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Water Issues in South Asia

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Water Issues in South Asia

If there is any single most important issue that mars bilateral
relations among the countries of the subcontinent, it is water. The
issues of cross-border water distribution, utilisation, management and
mega irrigation/hydro-electric power projects affecting the upper and
lower riparian countries are gradually taking centre-stage in defining
interstate relations as water scarcity increases and both drought and
floods make life too often miserable.

Thanks to its location, size and contiguous borders with other South
Asian countries, it is India, in its capacity as both upper and lower
riparian, that has come into conflict with most of its neighbours,
except Bhutan, on the cross-border water issues. Given an atmosphere
of mistrust, an upper riparian India has serious issues to resolve
with lower riparian Pakistan and Bangladesh and, despite being lower
riparian, with the upper riparian Nepal. This, however, does not mean
that India is solely responsible for certain deadlocks, even though
its share of responsibility may be larger than other countries which
have their own physical limitations and political apprehensions.

As elsewhere in the world, and more particularly in the subcontinent
where population explosion continues and environmental degradation
worsens, water resources, like energy, are going to be much lower than
the increasing demand, even if they are harnessed to the most optimum.
Given the depleting resources of water, the issues of human security,
and water security as its most crucial part, are going to assume
astronomical proportions. The issues of water distribution and
management are bringing not only countries of the region, but also
states and regions within provinces into conflict since they are not
being settled amicably within a grand framework of riparian statutes
respecting upstream and downstream rights.

What is, however, quite appreciable is that the countries of the
subcontinent have made certain remarkable efforts to resolve their
differences over water distribution through bilateral agreements.
India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) in 1960
allocating three eastern rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Beas) to India and
three western rivers (Indus, Jehlum, Chenab) to Pakistan. The IWT has
remarkably survived the ups and downs of Indo-Pak relations, and
despite wars the parties upheld the Treaty, although serious
differences persist over various projects being undertaken by India
over Jehlum (2 projects) and Chenab (9 projects) rivers. Similarly,
the Ganges Water-Sharing Treaty (GWST) was signed between India and
Bangladesh in 1996 and resolved the dispute over Farakha Barrage,
although differences continue on Bangladesh's share of water during
the lean period. Nepal and India also signed the Mahakali Treaty in
1996, but despite ratification by the Nepalese parliament, the Treaty
has remained stalled.

Despite these treaties, serious differences over water sharing, water
management and hydropower projects continue to spoil relations between
India, on the one hand, and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, on the
other. Differences between India and Pakistan continue to create
ill-will between the two on around 11 large hydroelectric projects
India plans to construct, including the Baglihar Project over which
Pakistan has sought the appointment of a neutral expert by the World
Bank after the failure of talks. More than the dispute over Jammu and
Kashmir, the issue of the waters of Jehlum and Chenab has the
potential to once again provoke people in Pakistan against India and
push the two countries to war.

Bangladesh, which shares 54 rivers with India as a lower riparian, has
serious differences with New Delhi that hinder agreement on eight
rivers, besides the continuing complaints by Dhaka over sharing of
water of Ganges. The Indian plan, which is now under review, to build
a big river-linking-project that includes diversion of water from
Ganges and Brahmaputra, has become yet another source of antagonism
between the two countries who have not been able to sort out their
differences over a whole range of issues that continue to fuel
political tension which, in turn, does not allow the resolution of
differences over water.

As an upper riparian, Nepal has a different relationship with India
and faces many problems in constructing its dams due to opposition by
the lower riparian and has serious doubts about the projects proposed
by India. Nepal's mistrust, beside other factors, has been reinforced
by what it perceives to be various unequal treaties -- starting from
Sharada Dam construction (1927), 1950 Treaty and Letters of Exchange
of 1950 and 1965, Koshi Agreement (1954), Gandak Agreement ((1959),
Tanakpur Agreement (1991) and the Mahakali Treaty (1996). Since 400
million people live in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna region,
India needs Nepal to meet its energy needs and for management of
water.

Besides many issues of water sharing among the countries of
subcontinent, there are huge water and energy related issues that are
critically affecting the food security, environment and agriculture.
Above all, projections of scarcity of water in the future presents a
doomsday scenario. There are serious differences over water-sharing
within different states/provinces in India (Ravi-Beas dispute between
Punjab and Haryana and Cauvery dispute among the states of Karnataka,
Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry) and Pakistan (water sharing
dispute and construction of dams over Indus between Punjab and Sindh
and also NWFP). Rigorous exploitation of groundwater in India and
Pakistan is rapidly depleting aquifers which is a cause of great
concern. Contamination of water and presence of arsenic in groundwater
has become a major concern, especially, in Bangladesh and some parts
of India and Pakistan.

Climatic changes that are being forecasted and low-water discharges
need to be addressed collectively. India should, as SAFMA's Delhi
Declaration says, 'make more efforts to discuss bilaterally with its
neighbours problems relating to river waters. A new regional
understanding of the riparian issues is essential to resolve
Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-Pakistan water issues'. Some way
out should be found on the Baglihar issue between India and Pakistan
to keep the sanctity of Indus Water Treaty. Regional Riparian Statutes
must be obligatory to resolve the bilateral water disputes. RRR
statute model, respecting Helsinki Convention proposes 8K upstream and
downstream rights, should guide the countries of subcontinent to avoid
conflict over water and reach a lasting understanding for the
collective good of our people. Lastly, the 'middle-path' adopted by
Bhutan should guide the planners for sustainable development that is
environment friendly and is not carried by supply-side approach of the
big dam lobbies.

SOUTH ASIAN WATER CONCERNS

The lead paper in this issue, by an Indian water expert, Ramaswamy
Iyer, outlines the national concerns and issues related to water among
the upper and lower riparian countries of South Asia. Touching on
major domestic and regional water issues faced by India, Pakistan,
Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, the author sketches out common
convergences and divergences regarding water in these countries.
However, he deals with the Baglihar Hydroelectric Project controversy,
which has put to test the Indus Water Treaty, more from political
consideration than technical standpoints.

PAKISTAN’S PERSPECTIVE: THE BAGLIHAR PROJECT

Shahid Husain, former Secretary for Water and Power, Pakistan,
provides an empirical account of the dispute over the Baglihar
Hydroelectric Project between India and Pakistan. The author looks at
the latest developments regarding the Baglihar Dam Project and takes a
partisan position commensurate with the official position. He,
however, shows how this project can, if completed according to the
current design, adversely affect Pakistan's water interests.

