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How Mamata almost forced PM to cancel B'desh trip

Last updated on: September 4, 2011 22:38 IST

How Mamata almost forced PM to cancel B'desh trip

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

In a major embarrassment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has refused to join him on his two-day visit to Bangladesh.

Mamata is furious over the central government not taking into account her reservations over sharing of Teesta waters with Bangladesh before finalising the international treaty. She wants an exact mention of  25 per cent cap on waters of Teesta that India will agree to give Bangladesh.

The setback to the Prime Minister's visit was so obvious that his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina sent her emissary to cajole Mamata, but the latter refused to budge.

Last week, in a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs where the bilateral treaties with Bangladesh came for approval, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi raised an objection.

It is said that in the meeting when the 'backgrounder' was read out, Mamata's  request to keep a cap of 25 per cent on sharing of Teesta waters with Bangladesh was mentioned, but the actual agreement did not mention it.

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Image: Mamata Banerjee

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The spat between Pranab and Trivedi

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The Trinamool Congress alleges that the Teesta water treaty's final version was given a couple of hours before the CCPA meeting. Mamata is upset that the Centre tried to hasten the process, which will be detrimental to North Bengal's economy.

Trivedi told the committee members that his leader has objections over it.

At that point, an angry Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Trivedi that he does not understand the procedures of preparing international treaties. In response, Trivedi countered by saying that Pranab did not understand that he is from another party.

The spat between the two got so messy that at one point of time, reportedly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh preferred to not go to Bangladesh if Mamata didn't give her consent.

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Image: Pranab Mukherjee

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Mamata's contention

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Trivedi was requested to cool down by two ministers, including Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. 

National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, who was present in the meeting, was asked to fly to Kolkata.  It was believed that Menon was able to convince her, but it seems that regional concerns have dominated her decision to boycott the agreement over Teesta.

Her party colleague told rediff.com, "Any treaty over water is never easy. Within India, we have been unable to settle disputes over Kaveri river water since more than 100 years. The central government has not fulfilled the promise given to officers of West Bengal when the discussion was held before the Teesta treaty was prepared."

Mamata's contention is that North Bengal will suffer if the treaty is approved without mentioning that India will release maximum of 25 per cent of waters to Bangladesh, which will be recharged up to 50 per cent when it will reach territory of Bangladesh. India and Dhaka have been discussing the issue of Teesta since the last nine months.


Image: National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon

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The Teesta story so far

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After Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in January 2010, the Joint Rivers Commission was activated.

India has finally agreed to give Bangladesh Teesta waters after measuring the water flow at Gazaldoba point, which is situated 25 km from Siliguri. The 90 km path of Teesta from Gazaldoba to Bangladesh gets ground water that adds to volume. 

Currently 75 per cent of  Teesta's waters are shared as per an old agreement. But now another 25 per cent of water will be shared by both countries.

Mamata wants that both new and old arrangement's combined effect must not end up in Bangladesh getting more than 25 per cent of waters from Indian side. She agrees that in all 48 per cent waters of Teesta should be given to Bangladesh, but that would also include the recharged waters.

The agreement was expected to be one of the most important achievements of PM's visit.


Image: File photo of Dr Manmohan Singh with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi

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