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Bangladesh and India start talks on water sharing amid protests
DHAKA (AFP) Sep 19, 2005
Bangladesh and India began talks in Dhaka Monday on water sharing as opponents of New Delhi's controversial river-linking project staged protests.

Scores of protesters shouted slogans and held placards warning of environmental disaster if a plan to divert water for Indian irrigation and electricity projects from rivers the flow downstream into Bangladesh is implemented.

Opponents believe the project would cause rivers in Bangladesh to dry up, affecting the country's ecology and depriving farmers of much needed water for crops.

Water is vital for the delta nation's agricultural-based economy and has been a key issue between the countries for decades.

Indian water minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Hafizuddin Ahmad will discuss the sharing of water from seven common rivers during two days of talks, officials said.

"We want to send a message to the Indian water minister that the river-linking project will destroy Bangladesh's ecology and economy," said Abdul Matin, the general secretary of the Bangladesh Environment Movement which organised the protest.

"We want an effective joint river commission between the two countries so that India is aware of Bangladesh's concern," he added.

In an interview with the official BSS news agency, Dasmunshi tried to reassure opponents of the scheme, saying their concern was "uncalled for".

India would not carry out any project that adversely affected its neighbour, he added.

In summer Bangladesh is frequently flooded by monsoon rains and melted snow from the Himalayas. During the dry season, however, it suffers from water shortages.

Although a 30-year agreement between India and Bangladesh on water sharing from the Ganges was finally signed in 1996, no other agreements have been reached on scores of other shared rivers such as the Brahmaputra.

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