WATER: ISSUES AND POLITICS WITH PAKISTAN

Dr Zaigham Habib, an expert on Pakistan's water issues, advocates
future water security while analysing the current local water
scarcity, conservation threats, water management and ownership issues
in Pakistan. Being the only researcher with a doctorate thesis on the
Indus Basin System, she takes a critical view of the current water
strategy, dominated by WAPDA, and analyses the political controversy
over water distribution and the conflict among provinces.

MANAGING NEPALESE WATER

On Nepal's water situation, Dr Bishnu Hari Nepal, a former Nepalese
diplomat, says that India needs to change its water policies regarding
its neighbours for effective management of Nepal's water. The author
identifies ten areas of concern to Nepal. He feels that there is an
absence of cooperation between the upper and lower riparian countries
and cites the South Asian Regional Riparian Rights Statutes (SA-RRR-S)
Model as a solution to the Indo-centric water conflicts of the region.

BANGLADESH WATER ISSUES

Emaduddin Ahmad, Executive Director, Institute of Water Modelling
(IWM), Bangladesh, looks at water development issues in Bangladesh.
After assessing national water policies of the country and looking at
water development issues such as flood mitigation, salinity, high
proportion of arsenic contamination of water and institutional
reforms, the author suggests coordinated efforts to reduce the effects
of these ecological damages. He also critically evaluates India's
River Linking Project which will have adverse effects on Bangladesh's
water. The author proposes an apex body comprising representatives of
all the co-riparian states to evolve a plan for development,
conservation, sharing and utilisation of international waters while
maintaining ecological balance.

INDIA’S RIVER LINKING PLANS

The Indian government got judicial sanction from its Supreme Court in
October, 2002 to be able to implement its scheme on linking major
Indian rivers to 'overcome drought and floods'. The BJP government
followed this up with pronouncements supportive of the scheme. The
proposal was not received without dismay in the neighbouring
countries, particularly Bangladesh, which organised a series of
conferences to highlight the folly inherent in the scheme. The most
recent of these conferences was a three-day international conference
on Regional Cooperation on Trans-boundary Rivers in Dhaka (December,
2004) with a call to India to dispel mistrust and concerns over its
river linking project and to follow a 'no harm policy' towards its
neighbours. This is a phrase used in the Treaty between India and
Bangladesh on Farakka. According to reports, the Indian Ambassador to
Bangladesh assured the Bangladeshis that India would undertake a
detailed consultative process with all concerned. She asserted that
the project was still at a conceptual stage. This does not mean that
the proposal has been shelved; hence, the continued concern for
Bangladesh. This conference was a follow up, close on the heels of the
August conference in 2004. Aware of the threat posed by this gigantic
project and the challenges faced by the region on account of
population growth, food scarcity, the Third South Asia Water Forum
(SAWAF-III) was held in Dhaka in July, 2004.

The Bangladesh People's Initiative against River Linking (BPIRL) in
collaboration with the South Asian Solidarity for Rivers and Peoples
(SARP) organised the South Asian consultation on River Linking Project
(21-22 August 2004), so as to focus on the implications of the
proposal on linking the two large rivers in the subcontinent.
Concerned citizens from India, Pakistan and Nepal joined their
Bangladeshi counterparts to voice their concern at the Indian proposal
of changing the geomorphology of the subcontinent.

Brahmaputra and Jamna Basins account for 65 per cent of surface water
in Bangladesh. In all, 80 per cent of the surface water in Bangladesh
comes through these two rivers (Brahmaputra and Jamna) originating in
Himalayas and passing through Nepal, Bhutan and India. Bangladesh
inter alia decided to endorse the principle of 'more crop for each
drop' of water as an alternative to this mega project, so as to
increase water efficiency, to decrease non-structural options, to
evolve cost effective technologies including rain water harvesting as
well as re-cycling of effluent and for action to use water as a source
of peace and prosperity rather than a source of discord.

The 21st century is marked with a growing need for global cooperation,
in general, and regional cooperation, in particular. What could be
more important for global understanding than on water, which is
getting scarcer by the day and will get more so in the future? Days of
profligacy are long gone and the mounting pressure of population has
forced the issue of this precious commodity to the fore not only in
this region but also in other parts of the world.

The controversy is not confined to Bangladesh and India. The
Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin (GMB) represents a far bigger region
comprising Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and some parts of Tibet.
According to a recent report, India has nearly exhausted underground
water reservoirs by pumping water for irrigation to achieve a mirage
of food self-sufficiency. The proposed project is thought to be the
only solution to overcome the problem. India has proposed to transfer
water from the Brahmaputra through a gigantic 324-km long link canal,
which will run from Assam across northern Bangladesh to just above
Farraka. The second part of the proposal envisages three large dams,
which are potential hydropower-cum-flood control sites. The project
consists of thirty river links, 14 on the Himalayan Rivers and 16 on
the peninsular south. The project involves storage of flood and
monsoon water. The important links are four, including Brahmaputra
with Ganges, Subamarekaha and Mahanadi with Brahmaputra so as to
irrigate Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa.

The proposal for interlinking of rivers is not new. Sir Arthur Cotton
first mooted it in the 19th century primarily for promoting inland
navigation. Dr K. L. Rao later revived the idea in 1972. After that
the focus shifted from navigation to the issue of water scarcity in
the south. In 1977 Captain Dastur, a pilot by profession, proposed
construction of two canals named Garland Canal -- because it envisaged
4,200 km Himalayan Canal and the twice as long Southern Garland Canal,
which were to be connected through pipelines passing through Patna and
Delhi.

Much before the Supreme Court decision in 2002, National Water
Development Agency (NWDA) was established in 1980, to carry out two
separate studies, viz. Himalayan and Peninsula rivers. NWDA has to
survey and investigate possible storage size and interconnecting
links. There are two action plans. Under action plan-I, the schedule
for implementation is 10 years from the start. It is stipulated that
work will start in 2007 and complete in 2016. Under action plan-II,
two committees have been set up to go into the financial aspects of
the project. Both the committees are to work concurrently. The NWDA
has conducted feasibility studies jointly with the Ministry of Water
Resources on six of the thirty possible river links in the last few
decades. It is reported to have completed water balance studies of 137
basins/sub-basins and prepared pre-feasibility studies of 30 links.

