China forcing Bangladesh into unviable project of managing Teesta River

China is trying to enforce on Bangladesh, a project for comprehensive restoration of river Teesta and management of the river basin that is unviable and likely to do serious damage to the environment of Bangladesh in the long run.

Dhaka is naturally reluctant to implement it and has so far resisted Chinese pressures to accept the project, Bangladesh Live News reported.

China is trying to seize the opportunity of the delay in the signing of the Teesta water-sharing deal between India and Bangladesh. New Delhi is sincere about sharing Teesta water with Bangladesh equitably and is keen on an early signing of the deal which was agreed upon between the two countries in 2011, when Manmohan Singh was the PM.

“Taking advantage of this impasse, the Chinese government is forcing Dhaka to agree to a plan of exploiting the entire length of river Teesta running through Bangladesh, straightening the course of the river which is inherently braided and digging ponds and reservoirs in the bed of the river to store water for the dry season,” Bangladesh Live News reported.

Additionally, there is a proposal for the reclamation of land in the river basin, using the dredged material, to set up roads, satellite towns and industrial parks with loans from Chinese companies.

It is a replication of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) model of China which has been tried in so many countries and failed; resulting in the recipient countries landing in a debt trap.

Nearly 21 million people depend on the 10km-long stretch of river Teesta running through Bangladesh for their livelihood.

The river has a network of small channels with islands in between created by the large amounts of sediment carried down from the Himalayas accumulating on the river bed.

This causes frequent floods and severe erosion of the river bank during the monsoon, in the dry season the river basin faces a shortage of water.

According to Bangladesh Live News, Chinese engineers want to force the flow of the river into a narrow main channel and increase the availability of water in the dry season by building a network of canals and ponds to store the water of the monsoon rain.

The report further stated that several experts in Bangladesh have criticized the Chinese plan as being an unrealistic one, destined to fail. The Teesta River has a width of five kilometres, with its main channel bifurcated by islands. Chinese engineers want to force its flow into a narrower channel, around one kilometre wide.

“Rivers are not an element we can handle by ourselves. If a river is naturally braided, it will be wise to keep the natural tendency of the river,” Professor Munsur Rahman at the Institute of Water and Flood Management in the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology was quoted as saying by South China Morning Post.

The Chairman of Dhaka-based River and Delta Research Centre, Mohammed Azaz has taken a critical view of the project sponsored by China.

One of his concerns is who will get the benefit of the reclaimed land. Building industrial zones will not benefit the riverine people except for their getting jobs as daily labourers in industrial projects. The government and the construction industry will stand to benefit the most, reported Bangladesh Live News.


Image courtesy: Bangladesh Live News

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