Most of the infrastructural interventions in the River Teesta confluence, taken by the Bangladeshi and Indian governments, do not represent the voice of the people who depend on the river and the projects are harmful to the river's ecosystem, according to environmental experts.
Policymakers should consider the views of the people whose lives are connected with the river as an essential guide while drafting ecosystem-friendly development policies regarding the river, they said on the second day of the 7th International Water Conference on Friday.
"Holding the Teesta water by "run-of-the-river dams" has been affecting the entire river," Jayanta Basu, director at the Environment Governed Integrated Organisation and a faculty member of the Calcutta University told the conference, hosted by Action Aid Bangladesh.
"The hydropower plants are killing the river," he said, adding that the water volume of the river has already declined in Sikkim, where the river originated from.
Atiq Rahman, executive director of Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, urged the policymakers and other stakeholders to think about alternative and adaptive crop cultures to ensure sustainable food security in the northern region of the country as the water flow of the Teesta might not remain the same for long.
"Only the voice of riverine people should set the geopolitical courses regarding Teesta," he opined.
Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, warned that the Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project (TRCMRP) would establish China's geopolitical dominance over the Teesta, the Meghna, and the Bay of Bengal.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association questioned the credibility of the members, bureaucrats, and engineers of the Joint River Commission in representing the riverine people who bear the burdens of a faulty water share scheme.
The director of Riverine People Tuhin Wadud, also a faculty member of Begum Rokeya University, said India's unilateral withdrawal of water from the Teesta since 2014 has been affecting at least 25 tributaries and distributaries around the Rangpur division.
"Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) has also played a role to destroy the river system. The rivers Ghagat, the Manash, the Baishadara and the Buri Teesta are now disconnected from the Teesta due to faulty interventions of BWDB," he said.
Former Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, chair of the thematic discussion, said that any kind of geopolitical confrontation would result in one party winning it all and the other losing it all. "So, cooperation is the key here," he added.
Director of Action Aid Bangladesh Farah Kabir, who chaired another thematic discussion in the conference highlighted the Teesta River Basin, its ecosystem, and gender implications.
Assistant Professor of Gender and Development Studies of Begum Rokeya University Zarin Yesmin Chaity presented the keynote paper during the session.
Sikkim-based film-maker and independent researcher Minket Lepcha's documentary film "Voices of Teesta" was also shown in this session. Advisor of ISET Nepal Ajaya Dixit, Professor of Jahangirnagar University Sharmind Neelormy, General Secretary of Affected Citizen of Teesta Mayalmith Lepcha addressed the session among others.