Some of the projects taken up by India in the upstream of the Ganges-Padma, funded by the World Bank, would have a severe impact on Bangladesh's biodiversity and environment when implemented, experts said.
According to experts, a multilateral treaty involving Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan is needed to resolve the issues related to biodiversity created by drawing of water in the upstream.
“We may not receive any water even during the monsoon if these projects are implemented, as India has already divided the Ganges-Padma into compartments to divert the river water for its own purposes to different states,” Prof. Sabbir Mostafa of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) told The Independent.
Bangladesh’s share of water in the river at the Farakka point in India was only 15,606 cusecs in the last 10 days of March, which was the lowest minimum recorded flow since the signing of the 1996 Ganges treaty.
The matter was taken up during the visit of the Indian foreign secretary, Dr S Jaishankar, to Dhaka by the foreign secretary of Bangladesh, Md Shahidul Haque, water ministry sources said.
According to the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC), Bangladesh’s share of water in the cross-border river at the Farakka point in India was 15,606 cusecs in the last 10 days of March 2016, down from the historical average flow of 29,688 cusecs during the time.
Many issues are still pending as ministerial-level JRC meetings have not been held in the last six years. The last JRC meeting was held in New Delhi on March 18, 2010.
“We have raised the issue before the JRC member-level meeting between Bangladesh and India held in mid-April. Bangladesh urged the Indian side to maintain the average flow of 40 years at the Farakka point as per the treaty,” Mofazzal Hossain, JRC director, told this correspondent.
The treaty says: “In the event the flow at Farakka falls below 50,000 cusecs in any 10-day period, the two governments will enter into immediate consultations to make adjustments on an emergency basis, in accordance with the principles of equity, fair play and no harm to either party.”
The government has to take the initiative to resolve water-related problems through bilateral discussions, Prof. Sabbir Mostafa said.
“There is no other water sharing agreement for 53 common rivers except the Ganges between Bangladesh and India. As a riparian country, if India doesn’t resolve it bilaterally, the issue should be resolved through arbitration in the UN’s 6th committee,” the water expert said.
The Indian government had a plan to construct a dam at Dhubri in the upstream of the Jamuna, he added.
The professor said: “The proposed Ganges project taken up by the Bangladesh government for irrigation and to prevent salinity in the south-western region will come under threat following India’s WB projects in the upstream of the Ganges-Padma.”
It may be mentioned that a writ petition, claiming a compensation of Rs. 13,101 crore per year for cumulative losses to biodiversity and livelihood of fishermen as a result of drawing of excessive amounts of water for irrigation and alteration of the Ganges by the Farakka Barrage Project and hydropower companies, has been filed before the National Green Tribunal in New Delhi by a group of environmentalists and activists.
Noted Indian environmentalists, such as Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala, social activists like Anil Prakash (Ganga Mukti Aandolan), Debadityo Sinha (Vindhya Bacahao Abhiyan), Om Dutt Singh (People’s Union for Civil Liberties) and others working for conservation of the Ganges, had filed the writ petition before the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal, headed by Justice Dr P Jyothimani, on January 16, 2015.
The bench has issued notice to the respondents that include the Inland Waterways Authorities of India, Kolkata Port Trust, Department of Irrigation of Government of UP, Farakka Barrage Project, and four hydropower companies of Uttarakhand.
The applicants have sought compensation for drastic reduction of fish population after construction of the Farakka Barrage, dredging activities for navigation, abstraction of water by barrages. Compensation has also been sought for the loss of biodiversity, salinity and land erosion owing to reduced sediment delivery in the Sunderbans area, and for the loss of aesthetic and cultural value of the Ganges due to construction of barrages and dams that lead to break in flow of the river.