AN ISSUE that did not even figure on the original agenda of the Indo-Bangla Joint River Commission's (JRC) 35th meeting embroiled the conference in controversy. The matter pertained to India's much-hyped river linking project and Bangladesh's apprehensions about it. Talks ended with the India admitting that the project was at a preliminary stage, and pledging to keep Bangladesh abreast of future developments regarding the venture.
Ever since India announced the unilateral scheme, Bangladesh has been demanding pacts on all common rivers. It upped the ante prior to the two-day JRC meet, held in Delhi from September 29. India was forced to include the subject at the last minute as a "miscellaneous item". Bangladesh contended that it should be involved in the project from the 'conceptual' stage as it shares 54 rivers with India, of which only eight are a part of parleys. "India's plan to link major rivers will lead to desertification in Bangladesh, and is a big issue for us," asserted Hafizuddin Ahmed, Bangladesh's water resources minister.
Such was the primacy accorded to the matter by Bangladesh that it took the two countries close to five hours to draft mutually acceptable statements. The Indian side finally relented, with Union water resources minister Arjun Charan Sethi clarifying that the task force has yet to come out with its report.