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India’s Farakka Barrage to Tipaimukh: Bangladesh’s Options
June 5, 2009, 7:18 am
Filed under: Bangladesh, India

India’s Farakka Barrage to Tipaimukh: Bangladesh’s Options

M.T. Hussain

The unpalatable

After getting nod of Bangladesh for the river Ganges’ water withdrawal by India in May 1974 at the Farakka Barrage point up 17 kilometers of the common border of the two countries, and what is called at the downstream the Padma river of Bangladesh in the west, India has taken now to build two dams at Tipamukh and Fulertal in the east on the river Barak that forms upper riparian of the Kushiara, Surma and mighty Meghna rivers of Bangladesh. The evils of Farakka in the three and a half decades in the downstream incurred yearly losses in money term at 150,000 lakhs crores Taka and the incoming Eastern two are estimated to incur yearly loss for Bangladesh at Taka 225,000 lakhs crores. Farrakka Barrage adversely affected the western and southwestern territory of one third Bangladesh and the eastern two dams to affect one fourth of Bangladesh in the eastern area.   

My experience and some works

On the Farakka Barrage issue I had my first book (India’s Farakka Barrage…  now out of print) published in 1996. I was then fortunate not only to have facts from documents of the Bangladesh Government source but also from other published documents about the issue here and elsewhere at the international level. I was also fortunate to have a very close rapport with the renowned hydrological expert B M Abbas during his last days before passing away in Dhaka, in addition to useful information I had from his authoritative book The Ganges Water Dispute. Just a few months back I had two articles, one in Bengali and the other in English on the same topic of Farakka losses incurred by Bangladesh that I took advantage of an occasion of follow up of a surface scratching by the BBC Bengali Radio discussion meeting held at Rajshahi a few months earlier on the effects of the India’s Farakka Barrage in Bangladesh as the razzmatazz of the discussion had nothing of losses of Bangladesh in concrete terms of money figure. In the two articles mentioned and published in dailies in Dhaka I cited figures in specific calculated terms. The figure of Bangladesh losses for 33 years since May 1974, the time the Farakka went on in full commission to 2007 at nearly 49 lakhs crore Taka, that made yearly average of about one and a half lakh crore Taka. A research organization based in the USA and corroborated by a local organization in their calculation for likely losses of Bangladesh due to the India’s Tipaimukh Dam would still be higher at over two lakhs crore Taka than the yearly average due to the Farakka, thus exceeding yearly average of about one lakh crore Taka losses that Bangladesh has been incurring due to the death trap of the Farakka Barrage.

Miseries of millions on both sides

Although there were groups against the Farakka project in West Bengal and Bihar before the barrage was erected, as one was renowned irrigation engineer Kapil Bannerjee (See weekly Holiday, 29 May 09), there are groups, as well, against the other two proposed dams. The Tipaimukh dam to be built at 500 meters downstream of the confluence of the Barak and Tuivai rivers is planned for generation of 1,500MW of hydro-electricity and the Fulertal one for irrigation purpose there in the Eastern India. The likely affected ones included common poor people as also objections raised by area experts, environmentalists, etc. Because, the Dam if erected and made operational is certain to affect lives and livings of many people engaged in agriculture in the project region, fisheries and fishing trade, river craft works and to adversely affect ecological balance that may even add to risks of bigger scale earth quakes in the region according to the noted earth science expert and famous geologist like Dr. Soibam Ibotombi, Professor of the Indian Manipur University

