Ans. Bangladesh is the eighth most populations’ country in the world. It has a total area of 1, 39,523. Sq. kilometers. The birth of Bangladesh in December 1971 was a direct outcome of the Indo-Pakistan war in which Pakistani troops surrendered unconditionally in erstwhile East Pakistan. Lt. Gen. Niazi of Pakistan surrendered to Lt. Gen. J. S. Aurora of Indian. Army. It was the culmination of the revolt of Bangladesh against the tyrannical Pakistani regime. The revolt had begun in March 1971, when the most popular leader of Awami League Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was arrested and taken to a West Pakistani Jail. India had full sympathy with the people of East Pakistan in their struggle for independence. An interim government of Bangladesh had been constituted as early as March 1971 but India had refrained from giving recognition to it for fear of provoking Pakistan into a war. But when eventually the war did begin on December 3, 1971, India decided to go ahead and recognition was granted to Bangladesh on December 6, 1971. Pakistani surrender took place on December 16, 1971. During that 13-day war in the winter of 1971 nearly 20,000 Indian soldiers laid down their lives. The emergency of Bangladesh was described as an event of major importance in the Sub-continent. “For the people of Bangladesh, it was the end of a nightmare of terror and torture, a resurrection of their individuality and personality. For India, it was a major victory of democratic socialism.”
Earlier India had to face an unprecedented crisis caused by a massive influx of 10 million tortured refugees from East Pakistan. None of the refugees was willing to go back to East Pakistan. All efforts by India, and its Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, to persuade Pakistan for a negotiated settlement with the Awami leader had failed. Pakistani President Yahya Khan was determined to seek a military solution to the crisis. He failed in this and had to hand over power to Z.A. Bhutto after East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh.
Soon after recognition of Bangladesh, while the war was will go on, the first Indo-Bangladesh Treaty was concluded on December 10, 1971. The treaty, signed by Mrs. Gandhi and acting Bangla President. Nazrul Islam, set up a joint India-Mukti Bahini command under an Indian general to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan’s military regime. The Indian army would leave Bangladesh as soon as normalcy was established in that country. India pledged to protect the territorial integrity of Bangladesh and promised economic assistance for the reconstruction of the new state. Details about the return of Bangladesh refugees to their country were also worked out.
India pleaded with major powers to exercise influence over Pakistan to secure the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman who was under detention. The Sheikh was released on January 8, and he arrived to a tumultuous welcome in New Delhi on January 10, 1972. He profusely thanked India for the sacrifices made by this country. For his country. After he assumed the office of Prime Minister of Bangladesh in Dhaka. February 1972 where he held formal talks with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The two leaders resolved that Indo-Bangla relations would be guided by the principles of “democracy socialism secularism, non-alignment, and opposition to racialism and colonialism in all its forms and manifestations.”
India assured Bangladesh that it would never interfere in its internal affairs. India also announced that, as agreed its troops would be withdrawn by march 25, 1972. The two Prime ministers promised to ensure, as far as possible that trade between two countries be regulated through official channels so those anti-social elements could not take advantage by smuggling.
Indo-Bangladesh Treaty of Friendship and Peace:
Sheikh Mujib’s visit to Calcutta was returned by Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s official tour of the Treaty of Friendship and peace was signed on March 19, 1972. It was stated in the joint declaration that the treaty was concluded: “to give concrete expression to the similarity of views, ideas, and interests.” It was inspired by the ideals of peace, secularism, democracy, socialism, and nationalism, Mrs. Gandhi assured Bangladesh of India’s full support and cooperation in securing its admission to the United Nations. The two Prime ministers declared that the Indian Ocean should be kept free of great power rivalries and competition and that they would work for making the Indian Ocean a nuclear-free zone. Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rehman also decided to establish a Joint Rivers Commission on a permanent basis to carry out a comprehensive survey of the rivers shared by the two countries and to formulate projects concerning both the countries in the field of flood control. They also promised consolations at the official level for exchange in science and technology so as to promote speedy social and economic development.
