Beyond Farakka : Need for permanent water-treaty involving SAARC
(My current write up on this topic is also available on this link)
A few days ago, I came across a report in a Bangladesh portal on drying up Teesta Barrage.
Till now, most of Bangladeshi people depend on water-intensive agriculture. Hence, the govt of Bangladesh should take this matter with utmost importance and go for a permanent water treaty with India. Pakistan has done it way back in 1960 by Indus water treaty. By the treaty Pakistan and India has equally distributed 6 international rivers among them. While anybody is free to build any Hydroelectric project on any river, for water-diversion projects, they have to go by the treaty. India also paid 62 million Pounds to Pakistan as compensation towards the reconstruction of Eastern river-fed canals.
For Bangladesh, most of the water comes from its’ Eastern rivers, and some from Western rivers. Bangladesh can seek permanent access to to all Eastern rivers, as the North-East India is water-surplus region. In forseeable future, the region won’t require any barrages. Once that is secured, Bangladesh might use the surplus Eastern water to divert(using canals) and feed Western rivers. This is similar to what Pakistan has done, it has used it’s water-surplus rivers to feed other rivers, which has less water due to withdrawals from India. There are 57 rivers those enter from India to Bangladesh. Going by this framework, Bangladesh can secure the most out of them, because, the Brahamaputra basin rivers carry more than 70% of the water that enters in Bangladesh.
The Farakka case is one of the major source of trouble of Bangladesh. The treaty between India and Bangladesh is not-permanent, it’s renewable in every 25 years. Every 25 years, the basis of the treaty remains the flow of water in last 25 years. There is a lower limit set in the treaty(50000 Cusec, Article II(iii)), crossing which both parties will share the burden. Due to water-withdrawals in Indian upper-riparian states and dams in Nepal, the flow in the river is diminishing year after year. Hence, a major conflict is expected between India and Bangladesh when the treaty is going to be renewed in 2020. India will come up with water-supply statistics at Farakka and Bangladesh will be defiant citing the water is withdrawn in India.
The apparent trumpcard in Indian hand is the withdrawal by upper-riparian states like UP and Bihar (withdrawal by WB is for power generation, hence it is stable). Is there a possibility that this can be reduced? Most likely – No. The reason of drying up river is the free electricity given to the farmers in UP and Bihar for last 5 years, which in turn is used to draw water from rivers using pumps. This is a truth for Ganges, as well as ground-water that are virtually connected. Moreover, Indian govts’ Rural Employment Scheme targets building roads and digging irrigation canals. The canals will add up to the drying river. Unfortunately, there are no way to stop these withdrawals, because, there is no way one can convince an illiterate poor Indian farmer that the Ganges is an International river and India is bound by International treaty to supply a minimal amount of water to another country. The net output? Ganges will dry up before Farakka.
The other proposal is to augment flow of Ganges through internal link canal connecting it to Brahamaputra. This is not as efficient as it sounds since this does not talk about holding waters during monsoon and release them in lean season.
The best solution from Indian (or Bangladesh, Nepal) point of view can be a huge water reservoir in Nepal (Kosi river) to save the surplus rain-water and supply that in dry season. The proposal has another party – Nepal, which might cry foul later and spoil the whole party (Nepal is a water-surplus country, it only lacks investment to develop them into water and power resorces). The maps numbers the sites and river basins where such dams could be planned. As many as 7 dams could be sufficient to augment the Ganges lean season flow to an extent that the problem is resolved for the time being. Even a couple of dams at Sapta-Kosi and Gandaki should relieve a lot of current problems.
“Though Nepal would like to earn revenue from selling power to India or
Bangladesh to invest in important social sectors like drinking water, education
and health for long-term development, it should remain hesitant to make huge
investments. … At the same time, Nepal wants to extract its reasonable share
from those proposed high dam projects. Aspects like irrigation and flood control
benefits are issues that cannot be left unaddressed. … In the case of
augmentation of low flow in the Ganga at the Farraka Barrage (the lowest
recorded flow of the Ganges at Farraka is 1,1OO m3/s), the Kosi High Dam would
be an appropriate scheme because of its proximity to Farraka and Nepal should
seek access to the sea by developing a navigational channel from Nepal’s
territory. The Kosi High Dam could be a multi-country venture in sharing the
benefits it accrues in terms of power, irrigation, flood control, low flow
augmentation and navigation.”
The river-interlinking project to connect North-East Indian rivers with Gangetic rivers, hence came into study. This will harm the Bangladesh interest in a broader way. If that happens, they might be forced to share Brahamaputra river water as well. From Indian perspective, RILP is a painfully cost intensive affair.
It shows that the water-problems between India and Bangladesh is not “Farakka-deep”. It revolves around 6 major regions –
- Water-scarce West and Central India,
- Water-stable Gangetic India,
- Water-stable Bangladesh (except dry season),
- Water-surplus North-East India,
- Water-surplus and Glacier-rich Bhutan/Sikkim
- Water-surplus and Glacier-rich Nepal
It will be great, if SAARC and World Bank can be involved in a water sharing treaty. A few water-reservoirs at a quarter the cost of river interlinking can solve all problems for India and Bangladesh. The reservoirs can be located in water-surplus regions like Bhutan, Nepal North-East India and even in China. Notable fact is, World Bank pays a loan only when it is assured of a stable treaty (Indus water treaty resulted in loans to India and Pakistan) among the parties.
These drying up rivers are a wake up call to Bangladesh. They should start the water-management policies soon, internal and foreign, with a do and die attitude. For India, this might bring a long-term stability of relationship with one of its’ neighbors. Nepal and Bhutan are willing to materialize their power generation potential to their economic benefits. End of the day, all parties need water resources in order to secure better living of its’ large agrarian society.
Some other news sources on Hydroelectricity in the region :
The Hindu : “Water is to us what oil is to Arab” : The Bhutanese King.
Quoted from Rediff :
A few years ago Bhutan’s per capita income was around $230. This was at about the same level as Nepal’s per capita income. After the construction of the 336 MW Chukha hydroelectric project, Bhutan’s per capita income is around $600 today, with the country experiencing a remarkable improvement in its human development indicators. When construction of the 1020 MW Tala hydroelectric project is completed in 2004, Bhutan’s per capita income will reach $1,000. More …
International Herald Tribune : The untapped might of the Himalayas
New Concept : Micro-Hydroelectricity in India and Nepal
Organization : The South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy Cooperation and Development.
The Wikipedia : The Tidal Power
Some other news sources on Barrages in the region:
Maoist Threat to Kosi river barrage
India-Pakistan talks on Wuller Barrage
Ganges Waters in BBC
Trans Boundary Waters : India-Bangladesh Ganges water sharing
Future Problems :
UNESCO : Sharing the Giants
In the summer of 2000, a landslide in Tibet caused a dam to collapse, unleashing a 26-metre wall of water that destroyed every bridge on the Siang, as the Brahmaputra is known in the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh. The water then rushed through the Indian state of Assam and, within a week, devastated parts of Bangladesh. Human casualties were light but damage to property was extensive. An effective early-warning flood system is a goal that all three governments must therefore work towards.
Rediff : Conspiracy Theory – Chinese Dam on Brahamaputra
World Bank : India bracing for a turbulant water future
River interlinking project:
Excellent analysis of the project by IISWBM scholars