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- A Critical Evaluation

Compiled and Edited by the Engineers Association of Bangladesh from the Ganges Water Treaty Meeting by the Shotonagoric Committee held on the 31st January, 1997, at the Press Club, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

On 12 December, 1996 Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India signed a treaty on sharing of Ganges water. Ganges water sharing. A similar agreement was at first signed in 1977 for five years which was replaced by a MOU in 1982. The period of MOU was valid up to 1988. Between 1989 to 1996 no agreement / treaty existed between two countries on the sharing of the Ganges water during which time India unilaterally diverted Ganges water in the upstream of Farakka as well as at Farakka.

Negotiations on sharing of Ganges water at Farakka was started from 1960 at the time of signing of Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan. India decided to construct a barrage across the Ganges at Farakka in 1951 in order to divert water to Bhagirathi to maintain its navigability which was being hampered due to siltation. Construction of the Farakka Barrage was started by India in 1960 unilaterally violating the international norms of any construction for diversion of water on any international river. Construction of the barrage having a length of 7363 ft, designed for a maximum design discharge of 27,00,000 cusec and a head regulator for diversion capacity of 40,000 cusec of flow. The construction of the barrage was completed in 1974.

India approached Bangladesh for test operation of the Farakka Barrage and feeder canal. The then prime Minister Sk. Mujib agreed to India's proposal for test operation of the barrage and feeder canal. Initially in 1975 India was allowed to divert flows varying from 11000 cusec to 16000 cusec for a period of 41 days from 21 April to 31 May '75 with the understanding that India will not operate feeder canal until a final agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh on the sharing of Ganges water. Violating this understanding India started diverting the Ganges water in the upstream unilaterally in 1976 & 1977. Unilateral withdrawal of Ganges water during the dry months resulted serious adverse effects on environment, agriculture, industries, fisheries, navigation, river regime, salinity contamination in the surface and ground water, etc. in the southwestern and western areas of Bangladesh. Covering almost 20% of countries area is 30,000 sq. km inhabited by about 30 million people.

Historical natural flow at Farakka dwindled due to human intervention in the upstream of the Ganges within the Indian territory. Moreover, the Ganges water has also polluted with the toxic chemicals and heavy metals from industrial effluent discharged into the river within the India. Withdrawal of the Ganges water upstream of Farakka varies from 40,000 cusec to 45,000 cusec during the month of March & April apart from diversion at Farakka to the feeder canal which means India has been withdrawing about 60,000 to 80,000 cusec of water from the Ganges leaving a very negligible amount of flow for Bangladesh in recent years. All these fact have been disclosed by the India Today, 1-15, January'97 issue.

Bangladesh being a lower riparian and small country has been subjected to Indian bullying on the Ganges water, Ecological situation in Bangladesh has already been deteriorated to an unrepairable level, salinity front has traveled upto 280 km upstream from sea-coast, the salinity level in the surface water has been increased 500 micro-mhos to 29000 micro mhos at Khulna which has exceeded the safe limit by several times, the ground water salinity has also been increased from 200 m mhos to about 3000 m mhos at places during past Farakka period, the one of the largest mangrove forest, Sunderban, has already shown dying out affect due to increase in Salinity level in the estuarine rivers flowing through it, industrial growth has been retarded due to non-availability of potable water during the dry months ( 4 - 6 month ), agriculture in suffering due to shortage of irrigation water specially one of the largest irrigation project Ganges - Kobodak project ( GK project ) covering a total area of about 1,50,000 ha. Health condition of the great majority of the people has also been affected adversely with the increase of incidence of diarrheal diseases, hypertension and kidney diseases. At this back drops, popular resentment was created in the country and abroad. After failing in attempts to resolve this issue peacefully and amicably Bangladesh raised the issue of Ganges water sharing in the UN General Assembly session in 1976. Confronting adverse international opinion India had to sign an ad hoc agreement for 5 yrs on Ganges water sharing in 1977 where she had agree to the just share of Bangladesh on the available flow and to increase the flow at Farakka through augmentation to meet the increasing demand of water of both Bangladesh and India. India also agree to include Nepal for finding long term solution to the problem. The basic principles of 1977 agreement were the following :

  1. Sharing period would be from 01 January to 31 May divided into 15 slots each having 10 days.
  2. Sharing was on the basis of 75% dependable flow at Farakka between 1948 to 1973.
  3. Sharing proportion of Bangladesh and India was 60:40 respectively with a minimum flow of 34,500 for Bangladesh and 20,500 cusec for India. In case of decrease in flow at Farakka under extreme situation. Bangladesh was guaranteed with 80% of its share during each of the slots.
  4. Regional co-operation for augmenting the flow at Farakka was agreed upon and the augmented flow would be shared proportionately.