The Treaty of Friendship and Peace was signed for a period of 25 years. India withdrew its troops from Bangladesh even before signatures were put on the Treaty, though could have stayed on till the 25th of March, India did not want to be criticized that the Treaty was signed due to the pressure of the presence of the Indian army in Bangladesh. It was provided in the treaty that the two countries would not interfere in the internal of each other. The Preamble spoke of friendship between the two countries based on a sacrifice by their peoples leading to the emergence of Bangladesh. The two countries that promised to promote international peace and security would seek a solution to international disputes through cooperation rather than conflict. It was also provided in the Treat that in case of aggression, or threat of aggression, against either India or Bangladesh, the two countries would consult each other and try to find a solution to ensure the security of both the High Contracting Parties. The two countries would not attack each other, nor help any third country against the other signatory. None of the parties to this treaty would enter into an agreement with a third country that might be against the interest of the other party. They would not enter into any military alliance aimed against the other. Both the parties expressed their faith in the principle of peaceful co-existence. The two countries agreed to cooperate with each other in economic, scientific, and technological fields. They would work together in areas such as irrigation and education, culture, and sports. Thus, the Indo-Bangladesh Treaty of Friendship and Peace covered a wide range of bilateral relations as also their commitment to international peace and security.
Pakistan was disturbed at the signing of the Treaty of Friendship and peace and described it as a virtual military alliance. But, the study of the provision of the Treaty makes it clear that it was signed to strengthen bilateral relations and promote regional peace and international cooperation. It was certainly not military pace against any country or bloc of countries.
The Trade Agreement: The signing of the friendship treaty was followed by the conclusion of a comprehensive trade agreement on March 25, 1972. The short-term agreement provided for the creation of a duty-free zone up to 16 km. on both sides of the Indo-Bangla border. People could cross the border once a day and carry not more than Rs. 100 with them to purchase their essential requirement of daily use. The second part of the agreement provided for rupee trade up to 50 crores in a year. This enabled Bangladesh to secure a market for its products including fish, raw jute, hides and skins, and newsprint. India, on the other hand, could supply to meet Bangladesh’s requirements of tobacco, cement minerals machinery, etc. The third part of the treaty country could purchase from each other any good to be sold against foreign exchange.
The Treaty of Friendship and the Trade Agreement were concluded in the spirit of equality and mutual benefit, friendship, and good neighborliness. Thus, during the first year after the emergence of independent Bangladesh, there were signs of only friendship and cooperation between the two countries.
India’s Prime Minister had detailed consultations with Bangla Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rehman before she went to attend the Shimla Conference where an agreement was concluded with Z.A. Bhutto of Pakistan on various issues arising out of the 1971 war. India made it clear to Pakistan that it was ready for any solution regarding prisoners of war detained in India which was not acceptable to Bangladesh, and until Pakistan granted recognition to Bangladesh. Bangladesh was keen to try all those POWs who had committed atrocities.
Bhutto was equally to get 90,000 prisoners of war (detained in India) repatriated to Pakistan. Eventually, except 195 POWs others wore repatriated in accordance with an agreement concluded in 1973. Pakistan refused to recognize Bangladesh till all POWs were repatriated. China, who stood by Pakistan during and after the crisis, not only refused to recognize Bangladesh but even exercised its veto in the Security Council on Bangla application for membership of the U.N. in 1972.
Pakistan recognized Bangladesh on February 22, 1974. She had earlier extended an invitation to Bangladesh to attend the Islamic summit at Lahore (1974). When Pakistan did recognize Bangladesh, it was said that it was to facilitate Pakistan-Bangladesh friendship and help pro-Islamic and Pro-Pakistan elements in Bangladesh. Mujib attended the Islamic meet, which gave Pakistan an opportunity to intensify anti-India and Pro-Islamic campaigns in Bangladesh. Early in 1975 India and Bangladesh had signed an agreement on sharing Ganga waters. This upset Pakistan and its government took steps to weaken Indian influence in Bangladesh. It talked of “India’s new-imperialist attitude” and Bangladesh’s subservient position. Pakistan Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto visited Bangladesh in June 1975. Not only the two countries agreed to establish diplomatic relations, but Bhutto also offered economic aid to Dhaka. The discord between India and Bangladesh was systematically created.
