Dr. Shastra Dutt Pant
Water Resource Expert, Nepal
Bangladesh’s Water Resource:
Bangladesh, the lowest riparian country, has 250 large and medium rivers. However 57 large and medium rivers have their origin outside Bangladesh; three of them come from Myanmar and 54 of them from the Assam States of India. Most of the rivers of Bangladesh are, in fact, the tributaries or distributaries. The larger rivers traverse India before entering into Bangladesh. The Ganges is the collective name of the 26 rivers, over 300 streams and over 6000 tributaries originating from Nepal. While the Brahmaputra and its tributaries mainly originate from Tibet, China. The Meghna is the collection of the local rivers. Besides Brahmaputra and the Ganges, Bangladesh has 11 other rivers whose volume is 8200 cusec. The total flow of these river waters is consumed by Bangladesh alone. These days India as the upper riparian nation has trapped them at several points of the states of Assam. This act of India has had tremendous damaging effects on agriculture, fisheries, industries, energy, navigation and irrigation sectors in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has been badly suffering from India’s attitude of domination, torture and humiliation in all sectors, sometimes resulting in violent confrontation in politics between the pro-Indian and anti-Indian groups. It was not surprising that Bangladesh decided to take the case to the UNO. Meanwhile, on India’s request, a delegation was sent to New Delhi for talks. After the Janta Dal came to power in India, the new government trying to improve relations with its neighbors, reached to an agreement with Bangladesh. As per the agreement, a quantum of at least 34,500 cusecs of water would be released by India below the Farakka barrage during dry seasons to Bangladesh and India would use the rest of the water (24500 cusecs) for its own West Bengal state. It was finally agreed that Bangladesh would receive 34500 cusecs of water during the dry seasons. This agreement and its implementations are almost the same as the 1960 agreement that India signed with Pakistan for the waters of the Sindh basin.
India has forcibly captured 1100 acres of land from Bangladesh territory for the construction of the Meghna dam the same way as it did for the construction of the Tanakpur dam in Nepal against the international laws and regulations. Thus India and Bangladesh have water disputes in several places. However, the Farrakha Barrage, the link canal, the Meghna issues and the issues related to floods are of high priority and much concern to the people in general. These actions infringe upon the right of the lower riparian and thus create a state of tension and invites conflict. India is blamed for water theft from Bangladesh and thus they have a dispute over the water of the Ganges.
Prof. M. Maniruzzaman Miah says, ‘Any activity done by India interfering with their flow-regime, will affect water availability in Bangladesh, the lower riparian nation. “Bangladesh being the lowermost reaches of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna systems of the rivers, suffers from both the extremes of high flows during the rainy season in summer and abnormally low flows during the dry months’ (hydro-politics of the Farakka Barrage).
Bangladesh is ill fed from the river waters during the winter crops season and flooding during summer rains.
The Farakka Barrage: India has built a barrage across the Ganges 11 miles upstream from the border with Bangladesh. Despite the note of dissatisfaction given to India by the then government of Pakistan, India dodges the issue through diplomatic jugglery. Bangladesh complained that the Indian action regarding the barrage was against the Barcelona Convention. Some of the border posts have come under gun-fire attacks from across the border. Farakka reduces the flow of the Ganges in Bangladesh. The flow of Ganges was 69700 cusecs earlier, but after the barrage was constructed in 1976, the flow has reduced to 24500 cusecs. Between 1989 and 1992 the amount of water released down from Farakka was 14756 and 22259 cusecs only. In 1993 this fell down to 10000 cusecs. On the other hand, due to the construction of the barrage, more and more silt has been entering into Bangladesh, because India has diverted only silt-free water through its own canal to West Bengal. It has been noticed that the level of the water is going down gradually. It is also recorded that the levels of water along the rivers, the Ganges, the Mahananda and the Garal-Modhumati, have gone down by 2 to 10 feet. The Indian action has also caused a shortage in potable water. It has had negative impacts on the health and sanitation of the people. Bangladesh has been complaining that after the Farakka dam was brought into operation, a length of 6800 km of waterways has become unsuitable for navigation. The damage in agriculture is irreparable. It is calculated that if Bangladesh had the same quality of water she could have grown 3.6 million tons of crops more than she grows now. According to Prof. Miah, the multidimensional damages made by the Farakka dam, at the price index of 2003, is over 11,00,000 billion Bangladeshi Taka.
After long discourses of about 25 years, in 1975 the ministers of water resources of both the countries reached an understanding in regards to the test running of Farakka. It was agreed that during a period between 21 April to 31 May of that year, a quantity of 11 to 16 thousand cusec of water would be diverted from the natural courses of the Ganges into the feeder canal for West Bengal. As per the agreement, if and when the availability of water is 70000 or less cusecs, the water will be divided at the rate of fifty-fifty, if the availability is 70000 to 75000 cusecs, Bangladesh will receive 35000 cusecs and the remaining water will be used by India; if the water volume is 75000 or more cusecs, 40,000 cusecs will be used by India and the remaining all by Bangladesh.