A task force has also been set up by the Government of India on
December 13, 2002, with Suresh Prabhu as the Chairperson with the
following terms:

1. To provide guidance on norms of up-raising of individual projects
in respect of economic liability, socio-economic impacts,
environmental impacts and preparation of re-settlement plans;

2. Devise suitable mechanisms for brining about a speedy consensus
among the stats;

3. Privatise different projects' components for preparation of
detailed project reports and implementation;

4. Propose suitable organisational structures for implementing the
projects;

5. Consider various funding, modalities; and

6. Consider international dimensions that may be involved in some
components of the project.

A full-fledged cost benefit analysis will follow the feasibility
studies and detailed project reports. It is, however, claimed that
phenomenal economic and socio cultural benefits will accrue, like:

1. Agricultural production will increase by 100 per cent in the next
five years;

2. 35 million hectares will be added to the command area to the
current 90 million hectares;

3. Loss of crops worth Rs.250b will be saved by preventing drought
and floods;

4. Savings in foreign exchange of Rs.30b per annum will accrue
because of cost effective alternative navigation and reduced
import of oil;

5. The country will further be bound together.

6. Employment to one million people will be provided in next 10
years; and

7. Additional water line defence will be provided along the western
and north-western borders.

There are sceptics who doubt the viability of the scheme or even the
seriousness on the part of India. They suspect that it was an election
stunt and will not go beyond the laying of foundation stone. With the
new government in place one has not heard of it so loudly. 24 years
after the project emerged on the public scene, it is nowhere near
completion. But there are those who are afraid of India's seriousness.
Once the government conducts studies, like it did on the Kalabagh Dam
in Pakistan, without involving the stakeholders in a discussion, then
a vested interest is created in going ahead with its execution.
Narmada is another example of the same approach. Consequently, the dam
is still incomplete.

The question remains whether there is enough water to sustain the
idea. Except for the Brahmaputra basin in the northeast, there is no
surplus water anywhere. The scheme is predicated on the assumption
that there is surplus water in the rivers that could be diverted to
the deficit rivers. Dr Ainun Nishat, Country representative of IUCN in
Bangladesh, in his brilliant exposition at the August Conference in
2004, brought out -- with the help of data -- that dry deltas in
Bangladesh bring forth (very poignantly) an affirmation of the claim
by the critics of the proposal that not much water is left to flow
into the sea. Those who are building a super-structure over a pipe
dream either do not understand or have a sinister agenda hidden from
public view.

The receding snow lines of the Himalayas are another development which
cannot be overlooked. The glacier mass showed a negative trend since
the middle of the last century, signalling a sharp reduction in flow
into the rivers in the next 30 years. Himalayan glaciers could
disappear by the year 2035 according to some researchers. There is no
scientific database on climate pattern and discharge pattern in the
Himalayas. Pakistan is facing its gravest crisis with its existing
dams almost empty and its present and future crops in jeopardy.
In-depth studies of glacier hydrology is in order. The claim that
water flows into the sea is no longer true. India has highly uneven
water availability. In Pakistan and India diversions on the mighty
Indus and its tributaries have reduced water outflows into the sea by
80 per cent; destroying deltaic mangroves that once stretched over
250,000 hectares and were spawning grounds for coastal fisheries. In
Philippines, rights to environment have been included as fundamental
rights.

Engineering a geo-morphologic feature changes both the object and the
process and thus triggers a chain of developments that persist long
after the intervention is over. The system takes its own time to
settle into a new equilibrium. This on a generational time scale is
much longer than the executive decisions. The natural level of all
water on earth being the sea, the river -- unlike a canal -- augments
its flow along its path. Such a project will invite the Law of
Unintended Consequences. Moreover the project will involve submergence
of forestland, habitations and wild life. How good is the prevailing
use of irrigation water? 70 per cent of river water is wasted before
its delivery into the fields. High intensity use for sugar cane and
rice further compounds the problem. The region faces floods and
droughts at the same time.

Obtaining the consent of the states within the Union of India will
prove an almost insurmountable hurdle. The states have full authority
over water and yet the Centre can intervene by taking steps to
interfere with their plans for use of the water. Ironically the states
where the rivers are located are the most undeveloped parts of the
country. East Punjab followed Kerala in opposing the project. Punjab
and Haryana are still fighting over the Sutlej water. The annual
discharge of the system is 1350 billion cubic meters with a total
drainage area of 1.75 million sq. kms Brahmaputara contributes 700
BCM, Ganges 500 and Meghna 150.

Tamil Nadu supports the project completely, whereas Andhra Pradesh
supports it conditionally. Tamil Nadu has already completed the
Mekkara Dam, which is to be used in the proposed link even though
Kerala is opposed to the project. Kerala Legislative Assembly has
passed a unanimous resolution against the link on August 6, 2003.
Gujarat has objections because Daman Ganga-Pinjal River Linking
Project, one of the 30 interstate projects, located in Gujarat will be
adversely affected. There are two out of thirty proposals that fall in
Gujarat.

West Bengal is worried. It is demanding adequate funds from the centre
to combat post Farakka problem causing floods and erosion. Assam is
opposed to the project and is of the view that while remaining within
the constitution, the Centre must evolve a consensus of the states. A
board or an ordinary bill in parliament cannot supersede the
constitutional provisions. One opinion suggests that Bihar should not
oppose linking of Brahmaputra because there is sufficient water to
meet the needs of the south. However, Nepal will have to be excluded
from the plans. Bihar, after spending over Rs.19b on flood control in
the flood prone area, is worse off with floods affecting almost three
times the area (from 2.5m hectares to 6.9m). Bihar also fears that
India will reap benefits at its cost.

Bringing the countries of the region, particularly Bangladesh, on
board may be far more difficult for India, especially after the
India-Bangladesh Treaty of December 1996 on the sharing of the Ganges
waters. Farakka Barrage, completed in 1975, has been a significant
source of friction between India and Bangladesh, much before the
latter's creation. The Barrage allows India to divert the Ganges water
into Hoogly River through a feeder canal. A decline of 51 per cent
flow of water is claimed to have been experienced by Bangladesh after
Farakka. Under an ad-hoc arrangement reached in 1983, pending
scientific studies, 39 per cent of the dry season flow was to be
allocated to India, 36 per cent to Bangladesh and the remaining to
continue to be unallocated.

