Indian River Projects Threaten Bangladesh Water Security

New Delhi is starting massive series of new projects to divert water from major rivers in the north and the east of the country to India's drought-stricken western and southern regions. This news has sounded alarm bells in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, according to the UK's Guardian newspaper.

The $400 billion project involves rerouting water from major rivers including the Ganga and Brahmaputra and creating canals to link the Ken and Batwa rivers in central India and Damanganga-Pinjal in the west. Its target is to help drought-hit India farmers who are killing themselves at a rate on one every 30 minutes for at least two decades.

The Indo-Gangetic Plain, also known as Indus-Ganga and the North Indian River Plain, is a 255 million hectare (630 million acre) fertile plain encompassing most of northern and eastern India, the eastern parts of Pakistan, and virtually all of Bangladesh, according to a Wikipedia entry.

India and Pakistan have a formal internationally-brokered and monitored treaty called Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) signed in 1960 between Indian Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan President Ayub Khan in Karachi.

The IWT allocated water from three eastern rivers of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej for exclusive use by India before they enter Pakistan, while the water from three western rivers of Jhelum, Chenab and Indus was allocated for exclusive use of Pakistan. The treaty essentially partitioned the rivers rather than sharing of their waters. The treaty also permits India to build run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects on the western rivers but it can not divert any water from them for its own use.

In the east, River Ganga upon reaching the Indian state of West Bengal splits into two main branches, the Hooghly which continues its course south into West Bengal and the Padma that flows into Bangladesh. Similarly, the Brahmaputra upon reaching Bangladesh splits into two main distributaries, the Jamuna and the Meghna. Both enter Bangladesh at different points.

At least 100 million Bangladeshis living downstream in Jamuna (Brahmaputra) and Padma (Ganga) river basins will be hit hard if India carries out the project as planned.

Alarmed by this development, Bangladesh’s minister of water, Nazrul Islam, has pleaded with the Indian government to take Bangladesh’s water needs into consideration, noting that 54 of 56 Indian rivers flowed through his country.

Bangladesh is already suffering from India's increasing withdrawal of Ganges water in recent years. India has built at least 26 water diversion projects upstream the Ganges which has led to crop failure and even desertification of certain areas in the lower riparian Bangladesh, according to Dhaka Tribune.

Unlike the internationally-brokered and monitored Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between Pakistan and India, there is no similar water-sharing treaty between Bangladesh and India. The 1996 Farakka treaty has done little to help Bangladesh.  It is dependent entirely on the good-will of the rulers in Delhi for its water life-line.

Will Modi respond positively to the pleas of his strong ally in Bangladesh's Shaikh Hasina to take its eastern neighbor's water needs into consideration? Will Modi assure Bangladesh by signing a binding water-sharing treaty along the lines of the Indus Waters Treaty? Unfortunately, the history suggests otherwise.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 22, 2016 at 9:13pm

Excerpts from a right-wing Hindu publication hindunet.org on the history of water issues between India and Pakistan:


Following the partition of the sub-continent, India and Pakistan signed a "standstill agreement" on 18 December 1947 which guaranteed to maintain water supplies at the level of allocation in the pre-partition days. However, on 1 April 1948, India without any warning cut off supplies to Pakistan from both Ferozepur and Gurdaspur. The action was contrary to the letter and the spirit of the international law covering interstate river waters. The Barcelona Convention of 1921 on interstate river waters to which India was a signatory disallowed every State to stop or alter the course of a river which flowing through its own territories went into a neighbouring country and also forbade to use its waters in such a way as to imperil the lands in the neighbouring State or to impede their adequate use by the lower riparians. But India as the upper riparian of the Indus rivers was in a position of strength. India could deflect the Beas into the Sutlej above Bhakra or divert the Ravi into the Beas at Madhopur. It could construct a dam on Wular lake in the Kashmir valley and dry up the river Jhelum. A headwork on the Chenab at Dhiangarh, north of Jammu, could deflect the Chenab from its natural course into Pakistan. The major projects of the Bhakra, Pong and Thein dams then in the offing, if completed, could drain off the rivers of Sutlej, Beas and Ravi.

