Upstream River Projects in India Threaten Bangladesh Water Security

New Delhi is starting massive series of new projects to divert water from major rivers in the north and the east of the country to India's drought-stricken western and southern regions. This news has sounded alarm bells in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, according to the UK's Guardian newspaper.

The $400 billion project involves rerouting water from major rivers including the Ganga and Brahmaputra and creating canals to link the Ken and Batwa rivers in central India and Damanganga-Pinjal in the west. Its target is to help drought-hit India farmers who are killing themselves at a rate on one every 30 minutes for at least two decades.




The Indo-Gangetic Plain, also known as Indus-Ganga and the North Indian River Plain, is a 255 million hectare (630 million acre) fertile plain encompassing most of northern and eastern India, the eastern parts of Pakistan, and virtually all of Bangladesh, according to a Wikipedia entry.

India and Pakistan have a formal internationally-brokered and monitored treaty called Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) signed in 1960 between Indian Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan President Ayub Khan in Karachi.



The IWT allocated water from three eastern rivers of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej for exclusive use by India before they enter Pakistan, while the water from three western rivers of Jhelum, Chenab and Indus was allocated for exclusive use of Pakistan. The treaty essentially partitioned the rivers rather than sharing of their waters. The treaty also permits India to build run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects on the western rivers but it can not divert any water from them for its own use.

In the east, River Ganga upon reaching the Indian state of West Bengal splits into two main branches, the Hooghly which continues its course south into West Bengal and the Padma that flows into Bangladesh. Similarly, the Brahmaputra upon reaching Bangladesh splits into two main distributaries, the Jamuna and the Meghna. Both enter Bangladesh at different points.

At least 100 million Bangladeshis living downstream in Jamuna (Brahmaputra) and Padma (Ganga) river basins will be hit hard if India carries out the project as planned.

Alarmed by this development, Bangladesh’s minister of water, Nazrul Islam, has pleaded with the Indian government to take Bangladesh’s water needs into consideration, noting that 54 of 56 Indian rivers flowed through his country.

Bangladesh is already suffering from India's increasing withdrawal of Ganges water in recent years. India has built at least 26 water diversion projects upstream the Ganges which has led to crop failure and even desertification of certain areas in the lower riparian Bangladesh, according to Dhaka Tribune.

Unlike the internationally-brokered and monitored Indus Water Treaty (IWT) between Pakistan and India, there is no similar water-sharing treaty between Bangladesh and India. The 1996 Farakka treaty has done little to help Bangladesh.  It is dependent entirely on the good-will of the rulers in Delhi for its water life-line.

Will Modi respond positively to the pleas of his strong ally in Bangladesh's Shaikh Hasina to take its eastern neighbor's water needs into consideration? Will Modi assure Bangladesh by signing a binding water-sharing treaty along the lines of the Indus Waters Treaty? Unfortunately, the history suggests otherwise.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

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Indian Farmer Suicide One Every 30 Minutes

Recurring Floods and Droughts in Pakistan

Indian Media Coverage of Regional Issues

Shaikh Hasina's Witch Hunt

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
From Indian diplomat-politician Sashi Tharoor:


The possibility of India revisiting the Indus Waters Treaty signed with Pakistan in 1960 has also aroused some strategists, and even MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup, who said pointedly that “any cooperative arrangement requires goodwill and mutual trust on both sides”.
Under the treaty, India has control over three eastern rivers — Beas, Ravi and Sutlej —and Pakistan the western rivers of the Chenab and Jhelum. Swarup darkly hinted that it was in jeopardy: “For any such treaty to work, it is important there must be mutual trust and cooperation. It cannot be a one-sided affair.”
But the treaty under which the waters of the Indus and its five tributaries are distributed between the two countries is not purely a bilateral affair; it was brokered by the World Bank, whose involvement will be automatically triggered if India unilaterally abrogates it.

Nor can it be done like turning off a tap; various measures would be required to ensure that Indian cities do not get flooded with the water that is no longer flowing to Pakistan.


