Mamata shelves Teesta report

Believe it or not, the report on the Teesta river that West Bengal government had commissioned last year has been shelved unceremoniously.

Hydrologist Kalyan Rudra submitted his ‘preliminary’ report to chief minister Mamata Banerji in person in early December, highly placed sources in the West Bengal government said.

Mamata Banerji has not talked about it at all, not even acknowledged receiving the report , let alone share its findings with the media or the Union government, which is keen to push through an agreement on sharing the Teesta waters with Bangladesh.

Rudra has kept himself strictly off limits from the media, saying he will not “utter one word” on the issue.

But highly-placed sources in West Bengal government say that the chief minister is unhappy with Rudra’s observations.

Though the hydrologist has not be able to get full details on the Teesta from the Central Water Commission and has thus not been able to submit a ‘complete report’, he has based his observations on data he could garner from various sources including the West Bengal Irrigation department.

Rudra has reportedly said that “in the interest of keeping the Teesta alive, it is important to maintain the normal flow of the river towards Bangladesh.”

He has said that towns like Jalpaiguri and Haldibari exist in the 72-kms stretch between the Gajoldoba barrage and Burigram where the Teesta enters Bangladesh.

A combined population of around 1.5 to 2 million people, all Indian citizens, live in this stretch – so it would not be fair to deprive them of the use of the river by withdrawing much water from the Gajoldoba barrage for irrigation purposes.

Rudra has reportedly observed that the Teesta river should be allowed to flow ‘as normally as possible’ into Bangladesh – or else it will dry up if too much of its waters are withdrawn upstream.

It is possible that this has not gone down well with Mamata Banerji.

She has reportedly told Kalyan Rudra to be done with the report and not speak about it.

Sources in West Bengal say the chief minister is not happy because she has not got a ‘complete report’.

Kalyan Rudra reportedly told her a complete report was not possible unless some of the classified data on the Teesta (which originates in the Sikkim highlands near the border with China) is provided by the Central Water Commission – for which the West Bengal government has to chip in with a commitment to keep the data secret.

That is what the West Bengal government has not done – ask the Central Water Commission for the classified data on the Teesta for use by the one-man Rudra committee.

But those who know Kalyan Rudra well say the hydrologist, like many river specialists, is against random withdrawl of water in the upper stretches because that can threaten the normal flow of the rivers and lead to their drying up.

This does not fit well with Mamata Banerji’s scheme of things – so the report has been quietly shelved and the West Bengal chief minister has not come out with her views on the Teesta water sharing treaty that Delhi is keen to sign with Dhaka at the earliest.

Senior Indian officials responsible for drafting the treaty actually hold the view that has reportedly been expressed by Kalyan Rudra – that random withdrawl of water at the upper reaches of Teesta may jeopardize the river itself.

So though they factor in the hydro-electric projects in the Teesta’s upper reaches in Sikkim and West Bengal, they say that the Teesta should be allowed to ‘flow normally’ into Bangladesh which will by itself guarantee the quantam of water Dhaka is looking for.

Not that Mamata Banerji has a particular reason to oppose it but analysts say she is actually trying hard to secure from Delhi a special financial package to bail out her cash-strapped government and the Teesta treaty is the one she has chosen to use as her chip in the federal bargaining.

At stake is India’s sovereign commitment to Bangladesh, who has been described by Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid as a ‘dear neighbour’ in recent weeks.

Khurshid leaves for Dhaka on a two day visit on February 16 but his proposed meeting with Mamata banerji to iron out the Teesta issue has not yet materialized.

The Indian government is however more or less confident of getting the Land Boundary Agreement through the parliament during its next session, for which it is trying to garner support of major opposition parties like the BJP and the

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