Friday, October 14, 2011

The Teesta, Transit And Obfuscation

Enigmatic abstruseness, laced with inscrutable charade, bewilders and perturbs the body politic as to who is speaking the truth when it comes to talking about the transit issue. Everybody from the PM to her cabinet colleagues including foreign minister as well as the all-important economic adviser and the foreign affairs adviser seem to be in a mood to pull the wool over people’s eyes. The Government’s decision to allow India to transport Indian goods through its territory without any trans-shipment fees has drawn sharp criticism by experts. The economic adviser said there was no relationship between the Teesta river water sharing deal and the provision of transhipment facilities to India. 

Though it was asserted that Dhaka did not sign the transit treaty, considerable measures are provided in clause 41 of the 65-point joint statement on formalities for using Chittagong and Mongla seaports for transporting goods to and from India through water, rail and road. A few weeks later Indian vessels carried cargo to Ashuganj en route Tripura. There was no routine check by customs staff nor was any tariff levied. 
Most of the people including a section of ruling Awami League (AL) leaders are questioning whether PM Sheikh Hasina is inviting a man-made disaster by sticking to her improper determination that the next general election will be held under her government, and not under a non-party interim administration called Caretaker Government —- for the enactment of which the AL leaders and activists launched terrifying programmes in 1996 and all hell broke loose. The system, brainchild of the Jamaat-e-Islami but enthusiastically adopted by AL as the singular agenda for movement and agitation against the BNP government, was institutionalised by means of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1996. Noted jurist of international acclaim, Dr Kamal Hossain, termed the government’s decision “suicidal”.

It needs no elaboration that the ruling Awami League (AL) government has opened a Pandora’s Box by annulling the Government CG system. On 10 May 2011 the Supreme Court of Bangladesh repealed the 13th amendment to the Constitution declaring the Non-party CG void and ultra vires to the Constitution; but allowed holding of “two more parliamentary elections” under the CG. Disregarding the second part of the verdict —- which is most crucial in Bangladesh context —- the AL has abolished it in parliament. 

Since time immemorial, the Teesta River has been flowing from Sikkim to India and from there to Bangladesh which has the natural fundamental right to get equal share of its water according to international laws and covenants, of which India and Bangladesh are co-signatories. But over the past three decades the issue of sharing of its water —- which is flowing into this land maybe for millions of years —- has become a bargaining chip in negotiations with India. vis-à-vis granting transit facility. 

Indeed, granting transit —- which is not for all intents and purposes a right but a privilege —- to big neighbour India as a quid pro quo for fair share of the river’s water for the impoverished and underprivileged Bangladeshi cultivators is not reasonable, given the miserably frail and fragile condition of infrastructure here. Contrarily, a press report dated 30 September said that Indians are withdrawing the water of the Feni river through 24 low-lift pumps. 

As a matter of fact, a vast country like India with her huge resources should not have stuck to conditionality; nevertheless that is the bitter pill to be swallowed by a weak country living under the shadow of constant threats. According to The Economist the border between Bangladesh and India is one of the world’s bloodiest one. Felani, a 15-year old girl, was shot dead by Indian BSF near Kurigram on 7 January 2011. Human rights organisation, Odhikar, says the BSF kills one Bangladeshi every four days. Some 1,000 Bangladeshis were killed by Indian border guards over the last decade. Such tragic incidents are happening because the Government has no concern for the people.

Recently when journalists pressed for a possible timeframe for the signing of the Teesta deal, an angry foreign minister retorted, “I cannot give the specific moment and date as I am not an astrologer.” Clairvoyance or not, inking of the Teesta deal for sheer survival of several million poor Bangladeshis brooks no delay.