of old channels that were occupied by this river and the Karatoya through which it joined the Ganges are still known as the Buri Teesta or Old Teesta.
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The Hatibandha Teesta barrage is almost empty. There is virtually no water from Teesta barrage to the Lalmonirhat-Kaunia area Mozzaem Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
What the locals are saying
A local by the name of Motabel Hossain lives near the Teesta road bridge area. Land owned by his family and neighbours was destroyed by flooding from the Teesta river. In the dry season, since the riverbed is exposed, he cultivates garlic, pumpkin, and corn on the land. He said: “If there is no water in the river, we will be in an even worse state. If there is water in the river we will be able to farm in the nearby lands. Due to the lack of water, the plants surrounding the area are dying. There is no more fish either. If the treaty between Bangladesh and India is signed, both the countries will benefit from it.”
Hatibandha upazila’s Goddimari union chairman Atiar Rahman said: “The artificial flood created by India greatly harms the locals and we face major damage. This whole upazila’s tragedy is the flood we face each year. But in the dry season, the river is utterly dry and that harms us too. The fishermen are changing their profession. There is not enough water for irrigation either. This is affecting the lives of the people and the ecosystem is a very negative way. We want the Teesta water sharing agreement to be finalized as soon as possible. Both the Bangladeshi and Indian government need to step up and take necessary steps.”
What the authorities are saying
The Teesta barrage irrigation project expansion officer Rafiul Bari said: “Even though we built Teesta barrage irrigation project-1 to provide 11 upazilas with water for irrigation, due to lack of water in the river, the farmers are not benefitting from it. We are able to provide water to only five upazilas. Even that is irregular. We were only able to give 500 cusecs of water in the last five years. The river contains less water now. The Teesta water sharing agreement should be finalized as soon as possible so Bangladesh can finally have its fair share of water. The river will come to life again and we will be able to use the water for irrigation.”
Teesta Barrage Water Development Board executive engineer Rafikul Alam Chowdhury said: “We need around 20,000 cusecs of water flow to keep the river flowing properly and to provide the people with water for irrigation. We need around 4,000 cusecs of water to simply keep the river alive; we are not even getting 1500 cusecs of water on average. If this continues, we will not have even a drop of water in the Teesta River in a couple of years. The whole irrigation system will have to be shut down. Bangladesh and India need to sort out the water sharing problem. Otherwise the river will die out for good.”