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Kushiyara water-sharing deal marks new horizon in Indo-Bangladesh hydro-diplomacy

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* 

One of the seven MoUs signed during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India from September 5 to 8 is related to water sharing in the Kushiyara River. This is the first time since the Ganga water sharing agreement in 1996 that an agreement has been reached regarding the water sharing of a common river. Although the dreams of the people of the Teesta basin have not been fulfilled, a solution has arrived regarding the water distribution of the Kushiyara River in Sylhet. On the one hand, the tears of Teesta have been prolonged; on the other hand, the people of Kushiara have been given an opportunity to float in joy.
At the JRC meeting held on August 25, it was assumed that the water distribution problem on the Kushiyara River would be solved this time. It happened during the Prime Minister's visit. Although there is no strong discussion in the country about the water distribution of the Kushiara River, there has been joy and excitement among the farmers and fishermen of the Sylhet region. Because the people living in the Surma-Kushiara river basin know how important it is for the consensus of the two countries regarding the water distribution of this river. Only the people of Sylhet, especially Jokiganj, Biyanibazar, and Golapganj areas, suffer from water withdrawal in the dry season and release of water in the flood season. For a long time, agriculture in the area has been disrupted as well as large areas of Sylhet being swept away by premature floods due to India's one-sided water management.

There is a long-standing unresolved issue between the two countries regarding the water sharing of the 54 rivers that India shares with Bangladesh, and the topic of Teesta water distribution comes up the most. This is an old unresolved issue between the two countries, and India has been giving only assurances on the Teesta issue. However, this time the Kushiyar has prevailed over the Teesta River.
Kushiyara is a Bangladesh-India transboundary river that flows into Bangladesh from the Indian state of Assam. Actually, the Barak River in India enters Bangladesh along 24.53 N latitude and 92.32 S longitude through the Amalsid of Zakiganj in Sylhet and divides into Surma and Kushiyara. The Kushiara carries a lot of water and silt from the hilly areas of Assam state. Again, the intensity of erosion increases due to a strong current.
Bangladesh wants to extract Kushiyara water for a long time. Between 2011 and 2015, Bangladesh constructed a pump-house and a dam at Rahimpur Point. The Rahimpur canal, an 8 km long natural canal, is the only means of bringing water from Kushiyara. Numerous other canals originate from this one, which is the main source of irrigation for farmers in the surrounding area. But the Rahimpur Canal has become waterless during the dry season for several years due to the decrease in the navigability of the Kushiara River at its source. As a result, the land has been left uncultivated for ages. However, although the irrigation project was completed in 2016 under the Surma-Kushiara project, the Water Development Board could not excavate the junction of the Rahimpuri canal and the Kushiyara river in the face of obstruction by the Indian border guard BSF. Since 2016, representatives from different levels of the two countries have been meeting to address the issue. Finally, the agreement was drafted in the joint river commission meeting on August 25 and was signed on September 6 during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India.
Under this agreement, Bangladesh will withdraw 153 cusecs of water per second at the Rahimpur canal point of the Kushiyara river, and this water will be extracted mainly during the dry season and used for irrigation of agricultural land. Through this compromise, the issue of water extraction in the matter is settled.
There are various calculations about what kind of benefits it will bring. This agreement was signed between the two countries in the same year that India's Assam and Bangladesh's Sylhet regions were inundated by severe floods.
Indian international politics researcher Kallol Bhattacharya published an analysis in The Hindu explaining how important this agreement is. He said that in the last century, there has been a great change in the water flow of the Barak River. The water of this river now comes mostly to the Kushiyara river and the rest to the Surma river. During the monsoons, this water floods the region. Again, in winter, it is seen that there is no water in the river. Both the public life and agriculture of the Sylhet region were being disrupted. Due to the new agreement, Bangladesh will now be able to extract 153 cusecs of water from Kushiara and benefit greatly.
If we think about the importance of this agreement, we need to look back a little when the long Rahimpur canal turned into a dead end due to the closure of the water source and it was not possible to grow rabi seeds in the region due to irrigation shortage.
There is a 2500 cusec flow of water in this river during winter. Experts believe that if the issue of water distribution from the Kushiyara River is properly implemented, about 10,600 hectares of land in Jakiganj, Biyanibazar, and Golapganj upazilas of Sylhet district will come under boro paddy cultivation and seasonal crops, with flood control and water drainage facilities in about 54 hectares in the region. Food security for millions of people will be ensured as a result. Boro paddy is mainly cultivated between December and February. And this is when the water crisis is most visible.
According to analysts, during the dry season, water from the Kushiyara river will go down through the canal to Haor and Bill of four upazilas of Sylhet. As a result, about 10,000 hectares of land will come under cultivation, and agricultural work will be possible throughout the year due to the creation of irrigation facilities. Moreover, the haors and bills will become the same fish reservoirs as before. Increasing the depth of the canal will also reduce the risk of flooding. This will have a positive impact on the agriculture of Sylhet.
Another concerning issue is that the continuous erosion of the Kushiyara river is one of the reasons for the misery of the people living on both banks. Over the past few years, hundreds of houses, schools, mosques, and vast towns, including Hatbazar, along the banks of the river have been destroyed due to the continuous erosion of the devastating Kushiara River. Proper river management, dam construction, and canal excavation under the agreement will minimize the risk of flooding and river bank erosion.
Finally, it is fair to say that, if Kushiyara's water distribution is properly implemented, the door of possibilities will open before the people of this area. Millions of people will benefit from the agreement, and the long suffering of the residents along the banks of the Kushiyara may now be over. It is definitely a solution to a long-standing problem and is a major achievement for the current government.
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*Researcher and Security Affairs Analyst, Dhaka

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