Dr. Shastra D. Pant
Water Resource, Analyst, Nepal
India has been constructing embankments and dams along its northern border without any prior consultation(s) with Nepal. The water is used for the irrigation of Indian farmlands. These dams and embankments form lakes inside Nepal and as a result, this will inundate the lowlands and adversely affect housing, farming activities and fisheries. In fact, as the canal overflows it triggers floods and landslides, thus destroying properties and eroding the soil. In order to avoid floods within its border areas, India often keeps its barrage gates closed during the rainy season. As the Nepali population living along the border feel that they depend on India and that the Government of Nepal is unable to support its own people, they cannot protest strongly. Nepal’s Tarai lies slightly higher than that of the Indian Territory. Had there been no embankment, the water from the river could have spread over the land almost uniformly and Nepal would not be facing inundation. Deforestation, mainly the destruction of the dense forest known as charkoshe jhadi, has intensified the problem of floods and landslides. The dams linked to the Koshi, Gandaki and Mahakali rivers were built only to serve the interests of India whilst Nepal suffers the effects of inundation. For instance, the landslide in the Chure hills has worsened, destroying the forest. The land in Tarai has turned into a massive sand bank.
While India ensures the protection of life and property of its own people by building check dams along the border, it remains oblivious of the fact that on the other side of the border the people of Nepal suffer because of these very structures. The dams were constructed on decisions taken unilaterally by India, disregarding relevant international laws. It is likely that several other non-concrete dams were constructed without the knowledge of the Government of Nepal. Had there been good intention, the protection of the people on both sides of the border would have been feasible at no additional cost.
Major Dams Constructed:
Rautahat (Bagmati) Check Dam:
The Bagmati is a medium-sized river originating from the Mahabharat range. The check dam built by India across the Bagmati River has caused water loggings in Nepal. As a result of the construction, every year when Bagmati’s water level rises, the river loses its natural flow and the land becomes water-logged and submerged. The check dam in Bagmati alone has affected 30 VDCs including the Bagmati and Bakaiya areas. Similarly, 37 VDCs including the Rautahat municipality have been submerged. The inundation has had a detrimental impact on the land with people being forced to flee their villages. The height of the dam constructed across the border near Bairganiya ranges from 10 to 21 feet and is 10 km long. It checks all the rivers flowing down to India. Yet another dam with the same height and length has been built in the east along the border of Sarlahi district. The dam runs parallel to the border.
Inundation of Dodhara:
The water released from India’s Lohiya power-house ends up in the Jogbudha River in Nepal’s Kanchanpur district. The personnel working there intentionally release a large volume of water from time to time every year and all the wards of Dodhara VDC are badly affected by the water especially as this is released when the grass or fodder is fertile. As crops are being destroyed, farmers cannot feed their families. The land that has been swept away by the river requires immeasurable quantity of time, energy and labor to become arable once again.
Inundation of Rajbiraj:
India built a dam in the no-man’s land at Kunauli of Saptari with about 2 km land from Rampura Malhaniya to Tilathi VDC suffering from inundation. The dam, which was forcibly constructed by India east-west across the river instead of north-south, protects its Kunauli area but it has an adverse effect on some 15-20 villages in the Saptari district. Rampura Malhaniya, Tilathi, Sakarapura, Inaruwa and Koiladi Basan VDCs of Nepal have been submerged and thousands of hectares of land are destroyed with considerable financial repercussions. Notably, in those occasions where Nepal has implemented river control programmes, India has constructed dams bringing about inundation.
Marchbar (Khurdlotan) Dam of Rupandehi:
Marchbar lies in the central-southern part of the Rupandehi district. The Tinau River originating from the Mahabharat range of Nepal flows downwards through this region. India built the Khurdlotan dam during the fiscal year 2001-2002. The dam caused inundation of 18 VDCs including the Lumbini area which is enlisted as the world heritage site. The dam damaged much of the land and more than 100,000 people involved in agricultural activities were affected. In fact, the dam has reduced agricultural production by 80 percent. Though it is argued that it is only when there is heavy rainfall that the area is inundated, 14 VDCs are affected including Rohinihawa, Thamua, Piparahawa and Karauta, destroying farmers’ livelihoods.
