Bangladesh to gauge both Indian and Chinese proposals on the Teesta project: PM Hasina

Hasina, who visited India last week at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, described her trip as 'very fruitful' and said the outcome of her talks with India's top leadership will play a 'pivotal role' in strengthening the existing bilateral relations.
Last Updated : 25 June 2024, 14:46 IST

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Dhaka: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Tuesday that Bangladesh would gauge proposals from both India and China to build a mega project on the cross-border Teesta River involving a reservoir and accept the better one for her country.

Hasina, who visited India last week at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, described her trip as "very fruitful" and said the outcome of her talks with India's top leadership will play a "pivotal role" in strengthening the existing bilateral relations and opening new avenues of cooperation.

"We undertook the Teesta projects. China has proposed, and so has India. We will evaluate both proposals and accept the one that is most beneficial and acceptable in terms of the interests of our people," the 76-year-old leader said while addressing a press conference here.

Asked which side she favoured more as far as India and China were concerned regarding the Teesta Project, Hasina said, "We maintain our friendships based on the developmental needs of our country”.

"When we receive a proposal, we consider factors such as its suitability for us, our capacity to repay any loans, the returns we will enjoy after project completion, and how it will benefit the people of our country," she said.

China has completed a physical survey on the project while India expressed its willingness to do another study regarding the implementation of the Teesta project.

India is presumed to have a reservation over China’s involvement in a major project near its strategic Siliguri Corridor, also known as the Chicken's Neck, while Bangladesh’s foreign ministry earlier said Dhaka would “take into cognizance the geopolitical issues” in proceeding with the proposal.

According to Bangladesh officials, China in 2020 proposed a major dredging work on the Teesta River and building reservoirs and embankments without India having to play any role but Bangladesh has kept the billion-dollar project on hold.

Several analysts said the Chinese involvement in the project could complicate the India-Bangladesh dispute over the major common river.

The Teesta water sharing agreement has been in the talks since the Awami League government returned to power in 2009 while Hasina today said “Bangladesh has a longstanding issue over Teesta River water sharing with India”.

"So, it will be easy for Bangladesh if India does the Teesta project. In that case, we won’t need to talk about the Teesta water sharing always," she added.

Hasina simultaneously said Bangladesh has a longstanding issue with India over water sharing of the 54 common rivers but added that “if there are problems, there are solutions as well".

"India has agreed to cooperate with us on the Teesta project. A joint committee will be formed to decide not only how the water will be shared but also how to revive the river, use it for cultivation in the northern region, and enhance its navigation," she said.

She said the water-sharing discussion included river dredging, constructing embankments and water conservation measures as well.

"India will send a technical team after the 1996 Ganges water treaty expires in 2026. The team (with their Bangladesh counterparts) will explore options and negotiate the terms," she added.

Dhaka and New Delhi were set to ink the Teesta Agreement during former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Bangladesh visit in 2011 when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was also supposed to be his entourage member.

But Banerjee precluded her from his entourage at the last minute, opposing the treaty.

India and Bangladesh agreed to sign the deal but it could not be materialised due to opposition from the West Bengal government.

Indian media reports have suggested that the West Bengal government decided in principle to dig two new canals to divert the Teesta waters for irrigation purposes in the Jalpaiguri and Coach Bihar districts.

Replying to another query about Banerjee's objection to the Indian government's move over the Teesta and Ganges rivers water sharing with Bangladesh, Hasina said she doesn’t want to make any comment over the issue as it is solely their internal matter.

But Hasina said she has a good relationship with all the political parties in India including Indian Prime Minister Modi and Banerjee.

Asked how she wanted to strike a balance regarding ties between India and China in her fifth term, four in a row, the premier said there was nothing to balance as her government was following a foreign policy principle that suggests -- "Friendship to all, malice to none".

Hasina said India is very important for Dhaka as they along with the Freedom Fighters shed blood for the independence of Bangladesh during the 1971 Liberation War.

Simultaneously, she said, there were many things to learn from China about how the country could be developed.

"We maintain the relations considering all these aspects," she said, adding that she never interfered with what relations the two countries have.

"I work for the welfare and development of the country and people maintaining friendly relations with all." She also said she didn't see any problem with maintaining relations with India and China.

The premier said she went to New Delhi as she was first invited to visit India to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi and later invited for a state visit to India and now, she would visit China as that country has also invited her.

Replying to a question about rail transit to India, she said Bangladesh and India decided to resume the rail connectivity considering their trade and commerce and socio-economic development.

The premier said Bangladesh is an independent country and “we liberated the country through the Liberation War”.

She said everyone should keep in mind that India was the only force in the world which left a country after helping in its liberation and referred to the American troops of allied forces which were still staying in Japan and Russian troops in Germany.

"Even then, some talk about the rail issue that Bangladesh will be sold to India. How do they say this? Those who talk like this are themselves sold to India," she said.

They criticise India publicly and flatter secretly, she added.

"Look at Europe where there are no borders. Is one country selling itself to another country there? …will we keep our doors shut in Bangladesh?" she added.

Published 25 June 2024, 14:46 IST

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