The 1996 Treaty protects the flows at Farakka and any storage upstream
of Farakka will be in breach of that Treaty. Ganges and Brahmapatra
are international waters and their historic use cannot be overlooked.
Para 3 of the Preamble of the Treaty requires the two countries to
make optimum utilisation of the water resources of their region for
the mutual benefits of the people of the two countries. Article IX of
the Treaty enshrines the principle -- 'Guided by the principles of
equity, fairness and no harm to either party both the Governments
agreed to conclude water sharing Treaties/Agreements with regard to
other common rivers'.

According to Bangladesh, its share in Farakka is fixed at 35,000
cusecs, if availability of water is 75,000 cusecs. In case water
exceeds, India will get 40,000 cusecs and Bangladesh the balance. The
water sharing arrangement was to be reviewed by the two governments at
five years interval or earlier, but so far no such review has taken
place. Bangladesh took up the issue of the interlinking project at the
Joint River Commission. According to Mr. Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, Bangladesh
Minister for Water Resources, India was reluctant even to discuss it,
calling it outside the scope of the Joint River Commission (JRC).
Bangladesh persisted and the discussion continued for 13 hours, but at
the end of the day it was not even minuted. The marathon discussion
was dismissed in a single line signifying, nothing. However, there may
be some meeting of minds with the new government in place in New
Delhi.

There are alternatives available to the proposed millennium folly such
as decentralised water harvesting, non-conventional energy sources and
conservation strategies. A former Indian Prime Minister, while
addressing state irrigation ministers in 1986, had this to say: 'Since
1951, 246 big surface irrigation project(s) have been initiated. Only
66 out of these have been completed. 181 are still under construction.
For 16 years, we have poured out money. The people have got nothing
back, no irrigation, no water, no increase in production, no help in
their daily life'. The river linking project is in fact a river
privatisation project. Projects that have already been planned or
executed are being shown as new projects under the scheme. India seems
to be re-making its geography so that water flows where it previously
never did.

There is need for a regional treaty that forces each country to honour
its ecological obligations towards the great oceans. The combined
population of the region is about 600 million. If India thinks that it
can exploit its upper riparian position and its size, China, which has
reportedly drawn its own plans to divert rivers originating in Tibet
-- including Brahmaputra, may follow suit. While India plans to
complete the project by the year 2013, China plans to do so by 2009.
An estimated 90 per cent of the Tibetan rivers flow downstream to
India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Both India and Bangladesh are at
the mercy of China which could for its own interest withhold water for
irrigation and power during dry season and release water during the
flood season. Bangladesh experts brought the issue to the attention of
Indian journalists.

All the rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal. All these countries have
abiding interest in the sustainability of the system in order to
ensure livelihood of people, who depend on agriculture as well as to
protect ecology, environment and wild life for present or future
collaboration necessary to evolve common goal of survival. Ganges is
reported to be the most polluted river. The effort is not going to be
easy but each country has to be prepared to make sacrifices and suffer
the perceived loss involved in an agreement. Equity and understanding
of the other's point of view are crucial to any settlement, tentative
or permanent.

Another option is that a public interest petition is filed by any
concerned citizen of India requesting review of Supreme Court order,
which may possibly review its own order suo moto in the region's
interest. There are other hurdles that India must cross before
establishing feasibility such as:

1. External financing in view of huge external debt may not be
forthcoming. The private sector sees a distinct road for itself in
the proposed mega project after having experienced the
privatisation of Sheonath River in Chattisgarh.

2. As per the Constitution, water is a state subject, but no project
can be undertaken without following the planning process, which
means every proposal must go before the central government.

3. Whether or not there will be a political will to interlink rivers
is an open question. A proposal was made to constitute a
commission on the lines of the Finance Commission to examine the
project.

There is also the role of international law and treaties. United
Nations Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of
International Watercourses, although not ratified, could provide a
basis to proceed. The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly
of the United Nations in 1997. Watercourse has been defined as a
system of surface waters and ground waters forming a unitary whole and
normally flowing into a common terminus. The Convention was based on
the principles and recommendations adopted by the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development of 1992 in the Rio
Declaration and Agenda 21. It expressed the conviction that a
framework Convention will ensure the utilisation, development,
conservation, management and protection of international watercourses
and the promotion of the optimal and sustainable utilisation thereof
for present and future generations.

Nothing in the Convention shall affect the rights or obligation of the
Watercourse state arising from agreements in force on the date on
which that State became a party to the Convention.

There are 37 Articles to the Convention. The Articles in the
Convention relate to subjects like watercourse agreements, equitable
and reasonable utilisation participation, factors relevant to
equitable and reasonable utilisation, obligation not to cause
significant harm, general obligation to cooperate and settlement of
disputes, etc. The Convention shall enter into force following
ratification of 35th Instrument. So far the Convention has attracted
perhaps no more than 16 signatures and 11 ratifications. 103 nations
including Bangladesh had voted in favour. Surprisingly India and
Pakistan were on the same side and were amongst 27 nations that had
abstained from voting.

Times have changed; the demand for water is growing. Dams and
megaprojects are known to disrupt the existing pattern of water use.
Where people depend on fish, flood plains or deltas for their
livelihood, big dams can wreak great havoc. Watershed eco-systems
suffer and fragmentation of aquatic and terrestrial eco systems cause
growing threat to the ecological integrity is one of the many factors
impacting on the change in climate.

The growing rate of extraction of fresh water has put enormous
pressure on aquifers. Sedimentation causes the dams to lose storage
capacity at an estimated rate of 05-1 per cent per annum. In the next
25 to 50 years, 25 per cent of the existing storage will have been
lost mostly in the developing countries. In three Asian countries --
China, India and Pakistan -- the water table is sinking at the
alarming rate of 1 to 2 metres a year. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and
Israel are the most water stressed countries. Pakistan is close to
Germany in being less stressed.

Today most of the countries are focusing their attention on management
of existing water resources including the dams. The effort involves
rehabilitation, renovation and optimisation. Demand side management
and improvement of efficiency of the existing supply are receiving
greater attention.