The assassination of Mujibur Rehman and India-Bangladesh Relations:
A number of forces hostile to India were active in Bangladesh. It was generally believed that the government of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was “faltering economically and wobbling administratively.” Prices were continuously rising. Mujibur Rehman declared an emergency on December 24, 1974, and assumed all the powers himself. He failed to check corruption hoarding etc.
V.P Dutt says that “His style of functioning continued to lose und disjointed, paternalistic and easy going.” He brushed aside the intelligence reports and refused to believe that his “children” could do him any harm. But, on August 15, 1975, a coup was staged by some army majors. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the creator of Bangladesh, the Bangabandhu, was killed along with members of his family.
By this time anti-Indianism was clearly visible in Bangladesh, Fundamentalism had emerged and secularism became a victim in the new military regime. After a brief struggle, power was assumed by Lt. Gen. Zia-Ur-Rehman. The period after Mujib’s assassination was quite disturbing for India But, once Zia consolidated his regime, efforts were made for some normally in Indo-Bangladesh relations. The crop leaders made in Clear that Bangladesh Was no more secular, though Mujib’s Bangladesh was secular. Democratic republic and there was no place for an army in politics. Since 1975 Bangladesh comes to be ruled by pro-Pakistani and anti-Indian forces. Bangladesh later became the Islamic Republic, when its Parliament (Jatio Sangsad) passed a constitutional amendment bill in 1988 declaring Islam to be the state religion of Bangladesh. Thus, the Islamisation of Bangladesh begun by Zia-Ur-Rehman was completed during President Ershad’s rule.
Bangladesh was ruled by Gen. Zia-Ur-Rehman till May 1981 when he was killed. His successor, civilian President Sattar was overthrown in a bloodless coup on March 24, 1982, and Lt. Gen. Ershad assumed power. Lt. Gen. Ershad took his country closer to the Islamic oil Republic, when its Parliament (Jatio Sangsad) passed a constitutional amendment bill in Islamisation of Bangladesh begun by Zia-Ur-Rehman was completed during President Ershad’s rule.
Bangladesh was ruled by Gen. Zia-Ur-Rehman till May 1981 when he was killed. His successor, civilian President, Sattar was overthrown in a bloodless coup on March 24, 1982, and Lt. Gen. Ershad assumed power. Lt. Gen. Ershad took his country closer to Islamic oil-producing countries. The attitude of the new regime towards India was marked by confusion. The problem relating to the Farakka barrage and, sharing of Ganga waters were major issues of conflict between India and Bangladesh. The Bangla President had said in 1982 that, “we would not accept a policy of submission even if the entire North Bengal turns into a desert as a result of the Farakka problem…. Bangladesh is a good Muslim, who offered their prayers five times a day and whom Allah would certainly help… Bangladesh would continue to live for all times to come, Farakka or no Farakka… was not Islam born in the desert.” With such emphasis on Islam, relations with secular India could not be expected to be as smooth as were anticipated by Sheikh Mujib and Indira Gandhi.
Sharing of Ganga Waters: The most difficult and nagging problem between India and Bangladesh relates to sharing of Ganga waters. River Ganga originating at Gangotri flows in the south-eastern direction through India and reaches Bangladesh. Ganga mainstream bifurcates 38 cm. south of Farakka in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. One of the two streams called Bhagirathi-Hoogly flows in the lower reaches of West Bengal, and the other called the Padma flows along the India-Bangladesh boundary and then joins Brahmputra. It meets Rivers Meghna before it reaches the Bay of Bengal.