------


The Indus water Treaty was signed at Karachi on 19 September, 1960 by Prime Minister Nehru and President Ayub Khan. Under the agreement India promised to supply waters to Pakistan for the payment of expenses for operating the Madhopur and Ferozepur head works and their carrier channels, and also to contribute Rupees 100 crore for construction of replacement headworks to Pakistan.


http://www.hindunet.org/hindu_history/sarasvati/sarasvati_river/pun...

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 3, 2017 at 7:46am

#India’s $168 billion river-linking project is a disaster-in-waiting. #Ganga #Brahmaputra #Bangladesh https://qz.com/504127 via @qzindia

India’s incredibly ambitious—and some say, incredibly reckless—Rs11 lakh crore ($168 billion) project to interlink its rivers is finally underway.
On Sept. 16, the Godavari and Krishna rivers—the second and the fourth longest rivers in the country—were linked through a canal in Andhra Pradesh. The project was completed at a cost of Rs1,300 crore ($196 million). A second scheme, the Ken-Betwa river project—estimated to cost Rs11,676 crore ($1.7 billion)—is currently under development, with completion likely by December this year.
This is a part of the Narendra Modi government’s plan to revive the river-linking project, which was first envisioned in 1982, and actively taken up by the Bharatiya Janata Party government under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002.

Here is how the river-linking project works: The big idea is to connect 37 Himalayan and peninsular rivers. So, water-surplus rivers will be dammed, and the flow will be diverted to rivers that could do with more water. In all, some 30 canals and 3,000 small and large reservoirs will be constructed with potential to generate 34 gigawatt of hydroelectric power. The canals, planned between 50 and 100 meters in width, will stretch some 15,000 kilometres.
“If we can build storage reservoirs on these rivers and connect them to other parts of the country, regional imbalances could be reduced significantly and lot of benefits by way of additional irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, hydropower generation, navigational facilities etc. would accrue,” India’s National Water Development Authority describes the project on its website.
The project is expected to create some 87 million acres of irrigated land, and transfer 174 trillion litres of water a year. Also, half a million people are likely to be displaced in the process, according to a report (pdf) by Upali Amarasinghe, a senior researcher at the International Water Management Institute.


Ecologists and environmentalists warn that the project is imprudent and dangerous, especially since there is little clarity on the ultimate impact on such a massive undertaking.

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 8, 2018 at 11:34am

Chinese engineers plan 1,000km tunnel to make Xinjiang desert bloom

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2116750/chinese-engi...

Chinese engineers are testing techniques that could be used to build a 1,000km tunnel – the world’s longest – to carry water from Tibet to Xinjiang, experts involved in the project say.

The proposed tunnel, which would drop down from the world’s highest plateau in multiple sections connected by waterfalls, would “turn Xinjiang into California”, one geotechnical engineer said.

China’s longest tunnel is the eight-year-old 85km Dahuofang water project in Liaoning province, while the world’s longest tunnel is the 137km main water supply pipe beneath the city of New York.


However, the Chinese government started building a tunnel in the centre of Yunnan province in August that will be more than 600km long, local media reported. Comprising more than 60 sections, each wide enough to accommodate two high-speed trains, it will pass through mountains several thousand metres above sea level in an area plagued by unstable geological conditions.

Researchers said building the Yunnan tunnel would be a “rehearsal” of the new technology, engineering methods and equipment needed for the Tibet-Xinjiang tunnel, which would divert the Yarlung Tsangpo River in southern Tibet to the Taklimakan Desert in Xinjiang. Downstream, in India, the river becomes the Brahmaputra, which joins the Ganges in Bangladesh.

The Tibetan Plateau stops the rain-laden Indian Ocean monsoon from reaching Xinjiang, with the Gobi Desert in the north and the Taklimakan Desert in the south leaving more than 90 per cent of the region unsuitable for human settlement.