There are bound to be difficulties for the countries of the region
along the way. However, inaction is not an option. If the waters in
the basin are sufficient to justify an equitable and just sharing of
waters and the social, economic, political and environmental impact of
such structural intervention on common river systems is manageable,
then the project cannot be dismissed as being unfeasible. It will
require cooler heads in the spirit of give and take for the
stakeholders in all the countries of the region to grapple with hard
choices. The outcome may yet produce a win-win situation for
everybody. The growing population of all the countries of the region,
which they have failed to control, imposes an obligation on their
leaders to do something substantial to avert the looming disaster of
famine and poverty.
Forming a common front against India as being the largest country in
the region will be a self-defeating strategy. After all Pakistan did
the unthinkable of bartering away three of its six rivers for the sake
of peace and amity in the largest part of the subcontinent. The
important thing to note is that the intervention of the World Bank
proved crucial to the culmination of the effort in the signing of the
Treaty.

PAKISTAN: INDUS BASIN AND WATER ISSUES

From Run of the River to a Regulated Basin
The Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan in 1960, and the
construction of two big reservoirs (Mangla 1967, Tarbela 1978)
enhanced the inter-connectivity and inter-river water transfer
potential to a very high level. It is unique that the major sub-basins
of three big rivers having about 6 million hectare irrigated land had
to rely on water transferred from other rivers. The net increase in
diversions is about 60 per cent after 1960 ( bcm to bcm - Habib 2004)
. The Indus network is the same today as it was in1978. All main canal
headworks are linked through rivers and link canals, reservoirs
supporting whole system other than the 1st barrage of the Chenab
river. Sharing the reservoir is a fully regulated system for release
of water. Even to feed all canals with fair share from the direct
river flows, each structure on the main network would need to be
operated. This is a basic change in the designed run of the river
supply based water delivery network.

Water Allocation and Division Principles
With the design of large-scale canal systems, the surface water
availability changed from an 'access control' to an 'authorised
allocation'. The concepts of 'riparian water rights' and 'prior water
use rights' facilitated the access of 'old users' to a limited level,
but became obsolete when all ‘divertible water’ got engaged with the
'authorised allocation'. With the extension of irrigation, the
probability of having lower than the allocated water during low supply
period of early and late Kharif (summer) increased. This shortage was
distributed among the canals through operational priorities, which
increasingly becomes tougher and an issue of disagreement among the
provinces. All water allocation committees between 1937 and 1982
(Andersons, Sindh-Punjab draft, Haleem commission, etc.) had to
address the priority-issue, but none of the draft agreement were fully
accepted by the provincial irrigation departments.

The flexibility provided by the reservoirs relaxed the priorities and
decreased the shortage of the authorised allocation, and put a new
challenge to share the stored water. The highest demand on this water
was during the high stress period. This affected the doctrines of
'equitable distribution' and 'perennial and non-perennial' division.
More water could be supplied in Rabi (winter) than officially
allocated. An operational technique was to distribute this water
through the scheduling of available excess or shortage. By virtue of
the regulation process, scheduling has to be responsive to the water
demand of different canal commands during the period of interest.
Eventually, the non-perennial canals started getting water in Rabi
(winter) without any command areas allocation or the distribution
formula, regulated through the 'historical diversions'. The
differences on the interpretation of WAA (1991) started surfacing as
early as 1994 and continue till today. WAA weaknesses are as follows:

1. Conceptually, WAA allocations are neither based on the design
philosophy nor any new criterion. The provincial seasonal and
annual allocations are neither equal nor proportional to the
design allocations. The winter provincial share of water depends
upon the actual diversions of 1978-82, which already had the
impact of peak storage potential of both reservoirs. However,
there was no change in the authorised seasonal discharge of the
main canals.

2. The WAA accepts that the management of surface water needs a more
'real time' distribution targets than the design discharge. And
the originally planned systems can be intervened by replacing two
seasonal target values for the year with 10-daily targets. But,
adopts the schedule recommended to share the access or shortage of
discharge, by modifying it and making actual supplies of 1978-82 a
permanent reference. It changed the character of the regulatory
water scheduling from a dynamic to a static reference.

3. The developed portion of river flows is divided for the existing
irrigation uses with a small increase, 'other uses will be managed
within this allocation (WAA)'. The division of river water was
made equivalent to the irrigation canal diversions. Punjab was
already using all of the allocated water in irrigation in 1991.
Hence, to satisfy other/new water uses, Punjab could exploit the
groundwater, develop flood share or shift water from
irrigation/old uses. About 70 per cent potential of groundwater
was already utilised in 1991, which is quickly depleting now.

Continuous provincial disagreement inside and outside IRSA and high
level administrative interference (at the ministers and even
president's level) in water stress situations indicate the
insufficiency of the management arrangements. The reservoir operations
are influenced by crop demand periods, especially for cotton and
wheat. It is very hard to save water for the end of the year shortage
while accepting an existing shortage. The influence of this shortage
can be seen from the exceptionally low water levels in Tarbela during
June, July and August 2004.

Agriculture in the Basin3
A common measure of agriculture performance in the basin is given by
the increase in cropping intensities, which are doubled from the
planned level in the sweet zone (NWFP & Punjab) but, remains at the
design level in the saline and waterlogged zones. The gap is wider at
the main canal command level, 60% to 260% of the design (Habib 2004).
The minimum cropping intensities are not in the canal commands having
a water shortage, but having water and soil salinity and
socio-economic factors (Strosser 1997). However, in the basin context,
agriculture performance in terms of extension is much better than the
planning and forecast by Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)
consultant in 1967 and 1978. The first study forecast 23 million
hectare (ha) (mh) cropped area after utilising full water potential
with canal diversions of billion cubic metres or bcm (million acre
feet or maf). This is the potential already achieved with about 5
million ha (sailaba and barani) cropped area outside the canal
commands and 130 bcm average direct diversions. This 5 mh is not fully
un-irrigated as the shallow wells are used wherever possible. The
seasonal cropping intensities show that the agriculture is essentially
perennial in the basin. The major cash crops (cotton, sugarcane) are
grown in summer¸ while the food grains and fodder covers higher areas
in winter. Hence, the Rabi irrigation is very important for the food
security. With ha size 80 per cent farms are strongly at the
subsistence level, practicing livelihood oriented agriculture. But,
some of the comparative concepts must change, like protective versus
productive and livelihood versus market oriented agriculture, as the
markets and prices have influence on the farming decision of the small
farms.