During the period from 1978 to 82 Bangladesh received more than its share for all the years excepting one when the flow at Farakka fall unexpectedly but the India released the guaranteed minimum flow.

1977 agreement was expired in 1982 and India denied to extend it. The then military ruler Gen.Ershad succumbed to the Indian pressure and signed a MOU scrapping the 1977 agreement where the interest of Bangladesh was compromised and the guarantee clause was excluded. MOU signed in 1982 was expired in 1985 and extended to 1988 through two other similar extension . From 1989 onward India refused to come to any deal with the bangladesh on Ganges water sharing.No treaty or agreement existed till 1996 during which the average low flow has come down to 10,000 to 12,000 cusec with one extreme event of 9000 cusec. During the period of the last democratically elected Govt. of Bangladesh Begum Khaleda Zia in spite of all assurance of the Indian Prime Minister Narashima Rao to reach a just solution to the Ganges water sharing, India will fully avoided reaching any agreement with the Govt. Bangladesh again raised the issue in the UN General Assembly but to no effect.

In the mean time it is observed that average high flow of the Ganges downstream of Farakka increase from 1,745,300 cusec to 1,959, 400 cusec and the average low flow decrease from 70,700 to 10,000 cusec bed level aggraded along with the remarkable rise in high water level for which flood vulnerability has increased.

With the installation of the current Govt. of SK. Hasina Wazed after the 12 June'96 election, the govt. started negotiating with India on the Ganges water sharing. Things moved very rapidly and treaty was reached between the two countries on 12 Dec'96. The basic principles of the recent treaty are as follows

  1. The flow at Farakka was calculated on the basis of average flow ( 50% dependable flow ) for the period of 1948 to 1988.
  2. Proportion of sharing between Bangladesh and India is 45:55 and in some cases the proportion will be 30:70
  3. During the period from 1 March to 31 May the sharing will be on the basis of so called hydraulic cycle when one side will have 35000 cusec guaranteed flow and the other side will receive rest of the flow. In such a cycle when the flow is 50,000 cusec when India will receive 35,000 cusec and Bangladesh will receive only 15000 cusec.
  4. when the flow falls below 50,000 cusec no sharing principle will exist, Bangladesh and India will sit immediately to decide equitable sharing
  5. The same principles will be applied to the sharing of flow of other common rivers.

A detailed picture on the sharing of the Ganges water as per 1977 and 1986 agreement treaty is presented in the following table :

Comparative statement showing water availability under 1977 and 1996 agreement.
Bangladesh India
Period 1977 1996 Incr./Decr. 1977 1996 Incr./Decr. Remarks.
1-10, Jan 58500 67516 9016 40000 40000 0 * The flow was calculated on the basis of 75% dependable flow
11-20, Jan 51250 57673 6423 38500 40000 1500 during 1948 to 73, i.e. prior to the operation of Farraka Barrage.
21-31, Jan 47500 50154 2654 35000 40000 5000
1-10, Feb 46250 46323 73 33000 40000 7000
11-20, Feb 42500 42859 -359 31500 40000 8500 ** The flow was calculated on the basis of average flow
21-28/29, Feb 39250 39106 -144 30750 40000 9250 (50% dependable) during the period from 1948 to 1988 i.e. the period
1-10, Mar 38500 35000 -3500 26750 39419 12669 of 25 yrs (1948 to 73) during Pre Farraka operation and 15 yrs
11-20, Mar 38000 35000 -3000 25500 33931 8431 (1974 to 1988) during post Farraka operation
21-31, Mar 36000 29688 -6312 25000 35000 10000 under mutual agreement. The period of 1988 to 1996 i.e. 8 yrs. of
1-10, Apr 35000 35000 0 24000 28180 4180 unilateral withdrawal was not considered.
11-20, Apr 34750 27633 -7117 20750 35000 14250
21-30, Apr 34500 35000 500 20500 25992 5492
1-10, May 35000 32351 -2649 21500 35000 13500
11-20, May 35250 35000 -250 24000 38590 14590
21-31, May 38750 41854 3104 26750 40000 13250

