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Teesta treaty

2nd July, 2024 International Relations

Teesta treaty


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Context: A technical team will soon visit Bangladesh to discuss conservation and management of the Teesta river in Bangladesh.



India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers, but only two treaties have been signed: the Ganga Waters Treaty and the Kushiyara River Treaty. Other major rivers, such as the Teesta and Feni, are still under negotiation.

The Teesta Issue

  • In West Bengal, Teesta is considered the lifeline of half-a-dozen districts in North Bengal. Teesta is very important for those districts.
  • Bangladesh has sought an “equitable” distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996 (an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border), but to no avail.
  • In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka generated some expectations to take forward to resolve the previous issues on fair and equitable water sharing agreement.
  • But Teesta remains an unfinished project, as in India individual states have significant influence over transboundary agreements. This arrangement sometimes holds back the policymaking process. 


1983 Agreement:

  • An ad-hoc agreement on the sharing of Teesta waters was reached in 1983, with Bangladesh allocated 36% and India 39% of the water flow, leaving 25% to be decided later.
  • However, this agreement was never fully implemented.

1996 Ganges Water Treaty:

  • Although this treaty primarily addressed the Ganges River, it set a precedent for bilateral cooperation on water-sharing between India and Bangladesh.

Attempts at a Comprehensive Agreement:

  • In 2011, an attempt was made to resolve the dispute when Indian PM visited Bangladesh.
  • Proposed agreement aimed at allocating 37.5% of Teesta’s waters to Bangladesh and 42.5% to India.
  • However, West Bengal govt opposed it arguing that it would harm its agricultural interests.

Importance to Bengal

  • It is estimated that the Teesta River has a mean annual flow of 60 billion cubic meters but
    a significant amount of this water flows only during wet season(June-Sept) leaving scant
    flow during the dry season(October-May) wherein the average flow gets reduced to about
    500 million cubic meters (MCM) per month.
  • This creates issues of equitable sharing during lean season.
  • Bangladesh has claimed that West Bengal’s Gazaldoba barrage is ‘unilaterally’ channelizing a large volume of water on the Teesta, due to which the country’s historic flow has been reduced to only 10% and its Teesta Irrigation Project has suffered.
  • It is also claimed that since Bangladesh has higher per capita water availability, then why to equally share waters of Teesta. Apart from that after construction of Teesta Barrage in 1998 by Bangladesh, farmers there are taking three crops per year.

Teesta River

A tributary of the Brahmaputra, the Teesta river originates from the Tso Lhamo Lake at an elevation of about 5,280 metres in north Sikkim.

The river travels for about 150 km in Sikkim and 123 km in West Bengal, before entering Bangladesh from Mekhligunj in Cooch Behar district; it flows another 140 km in Bangladesh and joins the Bay of Bengal.

Teesta is Bangladesh’s fourth largest trans-boundary river and its floodplain covers an area of 2,750 square kilometres in Bangladesh.

But 83% of the river’s catchment area lies in India and the remaining 17% is in Bangladesh, supporting 8.5% of its population and 14% of its crop production.

Political considerations

  • Government in Bangladesh is facing questions from the Opposition about the delay an agreement on the Teesta, the dams for hydro-electric power generation in Sikkim and the Teesta Barrage Project at Gazoldoba in West Bengal is making the flow of the river erratic in Bangladesh, leading to either floods or scarcity of water.
  • The visit of a technical team from India to discuss conservation of the Teesta in Bangladesh also comes amid the backdrop of China proposing major dredging work on the river and building reservoirs and embankments in 2020.
  • The Bangladesh government has put the proposal on hold for the past four years.

Environmental cocerns

  • The health of the Teesta river after the construction of a series of hydropower projects in Sikkim, deforestation in upper catchment areas and impact of climate change.
  • Environmental activists have also been raising questions on the ecological impact of hydro-electric projects on the river.
  • In October 2023, a glacial lake outburst triggered floods in the Teesta basin that claimed hundred lives and destroyed the Teesta III hydroelectric dam.

Domestic and International Laws about transboundary river water

Helsinki Rule: Sharing of waters of transboundary rivers have been mandated by international laws including The Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers in 1966.

Article 253: of the Indian Constitution gives powers to the government to enter any transboundary river water-related treaty with a riparian state.

Way forward    
Water sharing agreement should be concluded quickly by taking into account the needs of both the countries which could be satisfied through latest technologies available to maximize the efficiency in water use. Given the water is a state issue and West Bengal apprehensions of losing irrigation potential in north region because of the treaty needs to be addressed before taking any step.

For More: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/teesta-river




Q. Helsinki Rules often mentioned in news are associated with which of the following?

A. Waters of International Rivers 

B. Wates of High Sea

C. Special Economic Zone

D. Forex Reserve

Answer A