Need to focus on rivers as connectors: India high commissioner to B'desh
River as connector Credit: Representational image

Guwahati: Stressing on the role of rivers as connectors, India’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami on Saturday said all economic and political contexts of a river system along with its historical and cultural dimensions need to be taken into consideration for formulating policies surrounding it.

The focus of discussion on rivers should shift from “hydro diplomacy” to “water cooperation”, he said.

“The notion of a river as a separator has been in focus for long but the role of a river as a connector is more fundamental,” Doraiswami said.

He was speaking at a session on ‘Rivers of the Bay of Bengal: Connecting the Blue Economy, the Mountain Economy and the Plains Economy’ as part of ‘NADI 3: Asian Confluence River Conclave 2022’ here.

We tend to look at rivers sanguinely, rather we should view it more comprehensively. A more holistic approach is needed rather than a mere technocratic or political approach, he said at the two-day conclave starting from Saturday.

The senior diplomat said rivers have different contexts and dimensions and “all these aspects need to be taken into consideration for formulating policies surrounding it”.

From political context to economic and historical and cultural dimensions to its role in the sustenance of human life, a single river system fulfils different roles, he said.

Doraiswami also highlighted importance of management of river systems in totality rather than dividing them into different basins and dealing with the aspects in isolation.

Notably, India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers.

Former Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to India Syed Muazzem Ali had in 2019 said the subject of water sharing during the lean season has been an important issue.

The Teesta deal was set to be signed during the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s visit to Bangladesh in September 2011, but was postponed at the last minute due to objections raised by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

She opposed the pact maintaining that people in her region would “not get a single drop”.

The conclave is an international ministerial-level river conference to articulate a collective vision of cooperation in the Bay of Bengal and the South-East Asian region.

The third edition of the programme – Natural Allies in Development and Interdependence – is being organised by Shillong-based think tank Asian Confluence in collaboration with the External Affairs Ministry, Act East Policy Affairs Department of the Assam government, North Eastern Council and other partners.

International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development Director General Pema Gyamtsho also stressed on the importance of rivers as connectors.

The head of the Kathmandu-based centre underlined the urgency to curb climate change impact, especially in the context of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region from which 10 major Asian river systems originate.

Transformative changes are needed to curb climate change (impact). There is no alternative to regional cooperation to address this global phenomenon,” he said.

Bangladesh member of parliament Rahim Razak deliberated on the changing nature of security, which is no longer confined to matters of defence but also includes food, commerce and movement security, among others.

BIMSTEC Secretary general Tenzin Lekhpell elaborated on the role of his organisation in opening regional links for economic cooperation as well as in other aspects.

He said the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation is in the process of constituting working committees for formulating a mountain economy.

Also read | ‘Act East’, ‘Neighbourhood First’ to have impact beyond South Asia: Jaishankar

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