And then, we would set a precedent and we would be loath to see China follow on the Brahmaputra, where it is we who are downstream. We have long been a model state in our respect for international law, and our adherence to morality in foreign policy, even offering humanitarian assistance to Pakistan after earthquakes and floods.
Starving people by cutting off their water would be profoundly unworthy of us. This is why the treaty has, as Omar Abdullah recently pointed out, survived four wars and a unanimous resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly calling for its scrapping.
Under the existing Treaty provisions, however, India is entitled to make use of the waters of the western rivers for irrigation, storage, and even for producing electricity, in a “non-consumptive” manner, through “run-of-the-river” projects that do not reduce the ultimate flow to Pakistan.
Oddly enough, we have never taken advantage of these provisions, which are exactly what the Chinese say they are doing with their frenetic dam building on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, upstream from India. If we were simply to do what we are allowed to under the Treaty — we are entitled to store up to 3.6 million acre feet on the western rivers — it would be a more effective signal to Pakistan than arch statements from the MEA.

https://www.thequint.com/uri-attack/2016/09/25/scrapping-the-indus-treaty-will-isolate-india-globally-tharoor-modi-kozhikode-uri-terror-attack-kashmir-mumbai-26-11

Riaz Haq said…
Turning off Indus tap easier said than done
It is an idea that keeps returning to the table — but India probably can’t consider it without risks, including those of flooding its own cities and provoking even bigger waves of terror.

http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/india-pakistan-relation-indus-water-treaty-terrorism-3044967/

Amid the clamour for avenging the Uri attack, a non-military option being suggested — including by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha (The Indian Express, September 22) — is the abrogation of the 56-year-old Indus Waters Treaty that defines the water-sharing arrangement for six rivers of the Indus basin that flow through both India and Pakistan. The argument is that India, being upstream, can stop the flow of waters to Pakistan and bring it to its knees.
Pakistan’s dependence on the Indus system cannot be overstated. About 65% of its geographical area, including the entire Punjab province, is part of the Indus basin. The country has the world’s largest canal irrigation system, thanks to its development of the basin, which accounts for more than 90% of its irrigated area. Its three biggest dams, and several smaller ones, are located here. These are sources for hydroelectricity, irrigation and drinking water for millions of Pakistanis. If the tap could indeed be turned off from the Indian side, Pakistan’s capitulation is expected to be swift.

In stark contrast to their dealings in other matters, India and Pakistan have managed their shared river waters quite amicably, thanks to the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. The Treaty has survived wars and innumerable phases of frosty relations. So much so, it is cited as the global model for cooperation on the use of trans-boundary river waters. The success of the Treaty also lends weight to the theory that when it comes to water, nations tend to cooperate rather than get into a conflict.
The Treaty, which came after a decade of World Bank-brokered negotiations, classified the six rivers of the Indus system into ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ rivers. Sutlej, Beas and Ravi were eastern; Jhelum, Chenab and Indus itself were western. The categorisation was relative — the western rivers flow almost parallely to the west of the eastern ones. Indus, the largest river, originates in China, so does the Sutlej. The other four rise in India; all enter Pakistan from India.
The Treaty gave India full rights over the waters of the eastern rivers, while it had to let the western rivers flow “unrestricted” to Pakistan. India could use the waters of western rivers as well, but only in a “non-consumptive” manner. It could use it for domestic purposes, and even for irrigation and hydropower production, but only in the manner specified in the Treaty. With the eastern rivers, India could do as it pleased.
A Permanent Indus Commission was established to implement the Treaty. Each country has an Indus Commissioner, and they meet regularly — every six months these days — to exchange information and data, and to settle minor disputes. Meetings of the Indus Commissioners have never been suspended — more than 110 rounds of meetings, held alternately in India and Pakistan, have taken place so far.

---------

Indeed, the Treaty allows India to construct storage up to 3.6 million acre feet on the western rivers. But India has developed no storage capacities; nor has it utilised the water it is entitled to for irrigation.
Sinha also argued for India’s greater engagement with Afghanistan on the development of the Kabul river that flows into Pakistan through the Indus basin. “This again can make Pakistan extremely nervous. It is in our strategic interest in any case to enhance our engagement on developmental issues with Afghanistan,” he said.
Stopping the waters of the Indus rivers, on the other hand, can be counterproductive, Sinha said. “We have water-sharing arrangements with other neighbours as well. Not honouring the Indus Treaty would make them uneasy and distrustful. And we would lose our voice if China, decides to do something similar.”
Riaz Haq said…
As #India threatens #IWT with #Pakistan, #China blocks tributary of #Brahmaputra in #Tibet for dam http://toi.in/PJ_yAa via @timesofindia

BEIJING: China has blocked a tributary of the Brahmaputra river in Tibet as part of the construction of its "most expensive" hydro project+ , which could cause concern in India as it may impact water flows into the lower riparian countries.
The Lalho project on the Xiabuqu river+ , a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo (the Tibetan name for Brahmaputra), in Xigaze in Tibet involves an investment of 4.95 billion yuan ($740 million), Zhang Yunbao, head of the project's administration bureau was quoted as saying by Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency on Saturday.
Xigaze also known as Shigatse is closely located to Sikkim. From Xigaze, the Brahmaputra flows into Arunachal Pradesh.
Terming it as the "most expensive project", the report said the project, whose construction began in June 2014, was scheduled to be completed in 2019.
It is not clear yet what impact the blockade of the river+ will have on the flow of water from the Brahmaputra into the lower riparian countries like India and Bangladesh as a result, it said.
Last year, China had operationalised the $1.5 billion Zam Hydropower Station, the largest in Tibet, built on the Brahmaputra river, which has raised concerns in India.