The Ganga water dispute between India and Bangladesh is mainly concerned with sharing of waters during the lean season, January to May particularly mid-March to mid-May, when the flow of Ganga reduces to a minimum level of 55,000 cusecs. “The fortunes of Calcutta porn dependent on the flow of river Hoogly have dwindled because of its decreased flow… 40,000 cusecs is the barest minimum required to flush Hoogly to save Calcutta port. The crux of the problem is that if India withdraws 40,000 cusecs, Bangladesh receives only 15,000 cusecs which are highly insufficient to meet its needs. The extraction of this larger amount of water by India gives rise to multifarious problems in Bangladesh.” Thus, the dispute between India and Bangladesh relates to the equitable sharing of Ganga waters by the two countries.
The Farakka Barrage was built by India during 1962-71 when Bangladesh was still East Pakistan. The barrage is situated across Ganga on the Bengal-Bihar border near Farakka about 400 km. north of Calcutta. The primary reason for the construction of this barrage was the preservation and maintenance of the Calcutta port and the navigability of Bhagirathi-Hoogly. All the studies since the mid-nineteenth century had concluded that the safety of Calcutta port depended on an increase in the headwater supply through the diversion of water, which could not be done except through a barrage. Thus, India’s national interest and safety of Calcutta port demanded the proper utilization of water through the Farakka barrage. The Calcutta port is not only vital for India’s international trade but also it was the only port (till recently) that Nepal and Bhutan used for their overseas trade. Once the barrage was constructed, Calcutta port was saved, but the diversion of water for the port became an issue of international discord and misunderstanding.
In 1972 a Joint Rivers Commission was set up in accordance with the Mujib-Indira agreement. It conducted a detailed survey and identified weak point which could be strengthened and gaps and that could be closed by further embankments. After Mujib’s 1974 visit to India, an agreement was concluded on a temporary basis for the allocation of Ganga waters. It was signed in 1975 and was called a ‘breakthrough’. India agreed to allow about 80% of water to Bangladesh in six weeks of the lean period. This Was a gesture of goodwill on the part of India. But, with the assassination of Mujibur Rehman in August 1975, India’s attitude became hard, more so because anti-Indian forces had become active and vocal in Bangladesh. When the temporary agreement expired in May 1975, and till a new agreement was signed in 1977, India kept on drawing its normal requirement of 40,000 cusecs. Meanwhile, Mau Lana Bhashani of Bangladesh began mobilizing public opinion on alleged “devastation and desertification” caused by a reduced flow of Ganga water. In May 1976, Bhashani led a “Farakka Peace March” but no. damage was done to the barrage because of vigilance by authorities. Bangladesh kept on raising the issue at the international fora.
The 1977 Agreement: The Government of Morarji Desai in India accorded a high priority to the improvement of relations with India’s neighbors. After negotiations between the two countries, an agreement, for five years, was concluded on sharing of Ganga waters in November 1977.
It was a bilateral agreement signed at a time when Zia-Ur-Rehman was working for the stability of Bangladesh and regional cooperation in South Asia. The 1977 agreement offered a partial solution as it dealt with only the sharing of water during the lean period. The attempt was made to regulate the flow of Ganga at Farakka during the five-month period. January to May each year.
Sharing of water was to be regulated for every 10-day period. Thus, for example, from January 1 to 10 out of a total flow of 98,000 cusecs, India would draw 40,000 cusecs and Bangladesh would share 58,000 cusecs. At the peak of the lean period April 21 to 30, India’s share would be 20,500 cusecs and Bangladesh would get 34,500 cusecs.
This was the best that India could offer to Bangladesh. Prime Minister Desai described this agreement as an achievement of Indian diplomacy. He emphasized that the agreement underlined the fact that developing countries arc competent to resolve their bilateral disputes through negotiations. Mrs. Gandhi, however, felt that the national interest of India was being compromised.
