Dhaka to bargain for more Ganga waters with India
Apr 28, 2007 - 4:24:38 PM

Dhaka, April 28 - Bangladesh will bargain with India for discharge of more Ganga waters through the Farakka Barrage to keep river routes navigable as officials of both sides meet in New Delhi next week to revive a river transit protocol.

The two countries signed the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade 27 years ago to facilitate cross-border trade through waterways, but it was not renewed after 2001.

The protocol stipulates 'each country will maintain the river routes falling within its territory in a navigable condition'.

Bangladesh complains that waterway transportation is badly hampered in the dry season due to drastic fall in water level in the Padma as India regulates the water flow through the Farakka Barrage, located 10 km from the Indian side of the border with Bangladesh in the state of West Bengal.

The issue of water flow would come up prominently when Bangladesh officials meet their counterparts in New Delhi on April 30-May 1 for renewal of the water transit protocol. A six-member delegation led by secretary to the shipping ministry, Sheikh Enayet, will represent the Bangladesh side at the talks.

The Bangladesh side will place a six-point list of demands, including hiking maintenance cost for river transit points, officials at the shipping ministry said.

The Indian side is also likely to place a seven-point list, including transhipment facilities at Ashuganj, Baghabari and Chittagong; 50-50 share in transportation of goods through river routes and opening of new river ports, New Age newspaper said, quoting unnamed Bangladeshi officials.

At the New Delhi meeting, Bangladesh officials will highlight the issue and call upon the Indian authorities to ensure bigger flow of water to keep river routes operational for transportation of goods throughout the network that connects Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla, Sirajganj, Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj and Pandu ports, sources said.

The protocol was signed in 1980 under the trade agreement between the two countries to make mutually beneficial arrangements for the use of their waterways for commerce. It was last renewed in 1999 for two years and expired in 2001.

'The trade agreement between the two countries remained suspended till March 21, 2006, due to various unsettled disputes. But it was revived last year, paving the way for further renewal of the protocol,' a delegation member told New Age.

Officials from both countries discussed the issue at a standing committee meeting in September 2006 in New Delhi and fixed the April 30-May 1 meeting to renew the protocol.

Dhaka will also demand an increase in the maintenance cost of the transhipment route, which is now Taka 20 million - per year. It would also propose use of Badarpur port instead of Karimganj and setting up of a new port at Shilghat in addition to Pandu.

On an average 600,000 tonnes of goods are transported between the two countries through the waterways a year, and most of the goods are imported by Bangladesh.

Currently, Bangladeshi vessels carry 97 percent of the total goods traded between the two countries through waterways. India now wants 50 percent share in the waterway transportation of goods, sources said.

Bangladesh water resources ministry claims that withdrawal of water upstream by India through more then 300 dams and diversion canals has resulted in a gradual decline in the flow of the Ganges, which recorded the lowest last summer in 50 years.

Bangladesh was supposed to get 27,633 cusecs of water between April 11 and April 20 as per the indicative schedules of the 1997 water treaty, but claims to have received only 15,188 cusecs during the period.

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