Issue bilateral, action unilateral
Over the years India has been assuring Bangladesh of not making any unilateral decisions on its National River Linking Project but it is building around 700 dams on its rivers and many of them are for facilitating the mega project.
Experts say despite what India has been saying, it never stopped the implementation of the project. It went on with the projects that facilitate the mega project even though the matter was pending with Indian courts. The draft of its National Water Policy 2012 also encourages inter-basin transfer of water through river-linking.
According to the final report of World Commission on Dams (WCD) in 2000, an estimated 1,700 large dams were being built in the world and India accounted for 40 percent of those dams.
The report said out of the 45,000 large and small dams in the world, India has about 4,000, which makes it the fourth, after the USA, China and Japan, country to have that many dams.
A follow up report in 2010 named “WCD 2000+10” focused more on the lasting impacts of the report. It said countries such as India and China (which combined accounts for over half of the dams in the world) continues to reject “the report for the fear that it could bring dam construction to a halt”.
No newer data was available at the World Commission on Dams website.
Many of the dams are on rivers that flow into Bangladesh.
Khalequzzaman, assistant prof of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, in his publication titled “Dams in NE India Implications for Bangladesh” published in 2006, mentions that India has built dams on at least 30 common rivers.
The dams and barrages India has built are causing problems in Bangladesh as its agriculture and environment is largely dependent on those rivers especially the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, experts said. The two rivers are threatened by India’s controversial project, they said.
“If they divert water from the Brahmaputra, even Dhaka would be affected by salinity,” said Ainun Nishat, vice-chancellor of Brac University. “Now the most important thing is to think about what we should do if India really implements the project,” he said.
According to Ainun Nishat, it would be disastrous if India made barrages on the Brahmaputra and diverted water of the river, which is known as Jamuna in Bangladesh.
Interestingly, India continues to build dams putting Bangladesh in difficulty but objects to China’s dam-building on the Brahmaputra.
Experts said India has been building dams which it would have built anyway during implementation of its river-linking project. They said the river-linking project would not work if those dams were not in place and that the building of these dams was part of the mega project.
India has been constructing a barrage on the Mechi river in Bihar state for the last few years to divert the water of the Teesta towards the west to Fulhar through Mahananda-Mechi, which is visible with Google Earth.
Retired hydrologist M Inamul Haq, chairman of environment organisation Water and Environment, said, “India has been running a hydroelectric plant near Fanshideowa using diverted water of the Teesta.”
He said the water used in the plant is diverted from the Teesta before it enters Bangladesh.
India plans to divert a large portion of water form the Brahmaputra and the Ganges rivers through 30 canals, depriving and ignoring outcries of Bangladesh and some of its own states.
The drafts of the proposed National Water Policy 2012 says that with the current strategy of India, it can only use about 1,123 billion cubic metres of water out of 1,869 billion cubic metres available, if large inter-basin transfers are not made. It emphasises India’s need for inter-basin water transfer, which could put Bangladesh in serious trouble.
The river-linking project was commissioned in 1982. Bangladesh has been opposing the plan since 2002 when the then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee formed a taskforce to get the project going.
The Indian Supreme Court has recently cleared the path for the implementation of the mega project. The court in its order said the central Indian government and the states concerned should participate for its “effective” implementation “in a time-bound manner”.
Prior to the assurance of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year, an Indian delegation in 2010 assured Bangladesh of not making any unilateral decisions on the Tipaimukh Dam and river-linking project during the Joint River Commission talks on the Teesta water-sharing deal.
Also in 2006 and 2005 India assured Bangladesh that it would not implement the river-linking project without discussion with Bangladesh.
KERALA OPPOSES RIVER LINKING
The Congress-led coalition government and CPI-M led opposition in southern Indian state of Kerala yesterday came out against the Supreme Court directive to the Indian central government for implementing the river-linking project, our correspondent in New Delhi reports.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said Kerala would not agree to the river-linking scheme as it was “harmful” for the state.
He, however, said the Indian apex court order was not applicable to Kerala and it was relevant only to those states that had agreed on the river-linking scheme.