Critics pointed out that Farakka was constructed for the safety of Calcutta port, and the provision of fewer than 40,000 cusecs for India at any time was against the interest of India. West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu pointed out to the Prime Minister that steps should be taken to ensure 40,000 supplies to West Bengal. He emphasized the need for augmentation of water at Farakka.
The agreement of 1977 expired on May 30, 1982. The fresh agreement had to be concluded. A meeting between Gen. H.M. Ershad, the then President of Bangladesh, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi opened new horizons in bilateral relations. A fresh Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in 1982. The 1977 agreement was extended for 18 months. Meanwhile, MOU called for augmentation of the water supply so as to reach a long-term solution. But, the minimum availability clause of the 1977 agreement was deleted. It was agreed in 1982 that if the actual availability of water is shared in proportion applicable to that period. The agreement was renewed in 1983 and again in 1986. It finally lapsed in 1988 and India began releasing water on an ad hoc basis.
It was realized by both countries that the augmentation of water was essential for a permanent solution to the problem. India suggested the diversion of Brahmputra river waters to the Ganga above Farakka for limited discharge to Bangladesh during the dry season. The proposal was to link Ganga with Brahmputra through a ling canal. India’s argument was that the water of the Ganga basin is insufficient to meet the requirements of the two countries, whereas Brahmputra and Meghna have surplus water that could be properly utilized. Bangladesh rejected the Indian proposal describing it as legally unjustifiable, technically impractical economically and ecologically disastrous.” Bangladesh put up its own scheme of building reservations in the upper reaches of the Ganga in India and Nepal, as there are no storage sites in Bangladesh. This would bring Nepal into the picture. The issue of Ganga water could be easily resolved only if countries concerned rose above narrow political considerations.
India time and again reiterated its commitment to holding a constructive bilateral dialogue for arriving at a long term comprehensive
arrangement on sharing of Ganga waters. But, Bangladesh continued Lo raise the issue at the international fora. Thus, in October 1974, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh made a reference to the subject in a statement in the U.N. General Assembly. Again in October 1995, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh raised the issue in General Assembly. However, India remained committed to finding a negotiated settlement to this bilateral problem. Earlier during the SAARC summit al New Delhi in May 1995 Prime Ministers Rao and Khaleda Zia discussed various issues including sharing of rivers reconvene the Joint Rivers Commission at the ministerial level as a confidence-building measure. From 1988 to 1996 India was releasing water on an ad hoc basis. A fresh negotiated agreement was finally concluded in December 1996. (See below)
The New Moore Island Dispute: There have been, tensions between India and Bangladesh over certain territorial claims also. These include the dispute over New Moore Island, the problem related to the Teen Bigha corridor, and the clash in Muhuni Char in the Belonia Sector. Of the three, the dispute over New Moore Island persists as a major problem.
Towards the end of 1979, India and Bangladesh got engaged in firing at the border town of Belonia in Southern Tripura. Tripura is a state of the Indian Republic. The dispute arose over about 45 acres of land which emerged largely as a result of shifting of the course by river Muhari which forms the border between Bangladesh and Tripura (India). Here, the security forces of the two countries clashed but the tension soon cooled down.
New Moore Island covering an area of 2 to 12sq. km. depending on rising and receding tide is located in the Bay of Bengal. It is about 5200 meters from the nearest Indian coastal point and about 7000 meters from Bangladesh’s coastal point. It emerged in the sea some years ago and was built by millions of tons of silt swept down the Ganga. The Island was first noticed by India in 1971. It was notified to the British Admiralty for recording. The Admiralty chart included it as “New Moore Island’. In 1974 during Indo-Bangladesh maritime talks, India brought the existence of the Island to the notice of Bangladesh. Till 1979 Bangladesh did not question the Indian ownership of the Island. The West Bengal Government named the Island as Purbasha (Hope of the East) and Bangladesh called it South Talpatty. The Indian flag was hoisted on the Island on March 12, 1980. It is at that stage that Bangladesh claimed its ownership and. said that New Moore was a disputed territory. Bangladesh threatened to take the issue to the United Nations. In March 1980 there was a massive demonstration in front of the Indian High Commission in Dhaka questioning India’s hoisting of its flag in New Moore. The situation became explosive in May 1981 when Bangladesh in the Island waters. The dispute has remained unresolved though it has been discussed at different levels.