However, the Taklimakan sits right at the foot of the Tibetan Plateau, which is known as the water tower of Asia. The more than 400 billion tonnes of water it releases each year – almost enough to fill Lake Erie in the United States – also feeds the source of other major rivers, including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong (known in China as the Lancang) and the Ganges.

The earliest proposals to divert water from Tibet to Xinjiang were made by Qing dynasty officials Lin Zexu and Zuo Zongtang in the 19th century. In recent decades, Chinese government branches, including the Ministry of Water Resources, have come up with engineering blueprints involving huge dams, pumps and tunnels.

The project’s enormous cost, engineering challenges, possible environmental impact and the likelihood of protests by neighbouring countries have meant it has never left the drawing board, but Zhang Chuanqing, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics in Wuhan, Hubei province, said China was now taking a quiet, step-by-step approach to bring it to life.

“The water diversion project in central Yunnan is a demonstration project,” said Zhang, who has played a key role in many major Chinese water tunnel projects, including the one in Yunnan. “It is to show we have the brains, muscle and tools to build super-long tunnels in hazardous terrains, and the cost does not break the bank.”

The construction of the tunnel on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, the country’s second-highest, would make political leaders more confident about the Tibet-Xinjiang project and more likely to approve it, he said.

The Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau in southwest China is, like the Tibetan Plateau, an earthquake-prone zone with many active faults.

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 14, 2022 at 5:53pm

#India wary of #China setting up #Bangladesh missile maintenance hub. Bangladesh procured some 17% of all Chinese #military exports from 2016 to 2020, making it China's second-largest arms customer, after #Pakistan. - Nikkei Asia

https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/India-wary...

NEW DELHI -- With China preparing to set up a maintenance facility in Bangladesh for surface-to-air missile systems it supplied in 2011, alarm bells are ringing in New Delhi.

The deal on the maintenance hub has not been officially announced either by Beijing and Dhaka, but a senior Bangladeshi diplomat confirmed to Nikkei Asia that the two countries have reached agreement on the facility.

He said, "Beijing and Dhaka want to keep this development under wraps currently as China is under increasing scrutiny from the West -- particularly the U.S. -- for upsetting the security balance in Asia with its territorial aggression."

He added that the formal announcement of the missile deal has been complicated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine "which has led the world to cry out for peace rather than war."

The facility, in which Chinese company Vanguard is a partner, is part of a raft of Chinese military-related investments and supplies going to Bangladesh that also includes warships, naval guns, anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missile systems themselves.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Sweden-based think tank, Bangladesh procured some 17% of all Chinese military exports from 2016 to 2020, making it China's second-largest arms customer, after Pakistan.

A senior official of India's Ministry of Defense told Nikkei Asia on condition of anonymity that though Bangladesh considers itself a "close ally" of India, it likes to maintain close commercial and military ties with China.



"The two signed a defense cooperation treaty in 2002, which includes weapons production. And defense ties have further deepened between the two, with Bangladesh's military personnel also being sent to the People's Liberation Army institute for training," he said.

In 2016, Bangladesh also acquired two submarines from China to boost its naval power, at a cost of $203 million. This came despite the fact that Chinese-supplied defense equipment -- trainer aircraft as well as naval frigates -- had previously developed snags. The F-90 missiles supplied by China also reportedly ran into controversy in Bangladesh last year due to technical glitches.

Be that as it may, defense analysts predict that Bangladesh's growing and vigorous military partnership with China will embolden the former while exerting pressure on India.

"The setting up of a missile facility, and China's other military engagements with Bangladesh, is nothing but psychological warfare on India by China. Beijing is sending a strong signal to India that the country has now come into the Chinese orbit," said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal University, New Delhi. "This will bolster Bangladeshi sentiments, lead to domestic political reconfigurations like the mushrooming of pro-China groups within Bangladesh and further heighten the Chinese footprint within the country."

