The fate of the much- talked- about TK 32,000 crore 'Ganges Barrage' project for preserving water from the River Ganga (Padma) for dry season is hanging in the balance as India has expressed concern over the issue of "water back flow" from the barrage although Bangladesh is a downstream country.
According to the Ministry of Water Resources, water experts of India have raised some queries about the project and said that it would cause river erosion on Indian side.
Under the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, a decision was made that Bangladesh would construct Ganges Barrage for preserving water for dry season. However, in line with the treaty, in May 2014 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed the Water Resources Ministry to involve India in the process of building the Ganges Barrage to minimize troubles in sharing of the waters of joint rivers in future.
Following the directive, the ministry conducted a survey and submitted a report which was duly shared with the Indian counterpart.
"We had taken a project worth about TK 32,000 crore, the completed survey work on the barrage, earmarked Pangsha in Rajbari district and submitted the detailed project plan to the Planning Commission. The study has been done with the help of international consultant and as per PM directives we sent a copy of the project details to our Indian counterpart," a senior official of the concerned ministry said.
China and Malaysia showed interest to invest in this project, he added.
The Farakka Barrage was built in 1974 across the Ganges, some 17 km from the Bangladesh border. But India has never followed the treaty; it limits water flow by half at certain times of the year. The result is that irrigation water is not available to the adjoining districts of Kushtia, Jessore, Pabna and Faridpur.
The barrage has also affected ecosystem of the Sundarban, the largest mangrove forest in the world. The dispute was even taken to the United Nations by Bangladesh.
Diplomatic efforts were made on behalf of the governments of both the countries to implement the deal and subsequently the water treaty was signed in 1997. An important element of the treaty is the search for means to augment the flow of water in the Ganges at Farakka. Indian experts have suggested Bangladesh to install barrage for preserving water for dry season but now they are raising issues.
"Unfortunately, the Indian experts have raised "back-flow' issue. As per their perception the environmental impact of this project would be a great threat for river erosion in Indian side, although it would be constructed inside Bangladesh and geographically India is at the upstream," a senior official of the Water Resources Ministry told the Daily Observer preferring anonymity.
The Joint River Commission (JRC) is the formal body to discuss the issue but JRC meeting was not held in last six years.
As many as 400 rivers flow in Bangladesh. Of them, 57 are trans-border rivers - 54 from India and three from Myanmar that are flowing over Bangladesh.
India is withdrawing water from various points of the cross-border rivers, particularly in the lean season (February-March), allowing little amount to flow into Bangladesh that being an upstream country India cannot do, according to officials at the JRC. The water resources ministry, through diplomatic channels, requested for 'appropriate immediate measures from the Indian side to conduct JRC meeting but all such efforts went in vain.
"We want to implement the project as soon as possible, we sent our observations to our Indian counterpart, however, the issue will be discussed in the much-awaited PM -level meeting between the two countries," Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources Zafar Ahmed Khan told the Daily observer over telephone from the USA.
"We send all required documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to place it in the PM level meeting," he added.
The gradual exclusion of water from the Ganga, the Teesta and the Mahananda has increased our suffering over many years. Our natural ecosystem has been gravely damaged by this inequity, and its reflections can be viewed in all spheres of our life. However, Bangladesh wants to resolve all these issues with India in a peaceful manner," Zafar Ahmed Khan said.
Dr. Ainun Nishat, water resource and climate change specialist, said the solution has to be political. He added that in the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, both countries agreed to manage all joint rivers on a bilateral basis. "So under the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, both the countries can resolve the issues by sharing information and a joint team can study can assess the adverse impacts on both the countries," Nishat added.
He said, "We are sharing 54 common rivers with India. Now India is suffering a lot for the Farraka Barrage. So if we want to implement a sustainable barrage on our side, then we need to share all these with the neighbour for ensuring a better and peaceful atmosphere.
A congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) called upon the civil society and governments in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna basins to promote dialogue and cooperation for ensuring sustainable development of trans-boundary water resources.
The congress urged the IUCN director general to promote basin-wise river management and regional cooperation in all international river basins and help setting up a Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers Basin Commission to conserve natural river systems.