Ganges Water Sharing

Ganges Water Sharing Bangladesh constitutes one of the largest deltaic regions of the world receiving alluvial deposits of no less than 230 rivers including 58 international rivers. Of the international rivers, 55 flow from India and 3 from Myanmar. The total area flushed by the tributaries of the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna is about 1.72 million square kilometre. Seven percent of this area falls in Bangladesh.

Abundance of water in the flood season of June-October inundating about a fourth of the country's landmass, and its scarcity in the November-May dry season reducing the flows of most rivers, greatly influence the life of the people. Being the lower riparian, Bangladesh has no control over the flows of these rivers.

The Ganges, originating from the glaciers of the Himalayas at a height of about 7000 metres, flows 2550 km down through the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal before joining the Jamuna (Brahmaputra) at Goalandaghat in Bangladesh. Its length in Bangladesh is 260 km. It flushes a total area of 10,87,001 sq km of which 8,60,000 sq km falls in India, 1,47,181 sq km in Nepal, 33,520 sq km in China and 46,300 sq km in Bangladesh. The Indian plan of building a barrage at Farakka was first revealed in 1951, and since then Pakistan government began to point out its likely adverse effects on East Pakistan.

The liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971 opened new avenues of friendship and cooperation with India, and the government of the new country lost no time in taking up the issue of sharing the Ganges water. The Bangladesh Prime Minister Bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman and the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made a joint declaration on 19 March 1972 to set up a permanent joint river commission to ensure an equitable sharing of the water resources of the region. In pursuit of that declaration a Joint River Commission was formed in November 1972.

The commission would make joint endeavours to derive the maximum benefits out of the common rivers, recommend plans for flood control and their joint implementation, recommend detailed measures for forecasting floods and cyclones, and conduct surveys for projects of flood control and irrigation on the basis of equitable sharing of the water resources. In May 1974, the prime ministers of the two countries in a joint declaration acknowledged that there was a need to augment the dry season flow of the Ganges at Farakka to meet the full requirement of Bangladesh and of Kolkata port, and that an acceptable agreement would be reached between the two countries before the farakka barrage was put into operation. Early in 1975, an interim agreement was signed to allow India to operate the feeder canals of the barrage experimentally for 41 days from April 21 to May 31.

In 1976 and 1977, India unilaterally withdrew the Ganges water despite strong protests from Bangladesh. The efforts at negotiation broke down in September 1976, and Bangladesh decided to internationalise the issue. It was first raised at the Islamic Foreign Ministers' Conference in Istambul in May 1976, and then at the summit of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Colombo in August of the same year. Bangladesh's decision to raise the issue at the 31st session of the UN General Assembly in 1976 led to a flurry of diplomatic activities. At the request of Senegal, Australia, and Sri Lanka, the Political Committee of UN General Assembly urged upon India and Bangladesh to settle the issue amicably. At the initiative of Syria, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Guyana, both India and Bangladesh agreed to sit at Dhaka for talks. But negotiations produced no positive results.

Following the formation of the Janata Dal government in Delhi a more favourable atmosphere for talks was created, and in November 1977 a five-year treaty with the ziaur rahman government of Bangladesh on water sharing was concluded. The term of the treaty expired in 1982. On 4 October 1982, the government of General hussain muhammad ershad signed with India a memorandum of understanding on water sharing for two years.

On 22 November 1985 another understanding for three years was signed. As still there was no agreement on augmenting the flow, India did not agree to a further extension of the accord. India reduced the river's dry season flow for Bangladesh in 1993 to lower than 10,000 cusec in place of around 34,500 cusec in the last accord. In the absence of an agreement, India continued to deprive Bangladesh of its rightful share of the Ganges water. As there was little progress in negotiations with India, the BNP government raised the issue once more at the UN General Assembly. In October 1993, it was also raised at the Commonwealth summit in Cyprus.

Following the formation of the Awami League government, negotiations resumed and finally, a 30-year treaty on sharing of the Ganges water was signed between India and Bangladesh on 12 December 1996 in New Delhi. According to the treaty, the Ganges water would be distributed from Farakka for the two countries between January 1 and May 31 each year on the basis of an agreed formula, and that India would make every effort to maintain the flow at Farakka at the average level of previous 40 years. At any critical period Bangladesh would get the guaranteed flow of 35,000 cusec. The two countries also agreed to the need for mutual cooperation in augmenting the flow of the Ganges on a long-term basis, and for entering into similar accords in sharing the flows of other common rivers.

This long-term treaty defined for the first time India's precondition for augmenting the flow of the Ganges and established Bangladesh's right as a lower riparian to an equitable share of its existing flow. It removed the tense relation between the two countries, and opened the way for their wider cooperation in sharing the water resources of the entire region.

The implementation of the treaty has the prospect of allowing Bangladesh to receive a fairly good flow of water into the Ganges-Kobadak Irrigation Project in greater Kushtia and into the Gorai river that drains the southwestern districts, thereby saving agriculture, aquaculture, industries and the world's largest mangrove forests in Sundarbans by preventing salinity from the Bay of Bengal. It also opened the way for Bangladesh to build a barrage on its segment of the Ganges to make a judicious use of the lean season flow coming from upstream. [Enamul Haq]

See also farakka barrage