The Rapti River is formed by the amalgamation of different rivers originating from the mid-hills. This is an important river originating from the Mahabharat range and the Sikta project is linked to this. The Laxmanpur barrage has been built across this river in the Baharaich district near the national border. The high dam across the river has formed a reservoir. The dam has submerged 2,412 bighas of the most fertile land yielding three crops in the Banke district on an annual basis. Some 16,000 people living across 33 villages of the five VDCs have been forced to flee their homes. Though the problem is extremely serious and requires immediate attention, the Government of Nepal appears not to be particularly sensitive and efficient.
India has never acknowledged downstream benefit and equates free flowing water with stored water which is not one and the same. No one will pay a paisa for the water flowing in any river but the water will have economic (financial as well) value after adding spatial or temporal utility for which purpose Nepal will be sacrificing. A 2,750 hectare submerged by the reservoir and 1,630 hectare permanently and 645 hectares partially in Banke district, inundated due to Lakshmanpur barrage constructed in the border side.
Let’s look at Mahakali treaty in the above light. Nepal is entitled to 50% water from Mahakali River, deemed to be a border river. But, under current treaty India has been given additional 46.5% over and above 50% it is entitled to. Therefore, this treaty too needs to be revised incorporating provision under which India will be obligated to pay Nepal for any additional water over and above her share of 50% that India receives/uses from this river.
If India is willing to recompense Nepal for (1) flood control, (2) augmented flow in the dry season and also (3) pay reasonable price for peak-in power, then Nepal should allow it to be built on the condition that the developer company will set.
(a) Mahalisagar Bandh: The Mahalisagar Bandh is in the Bandganga River bordering the Kapilbastu district. This dam was constructed under British rule with no intention of harming any part of Nepal. However, recently India heightened the dam with over 500 hectares of land in Rampur and Parsaiya now below water. As Nepal’s Tarai lies higher than the Indian land, it facilitates the irrigation in India.
(b) Bajaha Sagar: A little far from Mahalisagar, India has now converted a British causeway into a dam. The dam stores water in Nepal over hundreds of hectares of land of the Pipra and Baluwa VDCs, which can irrigate 1000 hectares of Indian farmland by the Jamuwar rivulet flowing from Nepal.
(c) Siswa Sagar: The Siswa Sagar dam is in the Kapilbastu district flooding the entire Hathiwa VDC. Sometimes even Nepali farmers bribe Indian dam operators to lower the check gates of the dam for the sake of protecting their crops.
The Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Committee recognized the scale of this problem and a team of fifteen MPs representing six political parties made an on-the-ground inspection of the dam. However, it is evident that the party in power is not as serious about the problem. Although high-level talks are being held with India with a view to reaching long-term solutions, the Government’s plan to rehabilitate the people in Jamuniya, Lakhauriya, Kachawa, Dhalaigha and Bankatti by clearing forests as an immediate solution is not appropriate. Instead of confronting India for interfering and causing hardships to the Nepali population, the Government of Nepal has sought to resettle its people in other areas. Critical of the Government’s position, Romi Gauchan asserted that India should withdraw from the region if the construction is against international laws, while Sushil Koirala demanded that India takes the matter seriously. Lilamani Pokhrel of the opposition party emphasized that “We have not yet been able to make our country independent and sovereign”. All political parties in one voice have demanded compensation to the victims, while the RPP explained that the dam was constructed overnight taking advantage of the political instability in Nepal. Similarly, Rastriya Jana Morcha argued that the dam was illegally constructed and demanded India’s apology. The Nepal Workers and Peasants Party accused India of failing to act as a good friend to Nepal and instead sought to dominate its neighbor and, as such, should feel ashamed. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Committee noted that if any structures need to be built within a distance of 8 km from the border, the approval of the bordering country is required. However, with a number of Nepali leaders having vested interests in supporting India’s plans, Nepal and its people continue to suffer.
Excerpts from author’s newly published book “Water Politics on Nepal’s Waters”. Thanks the author.