Abrar Fahad, a student of Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET), was killed by Chhatra League after he posted a status on Facebook. In the post, Abrar had criticised the latest Bangladesh-India agreements including the Feni river water deal.
To understand Abrar’s dissent, one must understand how Bangladesh has been deprived of water from the common rivers between Bangladesh and India including that of Feni. Abrar hinted at this on Facebook and then lost his promising life.
India will be given 1.82 cusecs of water from the river Feni, equivalent to 50 litres, per second, totaling 450,000 litres per day. That is a considerable amount for the dry season that lasts from February to April.
Though the information is now exaggerated, according to 'Bangladesher Nod-Nodi', a book published by Bangladesh Water Development Board in 2005, the water flow in river Feni is at least 47 cusec in dry season. The water is crucial for Bangladesh for several reasons including the Muhuri Irrigation Project. Despite that, India has been allowed to take a portion of this water for a town in Tripura with only 8,000 people. The government says the water was given on humanitarian grounds.
A small section of river Feni runs along the border. It starts to flow in its full force fed by several springs in Bangladesh after crossing the border. As a country in the basin, Bangladesh is not legally bound to give the water. There is no reason for giving the water. The question is whether humanity is a one-sided matter? Did India fulfill our legal rights over the trans-boundary rivers, let alone humanity? What about the many other sectors?
There’s a term in the international law called ‘vital human needs’. These include the water used for drinking, food production and living. Bangladesh desperately needs water of 54 rivers shared with India for these needs and also to save the environment. During 1986, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Committee of Experts said that the water of eight big trans-boundary rivers, except the Ganges, would be shared. In the 1996 Ganges deal, it was stated that deals would be signed over all the shared rivers, but no deals have been signed so far.
India argues there are discrepancies between information of the two countries regarding the river water flows. Last month it said sharing would be determined when credible information was at hand. During his Bangladesh tour, the Indian water secretary said they expected progress regarding the ‘internal’ water-sharing of eight rivers including Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gomti, Dharla, Feni, Teesta and Dudhkumar before 30 September. But during the prime minister’s India tour the only negotiation drawn was on river Feni. Nothing new was heard about the Teesta water sharing issue that has been pending since 2011.
Just like Abrar, the people too were naturally frustrated about the uncertainty of such deals. India’s lack of interest over the sharing of water of the common rivers is well known. A secretariat-level meeting was held after eight years last month. The last minister-level Joint Rivers Commission meeting was held in 2010. India did not respond to the repeated requests Bangladesh made to hold a meeting. India is progressing with the river linking project. It did not say anything about how Bangladesh’s needs would be met there.
In such a backdrop, it is only natural that allowing India to take the water of Feni river will enrage many.
Several other deals have been signed during the prime minister’s tour. Questions have arisen over these too. Bangladesh has agreed to export liquefied petroleum gas. It has not been specified what impact this will have on our transport system along with the risks of transportation and the energy security of Bangladesh.
According to a new deal, India will install a surveillance radar system along the coastal areas of Bangladesh. India was able to install such radar systems only in the small and weak countries of Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Why have we been included in such a list? Who will control this surveillance?
Questions abound regarding other issues too. India will use the Chattogram and Mongla ports, but why isn’t there anything said about Bangladesh using any Indian port? Why isn’t there any progress over the Indian land corridor that Bangladesh requires for direct communication with Bhutan and Nepal? Killings on the border are still prevalent. Why isn’t that mentioned even?
We received some cooperation for cultural and educational exchanges, which is so insignificant. These include setting up a dormitory for Ramkrishna Mission and assistance in setting up a training centre for professionals at Khulna. India has promised to implement the issue of loans for Bangladesh. There are also questions over the conditions of their loans.
Our prime minister said she was concerned about two issues before the India tour. No solution about those came from the Memorandum of Understanding, agreement or joint statements. One million Rohingyas were driven out of Myanmar and pushed into Bangladesh due to genocide. India held back from voting against Myanmar over such an issue at the last Human Rights Council. India has shown how insignificant it deems the concerns and expectations of Bangladesh over the issue. India has pledged to assist the refugees who were uprooted from Myanmar without even calling them ‘Rohingya’. We didn’t expect relief items like food, blankets or tents from India, but their support and cooperation to repatriate the Rohingyas. There’s no reflection of this in the joint statement.
The Bangladesh prime minister expressed concern regarding the National Register of Citizens of India (NIC). After Assam, arrangements are being made in several other states to introduce similar NRC. The Indian home minister and several other ruling party leaders there are openly saying that those excluded from the NRC would be sent back to Bangladesh. In response to the Bangladeshi prime minister’s concerns, it was said that Bangladesh did not have to worry as it was an internal issue of India. If there’s nothing to worry, then why isn’t it stated in the joint statement?
Pledges like ‘there’s nothing to worry’ or ‘Bangladesh won’t be affected’ are not enough. India used to say this for a decade before launching the devastating Farakka barrage. Also, the same was said before the abandoned Tipaimukh dam project. Surprisingly, several Bangladesh ministers too said the same thing without any verification then.
An influential advisor of the government gave an interview to India’s The Hindu newspaper on 6 October. Similar hints were found about NIC in the interview. He said Bangladesh was ready to take back the Bangladeshis after verifying them after India had completed its procedure. What message does it deliver to India?
A bond between two countries does not mean a bond of the policymakers, but a relationship of the people. We are not in a strong position to bargain with India due to our questionable parliament, bureaucracy, extremely centralised decision making and lack of national unity.
Exploiting this opportunity India is receiving many one-sided advantages from Bangladesh. The deals including the Feni water sharing agreement are only the new examples. Bangladeshi's mistrust concerning India will simply increase if this goes on.
This may hamper the relationship between the two countries seriously in the long run. This is obvious in the reaction of the people after Abrar killing.
*Asif Nazrul is a professor of law at Dhaka University. This article, originally appearing in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten here in English by Nusrat Nowrin.