1 . The new water development projects must be highly feasible and
sustainable over longer periods of time. The short-term solutions may
have quick results but can be disastrous for the future options. A
good example of this type of decision is Mangla raising, which has
only 40 per cent probability to be filled under average

WATER VARIABLES

RIVER NETWORK

BASIN

All values in billion cubic meters, Grey Italic is sub component
already accounted far, provincial sub-basins does not include the
areas outside Indus Basin

+Adds
-Subtracts

INDUS BASIN

NWFP

PUNJAB

SINDH AND BALUCHISTAN

Inflow River Rim Stations

+ 164.7

Gains un-gauged Tributaries

+ 8.2

Rainfall Basin

+

74.57

7.4

60.9

6.21

Canal Diversions

- 132.0

+

132.00

4.9

66

61.1

River & Link canal losses

- 23.5

+

23.50

0.93

13.43

9.13

Evaporation from river, irrigation network

6.9

0.33

3.46

3.11

Gross Pumpage

+

51.35

2.56

44.68

4.12

Crop Water Req. canal command areas

99.35

2.58

65.49

29.83

Crop Water Req. outside canal command (7.94 mha Sailaba & barani land)

35.50

5.5

22.64

8.23

Water Uses Indus Basin

-

119.00

6.5

75.8

36.74

Crop uses in Canal Command Areas

91.10

3.07

56.8

31.25

Non - Beneficial Evapotranspirati on from

-

45.04

3.75

26.39

14.90

Evaporation from Water-Logged Areas

-

21.78

0.41

3.56

18.8

Evapotranspiration outside considered water use processes Evaporation
from rainfall

-

17.0

.8

14.5

1.7

Available Recharge

78.29

3.9

48.67

25.72

Actual Recharge

-

52.65

3.46

44.02

5.16

Drainage from the basin about 75% contributes to rivers

+ 19.0

-

24.60

0.86

15.96

7.76

Outflow to sea

- 35.8

conditions of 1978-2000 and have a competition with the direct
diversions to the command areas of the Ravi and Sutlej canals (Habib
2004). This probability will decrease as the eastern rivers inflow
will decrease. The use of this raised capacity is very unlikely during
relatively dry years. For any new storage on the Indus river,
availability of sufficient flows and the efficiency of diversions must
be considered.

2 .The ground water depletion is a more serious threat than the
surface water depletion. In addition to a direct threat to small
farmers, it is like the breakdown of natural recycling process. A
persistent decline in water level is expensive to be reversed and need
difficult artificial recharge processes. The lining of channels is
another wrong technical intervention in the areas having groundwater
depletion. These areas need to enhance the recharge, not to curtail
it. The network losses are in fact much lower than the values
advertised to promote the lining projects (ISRIP 1994, IWASRI , Habib
2004) and considered in the design allocations. The seepage in sweet
water zone is only a recycling process allowing farmers and other
users to use this water with a high reliability and efficiency. These
areas need good canal supply during summer (when the internal &
provincial competition is low), better field efficiency and changes in
cropping patterns decreasing the water demand in Rabi (like sugarcane
can by be replaced by fodder or wheat) to minimise the net water
stress. A good assessment of resources for each canal command area is
required to select a proper measure for the water conservation.

3 . The saline areas need a serious water saving plan. The drainage as
recharge control measure has failed here because of its low technical
feasibility due to flat natural slope and high water uses in summer.
The canals in these areas are designed for high diversion during a
couple of months. The existing agriculture is much different from the
summer flood irrigation and winter non-irrigated agriculture. Not the
lining, but a thorough remodeling of the secondary and tertiary system
with better water saving devices should be considered, even if it
could be a slow and gradual process.

INTERLINKING RIVERS

The disturbing aspect of the interlinking of river proposals is the
unseemly haste with which the government is proceeding, drawing up
even a timetable for implementation without any consensus on this from
the concerned states. For a government that is unable to solve a water
dispute between two states, to proceed with a predetermined timetable
for river water sharing scheme not only between all the states in the
country, but also involving Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan is either
foolhardy or an eyewash. The attempt may be to try and win support
from water deficit states for a limited electoral purpose with the
full knowledge that such a scheme is unworkable and will only remain
on paper. In the process, a host of issues involving water resources
such as principles of sharing water, cost benefits of inter basin
transfers, ecological impact, etc, are all being swept under the
carpet.



LEGAL AND POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
================================

Before we look into the mechanics of linking rivers, let us examine
the legal and political implications of such linking. Linking of
rivers means transferring water from one river system (or river basin)
to another. It presupposes that there is surplus water in this river
basin that can therefore be transferred. However, while the principles
on the basis of which riparian states can share water have been
established over time internationally and in the various agreements
between states, the transfer of river water from a surplus basin to a
deficit one has no such agreed principles. The states that are not
riparian are assumed to have no claims to the water of the rivers.
Therefore a transfer of water from one basin to another can be done
only by mutual consent and a commercial agreement by which the state
(or country) that receives water pays the donor state a certain
amount. Any other basis is bound to be unacceptable as no state is
likely to transfer water to another foregoing possible future use of
such water.

The second politico-legal part of the problem is that water is a state
subject and the massive water grid that is being proposed will
immediately throw up the question who will control this water. In this
context the dangerous proposition that is being floated is that the
rivers should be nationalised and the control of the water grid should
rest with the centre. Apart from encroaching on power of the states
and the consequent centralization of the Indian state, it also has
other dangerous implications. It would imply that the rivers do not
belong to the communities that live on its shores but belongs to a
centralised Indian state to do with it as it deems fit. At one stroke,
all the riparian states and other riverside communities would lose all
their rights to the rivers. With privatisation of water being
advocated around the world, the rights to water could then pass from
the communities to water multinationals via the Indian state. This is
not far-fetched proposition as rivers and lakes are being privatised
around the world: the process is already on.



BRAHMAPUTRA GANGA-LINK
======================

The interlinking of rivers have two components: the Himalayan
component and a Peninsular one. The Himalayan component envisages
construction of reservoirs on the principal tributaries of the Ganga
and the Brahmaputra in India and Nepal, along with transfer of water
from the eastern tributaries of the Ganga to the west, apart from
linking the Brahmaputra to the Ganga and the Ganga to the Mahanadi.
The Peninsular component consists of inter linking of the
Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Penna-Cauvery, diversion of the west flowing
rivers of Kerala and Karnataka to the east, interlinking the west
flowing rivers north of Mumbai and south of Tapi and interlinking
river Ken with Chambal. All interlinking schemes obviously are for the
purpose of transferring water from one river system to another, aided
by either gravity flows (tunnelling through mountains) or by lifting
across natural barriers.