Kondapalli told Nikkei Asia that the Dhaka-Beijing camaraderie does not pose an existential threat to India, "nor can we object to the military partnership between the two, as they're sovereign states -- but it does amount to China crossing a line."

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 10, 2022 at 7:01pm

India and Bangladesh in talks for major river agreement ahead of PM Hasina’s visit

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-and-bangladesh-in-talk...


India and Bangladesh are likely to ink at least one major river agreement later this month, The Hindu has learned. The planning for the agreement is being tightly guarded by officials on both sides as water sharing between the two countries is considered to be a sensitive subject given the fact that it often takes political meaning.
Apart from the major agreement(s) under discussion, sharing of data of river waters and better flood control planning are expected to feature in the upcoming meeting of the Joint River Commission (JRC) that will meet in the last week of August ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's September 6-7 India visit.Also Read | Good neighbours: On India-Bangladesh tiesIn response to a query, The Hindu learned that there is a "strong possibility" that an agreement on the Kushiyara that flows from Assam into Bangladesh is part of one such agreement that may get "done" during the JRC. A diplomatic source also hinted at a "major agreement" involving the Ganga may also be taken up as there is a "strong urge" to achieve a big river agreement ahead of Prime Minister Hasina's visit, which may be her last trip to Delhi before Dhaka goes into election mode next year.Teesta waters agreementThe Awami League government has been insistent on sealing the Teesta waters agreement, which has eluded settlement so far. Ms. Hasina visited India during October 2019 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Dhaka in March 2021 and during all high-level interactions, Bangladesh conveyed its urgency over the Teesta issue.In that context, Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami had earlier referred to  “domestic challenges” hinting at the role of the West Bengal government, while explaining the delay in the Teesta waters agreement. However, it is understood that India has agreed to offer Bangladesh a package on river waters-related deals that will be considered a significant advancement in terms of sharing of river resources with Dhaka.Also Read | India, Bangladesh should work on river management: JaishankarWhile political ties between Delhi and Kolkata have been a reason that apparently stalled Teesta waters, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was in Delhi last week and met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issues that are relevant to her state. Ms. Banerjee's visit, which came in the backdrop of the tightly-guarded India-Bangladesh negotiation, has contributed to the speculation on river water sharing between India and Bangladesh.Other rivers in focusConvening the JRC has been a long-pending demand of Bangladesh as the ministerial-level meeting was last held in 2010. While several rivers-related developments have unfolded between the two sides in the meantime that need to be given a coherent policy-related shape, the JRC is the suitable platform for such initiatives.It is understood that the next JRC will focus on the "positive side" and take the negotiation beyond the Teesta and to "other big rivers" and intensify collaboration on the rivers like Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gomti, Dharla and Dudhkumar, where India and Bangladesh have greater scope of collaboration. Trans-boundary rivers constitute an important component behind the recent economic success of Bangladesh as it generates livelihood for millions in the country.Bangladesh and India share 54 rivers and Dhaka has been keen on accessing more data from the Indian side to plan better fisheries and flood control strategies. 

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 17, 2022 at 4:46pm

India’s growing control over Bangladesh worries experts
Kushiyara agreement termed unfair, diesel import through pipeline to strengthen India’s control

https://www.newagebd.net/article/181366/indias-growing-control-over...


India’s control over Bangladesh is growing thanks to the latter’s decision to unnecessarily increase dependence on its neighbour, speakers at a press conference organised by Sarbojonkotha, a Bangla quarterly journal, observed on Saturday.

The latest agreement over sharing of the Kushiyara river water is not fair, they said, expressing surprise at the necessity of seeking India’s permission when Bangladesh has its own rights to lift the river water that is inside Bangladesh.

India has already built 12 irrigation projects and power plants in the upstream along the river even without bothering to ask for permission from Bangladesh in the downstream, they noted.

