Policymakers in Bangladesh and India should address the challenges concerning the Teesta water sharing with a basin-wide conservation approach, said environment and international politics experts.
While speaking at the virtual inaugural session of the three-day 7th International Water Conference on Teesta River Basin, they said state parties should assess the morphology and hydrology of the basin and give priority to its ecosystem before undertaking any infrastructural development project such as the construction of run-off-the-river dams.
Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, presented a keynote paper at the event organised by Action Aid Bangladesh.
He said the Indian government is planning to harness 5,494MW electricity in Sikkim by at least 31 hydropower projects and that some other run-off-the-river dams are going to be constructed in West Bengal.
He also seemed skeptical about the possibility of an agreement on Teesta between India and Bangladesh, which has been stalled for the last 10 years.
Referring to the Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project (TRCMRP), he said there is a chance of a win-win situation for Bangladesh, India and China if Bangladesh can enhance water storage capacity to save monsoon-time discharged water.
Imtiaz also reminded the guests of the historic High Court order on 10 July 2019 that entitles rivers as living entities. A river means water, energy, biodiversity and sediment, he said.
The inaugural session was followed by a thematic discussion. Brac University's Professor Emeritus Ainun Nishat chaired the session.
He said India diverts Teesta water unilaterally which is unacceptable and a violation of existing laws of India.
Ainun Nishat expressed his confusion about the Teesta River Comprehensive Management and Restoration Project. He said such a project would kill the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Teesta basin.
He also cited the negative impacts of silt-trap formed just before the Teesta Barrage at Dalia in Lalmonirhat.
Rohan D'Souza, associate professor at the Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies of Kyoto University, said the fate of the River Teesta must be decided whether the water is diverted for irrigation or be flown to help fish move.
"The voice of fishermen needs to be heard. The water sharing debate should be framed upon the ecological unit rather than the average water flow unit," Rohan said.
Professor Ashok Swain, director at Research School of International Water Cooperation under Uppsala University, said leadership in West Bengal is using Teesta as a matter of sub-national politics. The undemocratic attitude of the regional leadership is undermining voices of the Teesta riverines, he added.
Iftekhar Iqbal, associate professor of Arts and Social Sciences at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, said the solution of the Teesta impacts: flooding in monsoon and drought in dry season, lies upon what gets the priority. "Is the problems of Teesta people addressed or the hydroelectricity development agenda rule the issue?" he said.
Former information minister and parliament member Hasanul Haq Inu, Action Aid International Bangladesh Society Chairman Barrister Manzoor Hasan and Action Aid Bangladesh Director Farah Kabir also addressed the discussion.