External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday said the government will take on board West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee while negotiating with Bangladesh the vexed Teesta waters issue. “It is necessary to take the West Bengal Chief Minister on board (on the Teesta issue),” Sushma Swaraj said in response to a question during her annual press conference here. Stating that efforts were fully on to resolve the issue, she, however, said no definite timeline can be given as to when such problems can be solved. Both India and Bangladesh, as good neighbours, have moved forward on other sectors like power, investment and security but the Teesta waters issue remains a vexed problem. Though an agreement on sharing of the Teesta waters was drafted ahead of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh, it was withdrawn at the last moment when West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee protested against the accord.
Banerjee’s position is that the treaty would render north Bengal dry and affect Indian farmers. She is of the view that with Bangladesh having its largest irrigation project, the Teesta Barrage, running, the country does not deserve more water. However, during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in April this year, Banerjee offered an alternative solution and said that rivers like Torsa, Dharla and Mansai can be tapped. Sushma Swaraj said a feasibility study was being done on Banerjee’s alternative and the report would be shared with the West Bengal Chief Minister. “We have to resolve this through discussions and for this, an agreement has to be reached between the central government, the state government and Bangladesh. After all, we did reach an agreement on the land border issue, didn’t we,” the External Affairs Minister said.
“So, I am very hopeful that an agreement can be reached on the Teesta issue but when it will be reached that I cannot tell you.” Regarding the fishermen’s issue with Sri Lanka, Sushma Swaraj said that apart from the Tamil Nadu government, the central government has been continuously engaged in negotiations with Sri Lanka to find a solution. She said New Delhi has taken this issue so seriously that for the first time two ministers from Sri Lanka — the Foreign Minister and the Fisheries Minister — and two ministers from India — she and Fisheries Minister Radha Mohan Singh — held a meeting solely on the fishermen’s issue. “From that meeting, we have found that a permanent solution to the problem is deep sea fishing,” she stated. “For this, we have told them that the Indian government has prepared a Rs 1,500 crore package.” Stating that India would spend Rs 500 crore a year for the next three yeas, Sushma Swaraj said Sri Lanka has been asked to make an interim arrangement in the meantime so that Indian fishermen were not killed or arrested.
“As far as the killing of our fishermen is concerned, there was one unfortunate incident in which our fisherman was killed. Apart from that, there was no such incident in the last three years because we had told them (Sri Lanka) that under no circumstances bullets are acceptable,” she stated. She was referring to the case of K. Britso, a 22-year-old Tamil fisherman who was killed in Sri Lankan waters in March this year. While the Sri Lankan navy has denied killing the fisherman, President Maithripala Sirisena has condemned the incident and has assured a thorough investigation into it. Earlier, Listing out the achievements of her ministry at the completion of three years of the NDA government, Sushma Swaraj said that today Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen as among the leading international leaders and India was playing a prominent role in all global issues.
She said that compared to the last three years of the UPA government, there has been a 37.5 percent increase in foreign direct investments (FDI) in the first three years of the NDA government. “In the last three years, around 80,000 Indians in distress abroad have been brought back to India safely,” Sushma Swaraj stated and, for this, credited Prime Minister Modi and Ministers of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh and M.J. Akbar. For this, she said the government did not spend a single paisa and money from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) was used. This apart, she said her ministry has also taken several citizen-centric measures, including simplification of passport rules. “Compared to the last quarter, there has been a 50 percent rise in the number of passports issued in this quarter,” Sushma Swaraj said.