‘Bangladesh’s dependence on India is being unnecessarily increased. The dependency may be useful for the government but does not appear to benefit ordinary people,’ said Sarbojonkotha editor Anu Muhammad.

He said that Bangladesh planned to increase electricity import from India despite having excessive installed generation capacity.

‘India’s control over Bangladesh is strategically beneficial to a vested quarter in India and Bangladesh,’ said Anu Muhammad.

He demanded that border killings by the India’s Border Security Force be probed independently through the UN mediation.

Dhaka University teacher Moshahida Sultana presented a keynote paper at the virtual press conference held in the morning.

The keynote paper said that electricity import from India would soon contribute 16 per cent of the overall installed power generation capacity of Bangladesh.

‘Once the trans-border under-construction pipeline is established, Bangladesh will become dependent on India for meeting more than 20 per cent of its energy demand,’ she said.

The dependency is destined to strengthen India’s control over Bangladesh, she said, potentially opening a window for India’s interfering with Bangladesh’s internal affairs.

Bangladesh can save about $11 by refining imported crude oil in its own refineries but prefers instead to rely on India for refining oil through the construction of tarns-border pipeline which is said to save $2, said Moshahida.

The agreement for withdrawing water from the Kushiyara river in downstream was described as unfair by Md Khalequzzaman, who teaches geology at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania in the United States.

India filled up canals and other infrastructures along the Barak River in the upstream, he said, reminding its adverse impacts on downstream.

Bangladesh recently reached an agreement with India for lifting 153 cusec of water from a Barak tributary, Rahimpur canal, which flows inside Bangladesh.

‘The agreement sets a bad precedent,’ he said, asking, ‘Why is there a necessity to seek permission from India for lifting water from a canal inside Bangladesh?’

Benefits of the Kushiyara agreement have been exaggerated, he said, adding that the water Bangladesh has permission for lifting from the river can irrigate maximum 3,750 hectares of land.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 17, 2022 at 4:47pm

India’s growing control over Bangladesh worries experts
Kushiyara agreement termed unfair, diesel import through pipeline to strengthen India’s control

https://www.newagebd.net/article/181366/indias-growing-control-over...


India has been lifting Kushiyara water apparently even without asking Bangladesh for a long time, Khalequzzaman said while presenting his keynote paper.

Dhaka University teacher Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan in his keynote paper highlighted border killing by the India’s Border Security Force citing an issue of the US-based Foreign Policy magazine listing Bangladesh-India border among the 13 most dangerous places in the world.

In the years between 2015 and 2022, 161 Bangladeshis were killed by India’s Border Security Force. Another 45 people have been murdered along the border in other incidents in 2020 alone, the highest number of such murder in a decade.

‘Reality does not reflect friendship that the two governments enjoy bragging about,’ said Tanzim.

Experts also called for basin-wise river management, advising Bangladesh to rectify the UN watercourses convention and get a right share of water from trans-boundary rivers in exchange of giving transit to India.

Bangladesh should regularly publish data on stream flows on trans-boundary rivers, they said, reminding that India did not release agreed amount of water through the Farakka Barrage at 65 per cent of the time despite having a treaty.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 17, 2022 at 5:11pm

India and Bangladesh on Tuesday signed a deal on withdrawing water from the Kushiara river in Assam and six other treaties as their leaders spoke of "shared cultural traditions" and solving issues through "clear discussions".

https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/india-ban...

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh leader Sheikh Hasina, who is on a 4-day visit to India, signed the agreements in Delhi. The agreements include a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on training Bangladeshi personnel in Indian Railways institutes and collaboration in Information Technology (IT) systems for freight operations. The countries signed MoUs on training programmes for Bangladeshi judicial officers in India, scientific and technological cooperation, technology and the public television sector.

The two nations inaugurated the first unit of the Maitri Super Thermal Power project, which Bangladesh constructed with development assistance from India. Prime Minister Hasina signed seven agreements in diverse areas in her last visit to New Delhi in 2019.