The above links are meant to carry water from surplus areas to deficit
ones. There are two areas where we have a surplus of water – the
Bramhaputra-Meghna system and the Western Ghats where the rivers carry
much of the annual precipitation into the Arabian Sea. The proposal to
divert west flowing rivers in Kerala and Karnataka is meant to use the
water that would otherwise flow into the Arabian Sea.

The Brahmaputra valley is certainly surplus in water and floods
annually creating a perennial problem. The proposal is to connect the
Brahmaputra to the Ganga upstream of Farakka to meet the needs of
Bangladesh and West Bengal. Unless the Ganga flow can be augmented,
India is bound by its agreement with Bangladesh not to disturb the
flow into Bangladesh of the Ganga.

The Brahmaputra-Ganga link has two possible alignments, one of which
is through Bangladesh and the other passing entirely through Indian
territory (the Siliguri chicken neck). Bangladesh has already rejected
the proposal for linking Brahmaputra through Bangladesh. The other
alignment through Siliguri involves large-scale lifting of water and
does not appear to be economically viable. Thus both the proposed
links have serious problems without addressing which the interlinking
of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra is not possible.

Let us then look at the picture of inter river basin transfers without
the Brahmaputra-Ganga link. There is little doubt that states in the
Gangetic basin are unlikely to agree that they have surplus water.
Bihar has always argued that its water needs have not been met from
the Ganga system. Punjab has already objected to the interlinking of
rivers and had earlier objected to Rajasthan as a non-riparian state
being given water from the Indus river system. Thus the entire north
Indian component of the river interlinking, which envisages transfer
of water from the eastern rivers to the western ones would fall
through unless we are able to transfer water from the Brahmaputra.
This is not surprising as the only basin that is really surplus of
water is the Brahmaputra.

NEED FOR COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

We have not dealt with ecological and other implications of such
large-scale transfer of waters between different river basins.
However, there can be no universal position against or in favour of
such transfer. Every hydrological system is unique and so are all
transfers between them. Unless details are available of the nature and
amount of transfers and its costs, a blanket opposition (or support)
would neither be scientific nor rational. As natural barriers separate
basins, transfers involve either tunnelling through mountains or high
lifts, both of which are expensive. However, there are cases where
this has been done with beneficial results. The key question here
would be the costs of such a scheme against the projected benefits as
also the long-term impact on the environment.

Before we surrender to the grand vision of interlinking all the rivers
in the country, we need therefore a detailed examination of such
schemes. Only after a detailed examination identifies potential
benefits to be large enough for such investments, should we move
forward. Any such move would need agreements between India,
Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan for water sharing, as also between
various states in the country. Unless these steps are taken, we will
open the country to many more disputes on river water sharing. The
best way to “solve” the Cauvery water dispute is not to bring all
states into this dispute. The interlinking of rivers without
addressing such issues has the potential to create precisely such a
situation: the cure will then become worse than the disease.

SOUTH ASIA: SHARING THE GIANTS

Three of the world’s mightiest rivers flow through countries of the
Indian subcontinent. Despite strife and war, several landmark
agreements have been reached, but fresh disputes are looming

Regional cooperation appears difficult to come by in South Asia. There
have been four conflicts between India and Pakistan since 1947,
clashes on the Indo-Bangladesh border and accusations about India’s
overwhelming influence. When the South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) was established in the 1980s to provide a forum
for discussion primarily on trade, contentious topics like water
resource negotiations were totally excluded from its brief. Yet, South
Asia has a commendable record in the realm of water-sharing, developed
through a combination of civil society presure, political sagacity and
technical co-operation.
Countries had one precedent in the field. The Indus Waters treaty,
signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, is a landmark as far as
water-dispute resolutions go. The dispute can be traced back to the
Partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. The Indus river begins
in the Himalayan mountains of Kashmir on the Indian side, flows
through the arid states of Punjab and Sindh, before converging in
Pakistan and joining the Arabian Sea south of Karachi. The source
rivers of the Indus basin remained in India, leaving Pakistan
concerned by the prospect of Indian control over the main supply of
water for its farmlands. The newly formed states could not agree on
how to share and manage the cohesive network of irrigation, which was
impossible to partition.
Brokered by the World Bank, the treaty, which covers the largest
irrigated area (26 million acres) of any one river system in the
world, has survived two wars and provides an ongoing mechanism for
consultation and conflict resolution through inspections, exchange of
data and visits. The treaty demonstrates how functional cooperation on
both sides is not impossible to achieve, though most other contentious
issues remain deadlocked.
New breakthroughs were made in the 1990s over water-sharing in the
region. In December 1996, recently elected governments in both India
and Bangladesh decided to resolve decades of acrimony over the sharing
of the waters from the Ganges, one of the most culturally and
economically significant rivers on earth. The breakthrough came after
years of political stalemate and bitter rhetoric at the public level,
alongside quiet work behind the scenes by water specialists,
politicians and scholars on both sides at the non-governmental level.
The result was the 30-year India-Bangladesh water-sharing agreement,
signed in 1996.
Bangladesh, being in the downstream and delta portion of a huge
watershed, has been most vulnerable to the water quality and quantity
that flows from upstream. The way rivers are used in one country can
indeed have far-reaching effects on nations downstream.
When India built the Farakka Barrage in the 1960s, Bangladesh (then
East Pakistan until its independence in 1971), watched helplessly as
it wreaked havoc. In the dry season, the barrage blocked the natural
flow of water into the country, causing drastic water shortages. And
in the rainy season, sudden water releases caused floods and extensive
damage, including the loss of property and human lives.