Basing on this table four graphical representation on the water availability and the quantum of flow increase/decrease of India and Bangladesh has also been prepared and presented in the above figs.

From the above table and figures, it is evident that Bangladesh receives lower amount of flow as per 1996 treaty than the 1977 agreement and quantum of decrease varies from 7117 to 144 cusec during critical period from 21-28 Feb to 11-20 May. On the other hand, India receives more flow as per 1996 treaty than the 1977 agreement which varies from 14590 to 4180 cusec during the same period. During this period Bangladesh will loose about 1.2 million avert of water which is sufficient to irrigate about 1.2 million acres of land the economic values of which is to the true of some million US$ every year.

Apart from the decrease of share of Bangladesh on the Ganges water, there is no provision in the treaty to augment the flow through regional co-operation unlike 1977 agreement. Sharing treaty did not take into account the quality of water which is generally be recognized in India that Ganges water is highly polluted with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. The quantum of flow which will be available to Bangladesh will not be able to redress the problems of environmental degradation, high level of salinity in surface and ground water, navigability, fisheries and deterioration of river regime rather all the environmental degradation will continue unabated. This has been revealed by the FAP study on Southwest Water Resources Management (FAP 4 ). According to the said FAP study Bangladesh will need a minimum flow of 55-60,000 cusec during the critical period of the year ( March & April ) to meet its demand of water for agriculture and industrial development as well as to maintain ecology, navigability and control salinity intrusion in soil surface & ground water etc. If we put these figures in April , then Bangladesh will fall shortest of 32,000 cusec of water during April . If Bangladesh receives 90% of lowest quantum of its share i.e. 15,000, then minimum flow availability for Bangladesh will be 13,500 cusec in case of extreme shortfall. Then the shortfall in water for Bangladesh will be to the tune about 45,000 cusec.

The news item circulated by the Govt. owned Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and the Prime Minister SK.Hasina her self that Bangladesh will receive a minimum flow of 35000 cusec and Bangladesh receives more water than the 1977 agreement are misleading and contrary to the fact . The reasons for willful distortion of the facts and withholding the actual scenario on 1996 water treaty from the members of the public is a matter of grave concern for Bangladesh

Although the treaty has been signed for 30 years. India may scrap it after 5 years and may also continue beyond 30 years. Recent publication in India Today (January 1-15) issue show that the flow availability has gone down to around 50,000 cusec in the months of March and April during last 5/6 years. This is not due to any natural cause rather this happened due to upstream abstraction of water in Utter Pradesh , Bihar , Haryana and West Bengal. Up stream abstraction of Ganges flow likely to increases in future causing reduction of flow at Farakka as well as down stream of it.

Taking advantage of the recent treaty India has already entered into agreement with Bhutan to divert flows of Sankos and Manas which are tributary to the Brahmaputra to the Ganges. According to international law inter basin transfer of water is unlawful. If India succeeded in diverting the flow from Sankos and Manas , then , Bangladesh is loosing its Brahmaputra water also. India has already constructed diversion structure over Teesta & Mahananda and also planning to construct reservoir on the Barak which is the main source of Meghna. In one sentence it can be concluded that India is trying to strangulate Bangladesh over the sharing of water of common rivers. If the upstream flow in all the river systems of Bangladesh reduces in dry months , then Bangladesh is definitely heading towards a ecological disaster in near future.

Finally the 1996 treaty is devoid of any arbitration clause in case of either party to uphold the provision of the treaty.

Future will definitely tell how far the treaty is to the advantage or disadvantage of Bangladesh. At present , this can conformably be concluded that the treaty failed to protect the far reaching interest of Bangladesh.