Teesta river issue and River Disputes


Context: India and Bangladesh have been engaged in a long-standing dispute over water-sharing in the Teesta. Adding to the existing tensions, Bangladesh is now discussing an almost $1 billion loan from China for a comprehensive management and restoration project on the Teesta river. Bangladesh’s discussions with China come at a time when India is particularly wary about China following the standoff in Ladakh.

Another issue that needs attention is Farakka Barrage Issue which is now resolved

River Teesta originates from Kangse glacier in Charamullake in Sikkim and finally drains in the Bay of Bengal.

It is a tributary of the Brahmaputra (known as Jamuna in Bangladesh), flowing through India and Bangladesh.

It originates in the Himalayas near Chunthang, Sikkim and flows to the south through West Bengal before entering Bangladesh.

The Teesta Barrage dam helps to provide irrigation for the plains between the upper Padma and the Jamuna.

It is the fourth largest river in Bangladesh after Padma, Ganga and Meghna.

Teesta’s flood plain covers about 14% of the total cropped area of Bangladesh and provides direct livelihood opportunities to approximately 73% of its population. The problem arises due to the severe shortage of water in the dry months.

On the other hand, Teesta is the lifeline of North Bengal and almost half a dozen of districts of West Bengal are dependent on the waters of Teesta.



  • Of the 57 transboundary rivers, Bangladesh shares 54 of them with India. Teesta is the 4th largest river in Bangladesh (after Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna). The flood plain of Teesta is 2750 square kilometres in Bangladesh. A key irritant is the issue related to the river Teesta.
  • That means more than one lakh hectares of land across five districts in Bangladesh are severely affected by withdrawals of the Teesta’s waters in India. These five Bangladesh districts then face acute shortages during the dry season.
  • The key problem relates to a barrage at Gajoldaba in India and another at Dalia in Bangladesh. Using the barrages, both nations draw water for irrigation.
  • Hydropower on the Teesta is another point of conflict. There are at least 26 projects on the river mostly in Sikkim, aimed at producing some 50,000MW.
  • India says it has its own compulsions. “Not enough water is flowing into the Teesta to meet our irrigation needs. We have to increase the area under irrigation in North Bengal to boost agricultural production. We will achieve our target of bringing in 1.5 lakh acres of farmland,”



  • The Teesta River originates in Sikkim and flows through West Bengal as well as Bangladesh. India claims a share of 55 percent of the river’s water.
  • Bangladesh sought a fair and equitable distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty 1996. The treaty is an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border.
  • Bangladesh wants a higher share than it gets now. Currently, its share is lower than that of India’s.
  • Bangladesh wants 50 percent of the Teesta’s waters between December and May every year, because that’s when the water flow to the country drops drastically.


Efforts made so Far

  • In 1972, a Joint River Commission was established to share resources of 54 rivers. However, till now the only success is on an agreement related Ganga river signed in 1996 for 30 years for water sharing.
  • Negotiations on how to share the water have been going on since 1983. both nations agreed an adhoc agreement where India received 39% of Teesta water while 36% was allocated to Bangladesh. Around 25% water was unallocated.
  • A 2011 interim deal – that was supposed to last 15 years – gave India 42.5 percent of the Teesta’s waters and gave Bangladesh 37.5 percent during the dry season. Bengal opposed this deal so it was shelved and remains unsigned.
  • The agreement could not be adopted due to opposition by the CM of West Bengal. The issue remains unresolved up to 2017.


Way Forward

  • The West Bengal CM proposed that the two countries set up a commission to ascertain the level of water flowing through the Torsa and the quantum of water that can be shared.
  • As north Bengal is completely dependent on the Teesta, rivers like the Torsa, which are closer to the border of India and Bangladesh, are good options. The Torsa, in fact, has connectivity with Bangladesh’s Padma River.
  • A solution often proposed by hydrological experts is establishing a link canal between Manas–Ganga–Teesta and Sankosh but the issue remains.
  • In 1951, India had initiated the construction of the Farakka Barrage. It was on the river Ganga, which flows from India into Bangladesh, where its primary distributary is known as the river Padma.
  • The river drains into Bay of Bengal after a confluence with river Meghna. In 1975, the barrage was finally constructed.
  • The reason for India to establish the barrage was to flush out the silt of Bhagirathi Hoogly river to ensure smooth operationalization of Kolkata port.
  • Bangladesh began to insist that Ganga is an international river so the water flow must be regulated as per a mutual agreement.
  • The two nations, in 1972, established a Joint River Commission (JRC) to negotiate terms of the water settlement. Differences arose over fair weather flow of river Ganga.
  • India asserted its right of regular flushing of water of river Hoogly, which Bangladesh vehemently opposed.
  • Zia-Ur- Rehman in 1977 took the Farakka barrage issue to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The UNGA urged him to resolve the issue at a bilateral level.
  • In November 1977, Babu Jagjivan Ram undertook an official visit to Bangladesh and signed an accord to resolve the Farrakka issue. However, other issues persistent between the nations as irritants.
  • In 1996, Awami League and the new government concluded a fresh treaty over the river Ganga with India. Ganga Water Treaty 1996 is an agreement to share surface waters at the Farakka Barrage near their mutual border. Issue is now resolved.