Riaz Haq said…
#India’s $168 billion river-linking project is a disaster-in-waiting. #Ganga #Brahmaputra #Bangladesh https://qz.com/504127 via @qzindia

India’s incredibly ambitious—and some say, incredibly reckless—Rs11 lakh crore ($168 billion) project to interlink its rivers is finally underway.
On Sept. 16, the Godavari and Krishna rivers—the second and the fourth longest rivers in the country—were linked through a canal in Andhra Pradesh. The project was completed at a cost of Rs1,300 crore ($196 million). A second scheme, the Ken-Betwa river project—estimated to cost Rs11,676 crore ($1.7 billion)—is currently under development, with completion likely by December this year.
This is a part of the Narendra Modi government’s plan to revive the river-linking project, which was first envisioned in 1982, and actively taken up by the Bharatiya Janata Party government under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002.

Here is how the river-linking project works: The big idea is to connect 37 Himalayan and peninsular rivers. So, water-surplus rivers will be dammed, and the flow will be diverted to rivers that could do with more water. In all, some 30 canals and 3,000 small and large reservoirs will be constructed with potential to generate 34 gigawatt of hydroelectric power. The canals, planned between 50 and 100 meters in width, will stretch some 15,000 kilometres.
“If we can build storage reservoirs on these rivers and connect them to other parts of the country, regional imbalances could be reduced significantly and lot of benefits by way of additional irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, hydropower generation, navigational facilities etc. would accrue,” India’s National Water Development Authority describes the project on its website.
The project is expected to create some 87 million acres of irrigated land, and transfer 174 trillion litres of water a year. Also, half a million people are likely to be displaced in the process, according to a report (pdf) by Upali Amarasinghe, a senior researcher at the International Water Management Institute.


Ecologists and environmentalists warn that the project is imprudent and dangerous, especially since there is little clarity on the ultimate impact on such a massive undertaking.
Riaz Haq said…
India's river-linking project will be disastrous: Water man Rajendra Singh


http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/riverlinking-will-be-disastrous-water-man/article7300522.ece


For the ‘Water man of India’ Rajendra Singh, who turned around life in the arid regions of Rajasthan with his inventive water conservation techniques involving the local communities, the steps taken by the Modi government in this sector have been disheartening. Prime among his concerns is the strong push by the government towards interlinking India’s rivers.

“This will be disastrous for my country. It will displace a lot of people and cause undesirable effects, with floods on one side and drought on the other. Rivers are not like roads. They have own gene pool and own life. What we need is the linking of our heart and brain with the river. This involves conservation projects involving the local communities. Linking of rivers will lead to privatisation of water resources,” he says. He was talking to The Hindu during his visit to the city to participate in a seminar on the revival of the Bharathapuzha on Tuesday.

Back in 2002, when the previous BJP government mooted the idea, he was the first one to study its after-effects, by travelling across the country to all rivers proposed to be linked. When the UPA government came, he presented his impact studies and the project was shelved, only to be revived under the Modi government.

“I have been a member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority from 2009. When the new government came, I was removed from it. They do not listen to the concerns we raise. No dissent is allowed under the Modi government,” says Mr. Singh.

Growing up in a Zamindari family in Uttar Pradesh, discussions with his teachers and farmers contributed to his understanding of life around him.

“But my father never gave me any liberty. When I completed my education, I joined government service and my father got me married. Three years went by and in 1984, when my wife went home to give birth to my son, I quit my job, caught a bus from Jaipur and took a ticket to the last stop.”

He landed in Kishori village, near Gopalpura, where he set up a small clinic. But, 72-year-old Mangu Meena, an elder of that village, told him that the village needs water, more than education and medicine.

“He showed me underground aquifers inside wells and taught me the methods to recharge such aquifers.”

He built water banks on the earth and check-dams to hold back water in the wet season, to recharge groundwater and thus retaining the water even in summer. He involved the communities living along these rivers, making them owners of the resources. Three decades later, the model has spread across Rajasthan and elsewhere, creating villages with surplus water even in summer. In 2001, he won the Magsaysay Award for community leadership. Earlier this year, he won the ‘Stockholm Water Prize’, known as the Nobel Prize for Water.

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