"Bangladesh has significantly progressed under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and our bilateral cooperation has also seen fast growth. In the past few years, Bangladesh has become India's largest development partner. Our close cultural and people to people relations have also continuously grown," Modi said, adding that he and the visiting leader agreed on extending connectivity and trade infrastructure.

Hasina thanked India for assisting Bangladesh in its economic development. "Our main focus is to help create a progressive future for citizens of both nations. All our foreign policy engagements with India are based on this one objective," she said.
India’s infra push

In response to China announcing infrastructure financing and construction projects in Bangladesh, India is stepping up assistance for its eastern neighbour

"The rising price of energy is proving to be a challenge everywhere in the world. Today, the inauguration of the first unit of the Maitri Thermal Plant in Bangladesh will raise the availability of affordable electricity in Bangladesh," Modi said. Constructed under India's concessional financing scheme, the project will add 1320 MW of electricity generation capacity in Bangladesh.

Modi praised the new Rupsha rail bridge, which is being constructed to connect the upcoming Mongla port in southwestern Bangladesh to its third-largest city of Khulna. India is providing concessional credit for the bridge and the port and the total project is set to cost $389 million.

Bangladesh wants Indian companies to use the port and transnational rail lines connecting the country to West Bengal and Tripura as an alternative direct access channel into underserved areas of Eastern and North Eastern India.

Trade ties

"Our bilateral trade is expanding fast. Today, India is the largest market in Asia for Bangladeshi exports. To push this growth even further, we will soon begin talks on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)," Modi said.

A quick deal on CEPA is a key policy objective for Dhaka after Hasina approved it in August. Preliminary joint studies suggest the deal is expected to raise Bangladeshi exports to India two-fold and expand the country's GDP by 2 per cent. While the talks are still in early stages, Modi's mention of the CEPA in the joint press statement likely indicates enough that New Delhi has accepted Bangladesh's request to accord the CEPA priority.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 17, 2022 at 5:12pm

India and Bangladesh on Tuesday signed a deal on withdrawing water from the Kushiara river in Assam and six other treaties as their leaders spoke of "shared cultural traditions" and solving issues through "clear discussions".

https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/india-ban...


Trade ties

"Our bilateral trade is expanding fast. Today, India is the largest market in Asia for Bangladeshi exports. To push this growth even further, we will soon begin talks on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)," Modi said.

A quick deal on CEPA is a key policy objective for Dhaka after Hasina approved it in August. Preliminary joint studies suggest the deal is expected to raise Bangladeshi exports to India two-fold and expand the country's GDP by 2 per cent. While the talks are still in early stages, Modi's mention of the CEPA in the joint press statement likely indicates enough that New Delhi has accepted Bangladesh's request to accord the CEPA priority.

Bangladesh exports only $1.9 billion worth of goods to India from where it imports $16.15 billion. It imported $4 billion worth of cotton, $1.2 billion worth of wheat and a similar amount of petroleum. Hasina has pushed for the deal to allow this trade imbalance to rectify at least partially. A quick resolution on this front would allow her to answer her domestic critics who point to the country even importing $600 million of rice, mostly parboiled, as emblematic of India's overwhelming shadow on the country's economy, officials said.

Water sharing

Water sharing is a diplomatic issue as the Ganges and the Brahmaputra enter Bangladesh from West Bengal and Assam. Called Padma and Jamuna in Bangladesh, these rivers accumulate water from the hundreds of rivers that snake through the riverine nation. Access to water from the Teesta river, which is important for irrigation in northwest Bangladesh, is a contested issue as well.

Solutions seem to be flowing. "There are 54 rivers that traverse the India-Bangladesh border and have historically been a part of the livelihood of people in both nations. The songs and tales about these rivers are also a symbol of our unique, shared cultural traditions. The water sharing agreement on the Kushiara river will benefit South Assam and the Sylhet region in Bangladesh," Modi said.

India will continue to share real-time data on water flow and flood with Bangladesh, he added.