Link canal: A link canal project is being built to connect the river Brahmaputra and the river Ganges. This canal starts from Jogipapa of Assam and ends at Subarnasinsi of West Bengal state of India. This canal is 424 km long, 1 km in width and 30 feet deep. This canal is located 30 km north of the Farakka dam. While completing this project, India has to construct a barrage up to 60 ft. high towards Bangladesh. This project obstructs 11 rivers flowing into Bangladesh and swallows all these rivers including the waters of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges. This project provides thousands of MW electricity, irrigation facilities, facilities for the military purposes to India, whereas Bangladesh has to lose 161280 acre of its land in addition to the deprivation of the use of the water of those rivers as stated above. Besides, seven hundred thousand families of Bangladesh will be homeless. The canal divides Bangladesh into two sections. If Bangladesh denies India to go ahead with this project, India will cut down its economic aid to Bangladesh.
The floods: The floods in Bangladesh are quite serious and probably the highest in the region. The three great river systems: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, drain a vast basin of 1.56 million sq. km reach in the lowermost territories of Bangladesh. There are huge floods every year. The normal monsoon floods, flash floods, tidal floods and the floods due to onrush of water happen frequently every year. The rivers rise up to 10 meters in a day during monsoon. The country side bears the brunt of any natural calamity all the time. Almost all floods occur due to the rise of the water volume in the rivers as stated above. The duration of flood remains for a longer period in Bangladesh as compared to other countries of this region. The flood affected area covers up to 50700 sq. km. Thousands of families become homeless every year.
India, of course, would not like to have permanent bitter relations with its neighbors. But neither do the neighbors like to stay under Indian domination. The disputes between India and its neighbors are not only technical ones in nature, but also have importance of political dimensions. Goodwill, good neighborliness, good statesmanship and above all respect of each other’s independence and sovereignty is essential if India really means it has good intentions with its neighbors.
In case of Bangladesh, India does not seem in a hurry to let go of the advantages it has due to its upper riparian status. India probably feels as itself being in a commanding position. At the same time, it forgets that India is the lower riparian nation as far as China, Nepal and Bhutan are concerned. India declines to have any third party arbitration, citing reference of the Mahakali river treaty between India and Nepal. Third party arbitration was considered unnecessary for the bilateral treaty to be signed. However, Bangladesh has been successful to invite Nepal as its upper riparian country. That has automatically helped involve Bhutan and China as well. Now the case has turned into a multinational one from the bilateral case it used to be in the Indo-Bangladesh water disputes.
The genuine problem of Bangladesh has never been understood and India has never tried to either understand or implement the agreements. The agreements are being violated exactly like the 1960 treaty on the use of the rivers of the Sindh basin was violated. India never releases the volume of water at the Farakka barrage as much as it has to release for Bangladesh as per the agreement. India however, supplies a quantum of 40000 cusecs of water to the feeder canal to West Bengal. Fortunately, the canal does not have a capacity of more than 40000 cusecs. Besides, Bangladesh is already suffering from arsenic content in its ground water. But in spite of knowing about all the problems, India expects Dhaka to remain a silent spectator because of its political domination.
Bangladesh is willing to buy electricity from Nepal. Bangladesh is also interested to invest and work in cooperation with Nepal in this sector. Bangladesh PM has repeated its interest in sharing and investing in high dam projects of Nepal such as the Saptakoshi, Budhigandaki and West Seti. It was reminded by the Bangladeshi PM to the Nepali PM even in the SAARC summit held in Maldives during Nov. 2011. Instead if inviting Indian investors through BIPPA Bangladeshi investment is positive and excellent. But India is the hurdle between these two South Asian countries like it has been a hurdle in the trade and transport between them. In addition to electricity purchase, Bangladesh is thinking about expansion of the transmission line between Nepal and Bangladesh and development of hydropower projects with joint investments. There is only 110 Km distance to build high-tension line from Saptakoshi high dam to Bangladesh. Unless India is positive, the transmission line between the two countries cannot be constructed. At the ministerial level meeting scheduled to explore possibilities of bilateral and multilateral energy cooperation to lessen the soaring energy crisis in this region, Mr. Tapan Chaudhary, Advisor to Ministry of Energy of Bangladesh, floated a proposal on buying electricity from Nepal. The Nepal government is very positive in this regard.
At present both the countries are facing severe power crisis. But there is no way out to work together for future collaboration between the two countries unless India is positive. Instead, India is busy in grabbing all the water resources of Nepal by any means. Its interest in Nepal’s party politics is mostly due to its interest in the water resources in Nepal and because Nepal’s northern border with China (Tibet) is of strategic interest. The proposal for the construction of a SAARC transmission line is also dormant due to India’s interest. If only India is positive, the vast resources of water of Brahmaputra and the Ganges can also be jointly tapped by China, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Bangladesh seriously wants Nepal to simultaneously look into the possibility of constructing storage dams within its territory to help a regulated flow of water to downstream areas. Bangladesh also prudently likes the joint efforts of India, Bangladesh and Nepal to control floods and utilize river waters for the benefits of all the three countries. The secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, located in Kathmandu, should act as a facilitator for this.
Nepal and Bhutan as landlocked countries are dependent on India for many things. India is always trying to form governments in these two countries, which are friendly to India. Nepal is seeking an alternate seaport facility from Bangladesh. Instead of supporting such a proposal as per international rules and norms, India has found to have been always negative. India in fact is seeking a transit facility through Bangladesh to connect its North East state of Assam with the sea port. A hate crime propaganda as it was made for signing the treaty of Mahakali in Nepal is being propagated in Bangladesh for giving transit facility to India that the milk and honey will flow and the trade imbalance to India will be changed into balanced one.
Thanks the author. Source: New book on " Water Politics on Nepal's Fresh Waters" : Ed.
Published in the Telegraph Weekly September 12, 2012.