Bangladesh has concluded a pact with India on retraction of water from the Feni River. Under the terms of the newly signed deal, India will retract 1.82 cusecs of water from the river for use by India's north-eastern Tripura state.
This water pact, signed on Saturday in New Delhi between the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India, has sparked a debate in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh's grievances over the stalemate relating to a sharing of the waters of the River Teesta in the face of Indian inaction to strike a deal have taken centre stage again in light of the deal on the Feni River.
Many in Bangladesh are also sceptical about the impact such a withdrawal of water by India might have for the Feni River and the nearby riverine areas.
The 116 km long Feni River originates in South Tripura district and, flowing through Sabroom town, enters Bangladesh.
The proposed withdrawal of 1.82 cusecs of the water of the river will be utilised by Tripura state in supplying drinking water to Sabroom town, which faces an acute crisis of drinking water.
Even as a debate builds up over the deal at home, the Bangladesh government has defended the agreement as a goodwill gesture to India on its part.
In an interview with the BBC, Md Shahidul Haque, Bangladesh's foreign secretary, said that Dhaka had taken this decision from a humanitarian point of view.
As speculations and scepticism over the pact gather pace in Bangladesh, the Ministry of Water Resources has issued a press release in a bid to clear confusion over the agreement.
According to the ministry, the Feni River annually has an average of 1878 cusecs of water flow, which declines to 794 cusecs in the dry season.
The ministry has sought to define the term "cusec" in its press release. It says that 1 cusec is equal to 28.32 litres of water, which in its view is "very little" in relation to the overall water flow of the river.
The ministry defended the water pact as a humanitarian step and an act of good neighbourliness on the part of the Prime Minister.
The Business Standard spoke to Prof Ainun Nishat, a reputed specialist on rivers. Nishat believes that the agreed upon withdrawal of water is very little in quantity.
Elaborating, Prof Ainun Nishat said, "Since the river has a minimum flow of 794 cusecs of water even during the dry season, the amount of water agreed upon for withdrawal will not have much impact."
Nishat's remarks were endorsed by Professor AKM Saiful Islam of the Institute of Water and Flood, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet). Islam noted that the agreed upon water is "little in quantity" and will not have much consequence over the Feni River.
However, Prof Islam was critical of Indian inaction in the matter of striking a deal with Bangladesh over a sharing of the waters of the Teesta. "The livelihood of millions of people depends on the Teesta waters," he said. "Allowing this river to die in the absence of a treaty will be very unfortunate."
It may be noted that besides the deal on the Feni River, a framework for the proper distribution of the waters of seven trans-border rivers was also worked out during the Prime Minister's visit to Delhi.
The rivers under this framework are Manu, Khowai, Muhuri, Gomati, Dharla, Dudhkumar and Teesta Rivers.
According to officials in both countries, this framework will be of benefit in terms of reaching a deal on the Teesta.
In Prof Ainun Nishat's opinion, the new structured forum about the seven trans-border rivers is a positive step forward.
"These are not small rivers. They are some significant mid-sized rivers. The framework developed for these rivers may help us to reach agreements for many other trans-border rivers between India and Bangladesh," Professor Nishat added.
Meanwhile, the duration of the Ganges Water Treaty, signed in 1996 for the purpose of sharing the waters of the Ganges between Bangladesh and India, will draw to an end in 2026.
Both Prof Nishat and Prof Islam, speaking to The Business Standard, emphasised the need for discussions to be initiated over the renewal of the treaty. In case of a delay in beginning a dialogue with Delhi on the issue, they warned, Bangladesh may have to face repercussions in the future.
The existing state of diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh has been hailed as a "model of good neighbourliness" by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh during her four-day India trip. However, it is felt by observers that to ensure the sustainability of such "good neighbourliness" between India and Bangladesh, it is in Delhi's interest to make a decisive and positive move on the Teesta question. Any further delay in reaching a deal with Dhaka will not be desirable.