India and Bangladesh today launched their crucial two-day talks to hammer out a deal on sharing of waters of Teesta river, with Dhaka favouring an "interim agreement" on the issue if it is not possible to reach a long-term pact.
The Secretary-level talks opened at the state guest house of Meghna this morning, a Water Resource Ministry spokesman told PTI.
The parleys, which came ahead of Premier Sheikh Hasina's three-day visit to India from January 10, are divided in three sessions and expected to focus on the Teesta issue apart from discussing water-sharing of six other common rivers, joint dredging in Ichhamati river and initiatives for protection of common rivers.
The spokesman said that basically the two sides would discuss the quantum of water-sharing and the meeting was "expected to reach a consensus."
"If it is not possible to reach a long-term agreement (on the Teesta) we may go for an interim agreement," Bangladesh's Water Resource Secretary Sheikh Wahid-Uz-Zaman told reporters ahead of the start of the talks with his visiting counterpart Umesh Narayan Panjiar.
Officials earlier said Dhaka already submitted a draft agreement to India through Foreign Ministry in this regard.
The two-day talks were the culmination of an expert committee deliberations of the Joint River Commission (JRC) on the issue in November last year.
Sharing of Teesta's waters is a major issue in Bangladesh-India water talks for the past several years. Under a 1983 understanding, Bangladesh is supposed to get 36 per cent share of the flow and India 39 per cent allowing the rest of the water flow naturally.
Foreign Minister Dipu Moni last week said that talks with India were progressing on sharing of waters of Teesta as a positive development was expected on the issue during Prime Minister Hasina's New Delhi tour from January 10.
Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes supplemented her, saying Dhaka was trying to progress "as far as possible." The talks' outcome so far has been "intense" while "we all are looking for a development towards reaching an agreement on sharing of water in Teesta river, if not a treaty," he said.
Bangladesh claims that drastic fall in the water flow of Teesta during the lean season, especially in February and March, hampers irrigation in the country.
JRC sources said the flow of the river weakened significantly in the last 24 years for Gajoldoba barrage and some dams in the upstream Indian region. In February and March, it comes down to less than 1,000 cubic feet per second, from 5,000 cubic feet per second in December and January, they said.
Bangladesh and India inked a landmark treaty on sharing of the Ganges water during Hasina's previous 1996-2001 tenure, removing a major irk in bilateral ties.
Deltaic Bangladesh is criss-crossed by 230 major rivers, 54 of them originating from India.
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