The reason behind the dispute is that the entire maritime boundary between India and Bangladesh has not been demarcated. The Island is not clearly located in the territorial waters of either country. It is in the Bay situated at the mouth of rivers Haribhanga. The bay begins where the mainland masses of the two countries are joined by a line. It is situated 2 km. away from the Redcliffe Line that marked that India-Pakistan border in 1947. India’s claim is based on the Median Line Principle’. This means an equidistant line drawn on plotted points on the sea from the nearest shores of the contending countries. It is on this basis that India’s maritime boundary with Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia has been demarcated. New Moore Island has become, as Chandrika Gulati says, “This is not a serious dispute. If both sides are willing, a negotiated settlement can be easily found. As S.C. Gangal wrote in 1982. “When we are seeking to build a structure of peace, security, and harmony in the region, we should not be playing tough when moderation or accommodation would seem the preferable alternatives”
Indo-Bangla relations were adversely affected on account of a dispute regarding the Tin Bigha corridor also. Dahagram and Angorpota, the two enclaves of Bangladesh are separated from district Rangpur of Bangladesh by a small patch of an acre of Indian territory called Tin Bigha. This is the nearest point regarding Bangladesh’s mainland and its two enclaves. The prolonged dispute regarding transit on Bangladesh via Tin Bigha was sought to be settled when Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Bangladesh President H.M. Ershad signed an agreement in 1982. It confirmed the permanent lease of the Indian territory of Tin Bigha to Bangladesh. The rent for leased territory was fixed at Bangla Taka one per annum. But India agreed not to charge the lease money. Bangladesh was given full possession of the area given to her on lease. People and security personal of Bangladesh would have the right to free and unfettered movement and they would not be required to carry travel documents of any kind. The movement of Indians across the leased areas would also be free. The people of Dahagram and Angorpota welcomed the signing of the agreement. But, the people of West Bengal had strong reservations. The agreement could not be implemented. The leasing out of Tin Bigha became an emotional issue for many Indians. A petition was filed in the Calcutta High Court challenging the leasing of the Tin Bigha corridor. It was argued that leasing of Tin Bigha would not only make India’s border insecure, but about 5000 Indian residents of 28 adjoining villages would -be reduced to the level of refugees in their own country.
Other Bilateral Issues: Among other problems in India-Bangladesh relation is the problem of Chakma refugees who have mostly taken shelter in the Indian state of Tripura. Negotiations during 1994 led to the repatriation of Chakma refugees from Tripura of Chittagong Hill tracts in Bangladesh. By August 1994 nearly 5200 such refugees were repatriated. Discussions for the repatriation of nearly 50,000 more Chakma refugees were going on till 1996. Most of them were awaiting repatriation in Tripura camps. All repatriation has been on a voluntary basis.
India is facing another problem a Bangladesh nations a very large number of Bangladesh mostly belonging to economically weaker sections, have been illegally entering India. It is difficult to distinguish between Indians belonging to West Bengal and immigrants. They have come in search of employment and have settled down mostly in slums. Some non-Muslims have been illegally coming as refugees because of occasional communal tensions. There are about 4 lakh, such illegal migrants, in Delhi alone. Their arrival without valid travel documents is made easy by the lack of any natural border between the two countries. India’s proposal to do fending of the border with barbed wires was opposed by Bangladesh. India had made it clear to Bangladesh that it wanted barbed wires as a preventive measure against illegal migration. It was not contrary to the 1975 treaty of friendship. Still, Bangladesh Rifles fired at the workers engaged in fencing in April 1984. This caused tension, India does not seem to be in a position to identify illegal entrants and to repatriate them.
