Farakka once more
It’s been long since I have written about Farakka – the barrage on the Ganges just before it enters Bangladesh. There has been no permanent treaties between India and Bangladesh on the water sharing at Farakka. However, there is a 30 year agreement between India and Bangladesh that ends after 2020. As per the agreement, India ensures 35000 cusec water for Bangladesh at even the driest possible season. The dam was supposedly for supplying more water to the dying Kolkata port, which has already dies its’ natural death and handed over the responsibilities to Haldia port – a new and better one.
If you Google around the term Farakka, you will encounter a lot of documents and articles about Indian unilateral water withdrawal. Some of them are written on factual basis but some of them are not. So far, I have found an excellent paper written by Mikiyasu Nakayama from Utsunomia University, Japan. An excellent analysis of the entire proposal and the history can be found in that.
I was delighted to found that both the proposals I raised in my previous article were indeed discussed between India and Bangladesh. And it was my pleasure to know that the proposal that I stessed on, was indeed put forward by the Robert McNamara, the President of World Bank in 1976. He proposed that a dams and water reservoirs should be built in Nepal to solve the long term water crisis in the Ganges. The dams could be on the tributeries of the Ganges (map), preferably on Kosi and Gandak. It was supposed to release water during dry season and to store during monsoon. Canada and World Bank both agreed to fund the project. It was not only for the storage, it would have created huge amount of hydro-electricity for both Nepal and India. Bangladesh also agreed to the proposal. But India did not.
India rejected the idea since it was going to ‘internationalize’ the issue and will involve a third party (Nepal). Indian policymakers stuck to the point that they’d help Bangladesh to construct a canal from Brahamaputra to the Ganges. Bangladesh opposed with the claim that it would involve displacement of a huge population in a densely populated country and also the Brahamaputra river might not have enough water during dry season. And I don’t see Bangladesh was wrong in that. Brahamaputra water is also diminishing (though better than the Ganges).
The other point India cited was the possible earthquake in Nepal could destroy thousands of life if the water breaks out of the dam. The same hold true for counter-Indian proposal to build a water-reservoir in upstream Arunachal to augment the lower supply in Brahamaputra. Either of these two is a probably bitter truth – a dam in either place can carry destructive effects downstream should there be an Earthquake. However, how else can we get extra water?
Nakayama noted that since India was not hungry for World Bank loans in 1970s, they actually did not even bother to care about the proposal. In 1950s, the situation was different when India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water treaty. The other notable observation was India basically stuck to the same pattern that it was successful with Pakistan – get total ownership of a few rivers and ask others to interlink ( with compensation of cost of canals ) – something that Pakistan did after the Indus Water treaty. But, it is clear to me that Indian policymakers lacked ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and were more committed to stick to their position and never thought in terms of development of the whole region.
What would have possibly happened if Nepal was made a party to Ganges agreement? Indian policymakers could have thought from both political and technical point of view. They viewed it as an agreement where Nepal would come to the driver’s seat having the storage capacity. Also, they might think that it would be difficult to tackle both the countries instead of one at a time. The other point could be serious. A possible earthquake in Nepal would devastate high populated Indian areas including Uttar Pradesh. Well, that’s always a possibility with a water reservoir and we already have a lot of them all though out the country.
Instead of adding extra water to the supply, India and Bangladesh are still vying for water, from Teesta (another Indian river enters Bangladesh) and the Ganges. It is noted that India gets 39% of water from Teesta and more than 50% of the Ganges. However, the upper-riparian withdrawal is generally restricted to 20-25% in all resolved water disputes till date including Indus water treaty and the Nile river water sharing treaty between Sudan and Egypt.
The paper also noted the unwillingness of lower-riparian to gain popularity. I was personally very critical of Bangladeshi political climate where political parties do make politics out of this issue but showed little commitment towards solving it. He ended his opinion with a few possible reasons of failure including lack of mediation of an effective and neutral third party. ICJ interfered in only a single case on record – with Hungary and Slovenia on river Danube. That seems to me the last place for arbitration.
It is said that “better late than never”. Even if after 30+ years of bad policies towards Indians and Bangladeshis, some of Indian policymakers get rid of casual attitude towards development – it will be a bonus for majority Indians. It should be noted that the extra water could not only solve the dry season water crisis, but also could fix the diminishing ground water levels and the lower growth in agriculture for last couple of decades. In an era when the food prices are doubling every year, it’s worth taking a fresh look at the age-old problem. After all, what’s wrong if we have a few dams in Nepal?
Addition : An excellent scholarly review.
Update : Pakistan is going to claim compensation from India for the agricultural losses.