International river rules and conventions

International rivers are well designated so for that they flow through many countries. The Ganges and the Barak are international rivers. There are international rules and conventions that guide modes of sharing waters of such rivers between countries in the riparian regions.  The upper riparian country, in particular, is not permitted by the rules and conventions to withdraw and divert water of any amount that would harm the lower riparian country/s. The 1997 UN convention adopted two key issues, one, in gist stated by two words, ‘no harm’ and the other ‘equitable sharing’. To elaborate the implications of the two set of terms, one can safely state that the upper riparian country can do no harm to lower riparian country by withdrawing or diverting normal natural flow of water, and if any such withdrawal and diversion is at all to be done, such mode must have prior sanction of the lower riparian country subject to the condition of mutually agreed equitable sharing. There are examples of such water sharing treaties between countries like Egypt and Sudan for the Nile waters, Germany and Hungary for the Danube, Pakistan and India for the Sind just to cite as instances. The Ganges water dispute with India started about four decades ago, but unfortunately no equitable sharing agreement had been possible. In 1974 there had been a memorandum of understanding for ‘experimental operation’ of the Farakka Barrage by India for ‘forty days’ only. But that experimental forty days went on and on, India cared little for the lower riparian Bangladesh. During Presidennt Zia’s time there had been two-year treaty first in 1977 for sharing water of the Ganges and renewed once only, but during President Ershad there had been no treaty at all. Instead the Indian Government suggested the then President Ershad to forget about making any water sharing treaty and advised him to dredge Bangladeshi part of lower riparian area of the rivers for storing bigger volumes of water. Such dredging action program is not only very costly but also a recurring and very expensive matter having no durable solution to the problem due to siltation of river beds for obstruction of flows in the upper riparian region. The 1996 agreement made by the then government for 30 years duration sealed the ill fate of Bangladesh, at least, until the expiry of the period of the unequal an inequitable treaty until 2026.

1996 humiliation

I recall very clearly from a TV news item on the day in December 1996 how the 30-year treaty was undertaken by the then Sheikh Hasina during her visit to Kolakata and Delhi. The day previous to the treaty was signed in Delhi, Hasina not only met the West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, but in her meet she fell on his feet to pay respect in somewhat Hindu style, Shashtyange Pronipat, and so pleased the Chief Minister blessed her as usual putting palm on her forehead and then made a brief remark that said that India would make a treaty for water sharing at the Farakka Barrage point for two to three years. Amazingly, the next day the treaty was signed for duration of 30 years and not for two or three years as Jyoti Bosu had predicted in blessing Hasina.  

India pitied Bangladesh

If one would recall further back about the facts about 1974 MOU, 1977 water treaty for two years and renewed for another two years, no treaty whatsoever during the nine years term of Ershad and also none during the first term of Khaleda during 1991 to 1996 with the amazingly 30 year treaty made in December 1996 with P.M. Hasina that Bosu had predicted for a very short period. This treaty had no right standing so far as it did not meet international rules and conventions. Further that the treaty had no guarantee clause at all. These meant that the treaty went against the interest of lower riparian Bangladesh and violated international standard rules, conventions and norms. Thus it became a fait accompli that continues to harm Bangladesh, its ecology, economy and thus subservience to Delhi made in reality a mockery of sovereignty of Bangladesh. During the last 13 years it is the sad reality that India released for Bangladesh less quantities of water than Delhi had promised in the terms and schedule of the treaty; their excuse keeps on telling that they had no flow enough in the upper region and hence the lower quantum for Bangladesh became obvious.

Aggravate further

Having had the sad and painful experience due to India’s Farakka Barrage being operated for the last 35 years, the Tipaimiukh dam has been floated to further aggravate the position of Bangladesh in this case in the eastern region involving one fourth of the much smaller and impoverished geographical area.

Redress at the UN

Being the Tipaimukh a life and death question for Banglkadesh, Bangladesh has to stand solidly united to restrain India to abandon the Tipaimukh dam project for good. But if she does not restrain on their own, Bangladesh has no option left to bring the matter in the knowledge of international bodies like the UN and the possibly into the International Court of Justice at the Hague for appropriate redress.

http://www.untoldfacts.com/south-asia/india%e2%80%99s-farakka-barrage-to-tipaimukh-bangladesh%e2%80%99s-options/

 http://nation.ittefaq.com/issues/2009/06/05/news0204.htm

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