Indo-Bangladesh Joint Business Council has been exploring possibilities for the expansion of economic and commercial cooperation and for setting up industrial projects and joint ventures. Bilateral trade has been gradually increasing. India’s exports to Bangladesh in 1993-94 were valued at nearly Rs. 350 crores and imports from Bangladesh were of the value of Rs. 56 crores. India has reduced tariffs on selected items of export in the interest of Bangladesh.
The Annual Report of India’s Ministry of External Affairs for 1995-96 claimed that. “Relations with Bangladesh continue to be close and stable with regular interaction between the two Governments”. Bangladesh, however, continued to internationalize the river water issue and occasionally raised it even in UN General Assembly, though India firmly believed that it could be solved through bilateral efforts. During 1994-95 India’s exports to Bangladesh had increased to over Rs. 2000 crores. An Rs. 30 crore credit agreement and an agreement on avoidance of double taxation have been concluded. India continues to provide training facilities to Bangladesh personnel under the Technical Assistance Programme SAARC has become an important forum for economic cooperation in South Asia. The decision to have preferential trading through SAPTA (South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement) was likely to further increase economic cooperation between India and Bangladesh. The election of Sheikh Hasina Wajed (daughter of Bangabandhu Mujibur Rehman) as Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1996 was likely to help in the improvement of India-Bangladesh relations. Soon anti-Indian activities on Bangladesh soil. she had taken strong exception to Pakistan intelligence agency, ISI’s activities in Bangladesh. The Awami league Government led by Sheikh Hasin could give India a chance to turn the tide of anti-India rhetoric that had been spewing out of Dhaka in the past.
Sheikh Hasina Wajed visited New Delhi in December 1996 and signed an accord with India on the sharing of Ganga Waters for next 30 years. India’s difficulty is that it needs enough water for flushing the Hoogly to save the future of Calcutta. The India-Bangladesh accord of 1996 was signed after the 1977 accord lapsed in 1982. Since then, India had been releasing water on an ad hoc basis. The new accord can be utilized as integrated economic development of the region augmentation of water supply, transit facilities, and efforts to end the insurgency. Besides, the two countries will have to apply their mind to the problem of illegal migrants.
Thirty-Year Water Sharing Agreements, 1996: India-Bangladesh treaty on sharing of Ganga waters signed in 1977 for five years expired in 1982, but was extended and remained operational with mutual consent till 1988. Since then India was releasing water on an ad hoc basis. During the 1988-86 period, several tensions developed as pro-Pakistan elements in Bangladesh kept on encouraging anti-Indian sentiments. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of Bangladesh Mujibur Rehman, took over as Prime Minister in 1996.
Although the general environment in Bangladesh did not change. Hasina Government negotiated with India a treaty for sharing of Ganga waters for 30 years. The Treaty was signed in New Delhi on December 12, 1996, by the two Prime ministers, H.D. Deve Gowda and Sheikh Hasina Wajed. The treaty has a provision for mandatory review every five years.
The review may take place even after two years with scope for adjustments if required. The treaty may be renewed with mutual consent. Deve Gowda described the signing of the treaty as a landmark even in Indo-Bangladesh relations”. He told the Lok Sabha that it was “a fitting tribute to the special quality of our relations”. However, the generalanti-India climate in Bangladesh was likely to take time to change. That would also be possible only if Sheikh Hasina could convince her people that there was no ill-will in India against that country.