"We are two neighboring nations, and there may often be certain issues between two nations, but we have set an example by solving many issues through clear discussions," said Hasina, referring to sharing of river water.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 17, 2022 at 6:54pm

The ground under Sheikh Hasina’s feet is shifting

By Avinash Paliwal

https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/the-ground-under-sheikh-hasi...

Bangladesh's foreign minister
AK Abdul Momen arrived in
India last month to fight polit-
ical fires. But he found himself
dealing with massive floods
that hit Sylhet and Assam.
Nature has its ways to convey
that not all is well in India's
near-east. Far from the glitz
about Bangladesh's economic
success, on display during the
recent inauguration of the
Padma Bridge, clampdown on
Islamists, and shrewd man-
agement of big power rivalries,
is a parallel potent reality of
Prime Minister Sheikh Has-
ina's authoritarianism,
heightened polarisation, and
economic distress. As an
Indian official mentioned to
me, and a Bangladeshi official
echoed. Hasina "has built a
house of cards"
The economic, social, and
political ground under Has-
ina's feet is shifting in real
time. It is slow enough to be
dismissed as non-urgent, but
sure enough to become press-
ing, if not dealt with urgently.
With general elections due in
2023, and external debt repay-
ment schedules kicking in
from 2024, it is a matter of
time for the veneer of (forced)
stability to lose its sheen. The
risk of dislocation, if not col-
lapse, of this so-called house
of cards has increased in
recent years, and it could
undermine whatever is left of
India's connectivity aspira-
tions in its near east.
Domestically, the Hasina gov-
ernment has exacerbated two
contradictions in a tradition-
ally polarised polity. One, she
is in power, but with little to
no electoral legitimacy. The
Awami League's (AL) manipu-
lation of the 2014 and 20118
elections (a practice not just
reserved for national elections
and against opponents),
unceasing harassment of its
key opponent, the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP), gag-
ging of media, social media
monitoring using advanced
digital surveillance, and a
forced tilt towards the conser-
vative Islamic Right as a bal-
ancing move after targeting
these formations using force,
has created wide pockets of
intense frustration.
Unlike her father, Sheikh
Mujibur Rahman, who created
a one-party State, but failed to
contain a famine in 1974, Has-
ina has placed her bets on eco-
nomic development. The argu-
ment runs that good economic
performance coupled with lib
eral use of force will make a
one-party State under Has-
ina's leadership sustainable.
But this is where the second
contradiction kicks in.
Bangladesh's external debt to
Gross Domestic Product ratio
has increased to 21.8%, import
spending has shot up by nearly
44%, forex reserves of $42
billion are falling and can
cover about five months'
worth of imports, and the rev-
enue from readymade gar-
ments export and remittances
is not keeping pace with the
fast rising costs to the
exchequer.


Couple this with the global
inflation created by the Rus-
sia-ukraine war and United
Statesled sanctions, and it
becomes clear why Momen is
asking India to remove anti-
dumping duties on Banglade-
shi jute exports. Further com-
plicating this situation is
Dhaka's propensity to accept
external loans for infrastruc-
tural projects at highly inflated
costs, making repayment dif-
ficult. One of the cases in point
is the 2015 Rooppur Nuclear
Power Plant deal with Russia
for which Dhaka is to repay
$13.5 billion. India paid $3 bil-
lion for a similar plant in
Kudankulam.
Why does Dhaka accept such
deals? Because external fin-
ance fuels (limited) infra-
structural growth, chronic
corruption, and keeps the
political illusion of economic
development alive. To be clear
and fair, Bangladesh's eco-
nomic journey has been more
than commendable. But to
expect an economic miracle,
which is bound to dwindle due
to internal or external shocks,
to sustain a corrupt system
pretending to be a democracy
is a tall ask. Herein, Hasina has
ensured that neither the
Islamists nor the BNP
which enjovs public sympathy,
even if it may not get a fair
election - pose a serious
challenge to her.

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