India will continue to engage with Bangladesh to conclude Teesta agreement: Shringla

India will continue to engage with Bangladesh to conclude the Teesta agreement as soon as possible, foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Wednesday ahead of prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country starting Friday.

Addressing a special briefing, foreign secretary Shringla said that the secretaries of water resources from both countries met recently under the Joint River Waters’ Commission.

“There was extensive discussions and cooperation on all of the rivers that flow between our countries. There are issues that involve not just water flows but use of water for drinking and irrigation purposes,” he said.

“We will continue our cooperation in the water resources sector. It’s an important area of collaboration between the two countries,” Shringla added.

While responding to a query raised by ANI whether any announcements could be expected on the signing of the Teesta agreement, he said, “We have extensive cooperation in river water sharing arrangements, we have had extensive talks. We’ve had cooperation in managing the waters that are shared between our countries. That cooperation continues, it is an ongoing thing.”

He added, “There has been a commitment from our side to conclude the Teesta Agreement as early as possible. We will continue to be engaged in that endeavour. I think this is also an important aspect from our side but we should not overlook the fact that we are talking about a very large number of rivers between the two countries.”

The foreign secretary reiterated the excellent defence cooperation and defence relationship between India and Bangladesh adding that “as we go along, we will continue to add depth into that relation”.

Earlier this month, during his official visit to Bangladesh, external affairs minister (EAM) S Jaishankar focused on issues of water sharing, border killings, Covid-19 with his counterpart AKA Momen in Dhaka.

Speaking during a press conference, Jaishankar termed Teesta water-sharing as a big issue, saying, “We did discuss it, we have a meeting of our water resources Secretaries very soon. I’m sure they will be discussing it further. I think you all know Government of India’s position that position has not changed.”

The Teesta river dispute is an important point of bilateral talks between India and Bangladesh, as the latter has sought a fair and equitable distribution of Teesta waters from India. They also signed an agreement in 2011 to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border.

However, the proposed deal was called off after repeated objections by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The water-sharing issue was once again discussed during prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015, but it remains unresolved till date.

PM Modi’s upcoming visit to Bangladesh is of a “very special significance” and will serve to highlight the celebration of unique ties between New Delhi and Dhaka said Shringla.

The visit comes at a momentous time in bilateral ties between two countries, Shringla said.

“Bangladesh is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its liberation war. India had lent its full support to this noble cause in which Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives too,” he said.

“Both nations are commemorating 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties. It is also the year of commemoration of the 100th birth anniversary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,” he added.

The foreign secretary said that security and defence is an important part of bilateral cooperation with Bangladesh.

“In recent years, we have signed an agreement on defence cooperation. We have extended a USD 500 million line of credit for defence imports from India into Bangladesh,” he said.

“We have undertaken joint military exercises, training and capacity building exercises regularly. There are regular visits of chiefs of army staff between both countries. It is a regular practice for chiefs of all of our armed forces to visit Bangladesh and vice-versa,” he added.

Prime minister Modi will pay an official state visit to Bangladesh on 26 and 27 March on the invitation of Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina. This will the first foreign visit by prime minister Modi since the Coronavirus outbreak.

PM Modi will call on Bangladesh president Abdul Hamid during the visit. He will hold restricted delegation-level talks with Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh foreign minister AK Abdul Momen will call on the prime minister.

The prime minister will also interact with diverse groups of Bangladesh’s polity and society.

PM Modi’s visit to Dhaka will be in connection with three epochal events – Mujib Barsho (birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman); 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and India; and 50 years of Bangladesh liberation war.

Bangladesh-India relations are multifaceted in nature and rooted in a shared history, geographical proximity and commonality in their cultures. The emotional bonds stemming from the contribution of India towards the liberation of Bangladesh remain a dominant factor in the country’s political, social and cultural web. (ANI)