The Treaty of 1996, like the one signed in 1977, recognized the period from January 1 to May 31, every year as the lean period, though the period from April 21 to 30 is the leanest period. Under the 1977 treaty, during a ten-day period from January 1 to 10 out of a total flow of 98,000 cusecs, India was to draw 40,000 cusecs and Bangladesh was to be allowed 58,000 cusecs. But, during the leanest period (April 31 to 30), India’s 34,500 cusecs. Bangladesh was given a much larger share of water than India, although the minimum requirement to flush Hoogly and save Calcutta Port is 40,000 cusecs. When the treaty was renewed for 18 months in 1982, the clause guaranteeing fixed share to Bangladesh was allowed to lapse. Under the 1996 Treaty, during the leanest period, Bangladesh would get 35,000 cusecs and India would have to contend with 35,992 cusecs.
The main features of the 30-years treaty signed in 1996 are that sharing of Ganga water at Farakka would be determined by 15 blocs of the 10-day period from January 1 to May 31 every year. The agreed formula gives India a constant 40,000 cusecs for the first months (January-February), where the share of Bangladesh would gradually come down from 67, 516 cusecs to 39,106 cusecs during the same period. From March I to May 10 (excluding the leanest period of April 21-30) there will be six blocks of 10 days each. Three of these blocs will provide assured 35,000 cusecs to Bangladesh. The two countries will have an assured share in alternate blocs of 10 days. The country that gets less water in one bloc will be compensated in the next bloc. However, during the leanest period. Bangladesh would get 35,000 cusecs while India’s share would be only 25,992 cusecs.
It is provided in the agreement that if the availability at Farakka is 70,000 cusecs or fewer countries would get 50 percent of the available water. If the flow is between 70,000 cusecs. Bangladesh of the available water. If the flow is between 70,000 and 75,000 cusecs, Bangladesh would get 35,000 cusecs and the balanced flow would be retained by India. If Farakka has more than, 75,000 cusecs of water, India would retain 40,000 cusecs and the balance would be realized to Bangladesh.
The 30-year treaty was described by Sheikh Hasina and Deva Gowda as “fair and just” to both countries. Commenting on the sharing of Ganga waters under the new agreement, an official of the Ministry of External Affairs made it clear that, “while in the eventuality of surplus water during January and February, Bangladesh can take all the water leaving 40,000 cusecs for Calcutta port, it has to share with us the water if the availability of water is less than 70,000 cusecs.” Bangladesh Prime Minister was described as “a tough bargainer”, who did not give any concession to India. In effect, she managed 500 cusecs more than what it was in the 1977 treaty during the lean period. The critics pointed out that there is no provision for augmentation of water which was clearly provided for in the 1977 agreement. The absence of such a provision in the 1996 document is a concession by India, and was, therefore said to be against the interest of India.
West Bengal Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu had visited Dhaka a little before Hasina Wajed came to India. He was not happy with the treaty when he saw it in the proposal stage, but once the agreement assured enough water to keep Calcutta port in good condition, he expressed satisfaction. He said that Calcutta would now utilize 40,000 cusecs in 7 out of 15 cycles of 10 days during the lean period. According to Basu, the agreement would benefit India as well as Bangladesh. It would also pave the way for other bilateral agreements on trade and cultural exchanges. Basu hoped that a water-sharing agreement would open up the possibility of an arrangement for utilizing Chittagong port by industry in both countries.
The traditional friendship between India and Bangladesh was sought to be further consolidated by the Bangla Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But, tension developed on the international border in the Assam and Meghalaya sector, In April 2001, it was found that one of our villages was occupied, and 18 officers and Jawan of India’s Border Security Forces were missing. 16 of them were allegedly killed by Bangladesh Rifles and 2 were injured. The mutilated bodies of Indian security men, when returned after three days, created outrage in India, as many of them were apparently killed at point black range after being arrested. Many bodies were charged beyond recognition. India lodged a very strong protest. The Bangla authorities gave impression their innocence. The brutal act was condemned widely. The Bangla Prime Minister, facing elections after a few months, called the India Prime Minister and assured Vajpayee that through people would be done and that the guilty would be punished. This incident caused severe strains in the bilateral relations.
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