Early warning systems
The principal objective of the 30-year treaty is to determine the
amount of water released by India to Bangladesh at the Farakka
Barrage. The water-sharing arrangements, primarily for the dry season,
are specified to the last drop and depend on the river’s flow. It aims
to make “optimum utilization” of the waters of the region, and relies
on the principles of “equity, fair play and no harm to either party,”
with a clause for the sharing arrangements to be reviewed every five
years.
Spurred on by the success of this treaty, India resolved yet another
riverine dispute, this time with Nepal, in 1997. The Mahakali River
treaty settles Nepal’s entitlement to water flows and electricity from
the Indian side, improving on a 1992 agreement. The treaty, however,
has run into opposition from various Nepali groups, who claim it is
still unfair to the country’s interests.
Although these various agreements point to steady regional cooperation
on water-sharing, another dispute may be looming on the horizon. This
time, it centers on the Brahmaputra, the other great river of this
region, which flows through Tibet (China), India and Bangladesh over a
distance of nearly 3,000 kilometres. Although no dispute has broken
into the open, the issue of information sharing has strained relations
between the three countries. The problem is that even the most basic
data is not disclosed.
The results have been tragic. In the summer of 2000, a landslide in
Tibet caused a dam to collapse, unleashing a 26-metre wall of water
that destroyed every bridge on the Siang, as the Brahmaputra is known
in the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh. The water then rushed
through the Indian state of Assam and, within a week, devastated parts
of Bangladesh. Human casualties were light but damage to property was
extensive. An effective early-warning flood system is a goal that all
three governments must therefore work towards.

Tapping the potential
According to Indian officials, the Chinese had not shared any
information on the build up of water pressure and the heavy rains in
the upstream catchment area of the river, known as the Tsang-po in
Tibet.
Concern is also being voiced about purported Chinese plans to divert
the waters of the Tsang-po with the help of nuclear tunnelling. This
appears to be a Chinese move to assess international reaction to the
possibility of a dam on the river to tap its huge hydro-energy
potential.
Cooperation on river waters could significantly improve the lives of
millions of people. In the case of the Brahmaputra, it is not so much
a question of sharing the waters as of tapping the waterway profitably
for mutual benefit, primarily for transport, commerce and industry.
One example: through cooperation, Assam’s famed tea could be shipped
downstream to Bangladesh and sent to other parts of the world. Oil
from the Numaligarh refinery, also in Assam, can be exported in river
barges to meet Bangladesh’s energy needs. These simple but effective
measures would generate employment and revive the economies of
marginalized communities.

INDIA’S WATER DISPUTES

A recently completed ten-year collaborative project between
institutions in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal on the eastern rivers of
the
subcontinent has the same generic title. Water is the pre-condition of
life
that it sustains and nourishes. In the jungle, as in the desert, water
holes were sacrosanct in South Asia, and even in today's cities
drinking water is
given away to passers-by as an act of merit in summer; only under the
stress of 'modernity' and the greed of commerce have these ancient
habits been
forgotten and water is sold. Were water to become a cause of conflict
of
the same order as the root causes of conflict in the tradition of my
part of
the subcontinent there would be no more hope left for us. Disputes
over sharing
water can be and are being settled at different levels; the unresolved
issues tend to be those of availability, equity, and efficiency, which
combine with other, often political, factors to create obstacles to
resolution of water disputes. Therefore, a combination of technology,
resources and, above all, political will among the parties to
disputes,
should be (and often have been) able to overcome such obstacles.
Before glancing at some of India's water disputes I would like to pose
the
following five questions:

* Why do we hear so much about unresolved disputes and so little
about the
many that have been sorted out under agreements that are
implemented?

* Why is the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 scrupulously upheld by
India and
Pakistan though Pakistan has reneged on almost all other
agreements signed
with India since that date?

* Why do the Mahakali Agreement of February 1996 between India and
Nepal
and the Ganges Water Agreement of December 1996 between India and
Bangladesh
remain contentious despite detailed preparations and consensus
before
signature? And why do India's water agreements with Bhutan proceed
smoothly
and to mutual advantage?

* Why do some inter-state river water disputes, such as over the
Kaveri,
fester while others, including over the Narmada, have been
settled?

* What does it mean for the future developmental trajectory of
India, if
actual and potential water disputes at the local level where
scarcity
presses most heavily tend to polarise positions between
traditional/modern,
rural/urban, agricultural/industrial, and rich/poor? Can we draw
any generalisations at all from the incredibly variegated tapestry
of India's experience with water in the last 50 years? Four
generalisations I would draw are also supported by what has been
said here
earlier:

* Politics is the determinant of settlement or non-settlement, not
water
per se.

* Delays in making and implementing decisions, and in every case
there have
been inordinate delays, make settlement more difficult and matters
worse,
partly because conditions on the ground change. Water management,
therefore, is a matter of good governance-that is itself in short
supply.

* Water disputes are largely the product of change: territorial
changes as
resulting from Partition, demographic changes from population
pressures,
changes of usage resulting from increased irrigation or new
industrialisation, changes of demand as for guaranteed access to
drinking
water. The process of change being inexorable the number of
disputes is
likely to increase, which is why using all processes of resolution
becomes
increasingly important.

* Water disputes within India have become interlinked with other
debates at
the domestic and international level, over big dams, 'sustainable
development', community participation, 'water markets' and the
like,
further complicating the resolution of water disputes.


In short, water issues in South Asia can be examined at every level of
analysis-international, inter-state, and local-and from many different
disciplines, as here at this conference.

The Indian subcontinent is home to nearly 20 per cent of the world's
population but has only four percent of the world's fresh water
flowing
through several river basins. The Indus River basin is shared between
India
and Pakistan. The Ganges River basin with many major tributaries from
the
north, east and south, accounts for 60 per cent of India's water
resources
and is shared with Nepal, the upper riparian state, and Bangladesh,
the
lower riparian state, but is so central to India's historical
narrative and
contemporary self-image that is widely considered to be an "Indian
river".
The Brahmaputra arises in Tibet as the Tsang Po and carries an
enormous
volume of water into Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Bangladesh before
it
joins the Ganges. The Brahmaputra is not only a mighty and
unpredictable
river that changes its course from time to time and sometimes causes
devastating floods, it also poses a huge question for the near future:
what
is China intending to do with the river in Tibet? There are reports
current
of Chinese plans to divert it northwards as part of its grandiose
Western
Development Project that also includes a new railway line to Lhasa
blasted
through mountain ranges. No information has been forthcoming from the
Chinese authorities, not even in 2000 when unknown events in Tibet
might
have contributed to serious flooding in Assam, but it is imperative
that
India attempts to seriously discuss the issue with China and arrange
for
regular exchanges of meteorological information, perhaps as part of
enlarging their mutual confidence building measures. Bangladesh too is
vitally affected by upstream changes in the Brahmaputra..
The rivers of peninsular India are not snow fed and are already almost
fully exploited, but many of them are long and flow through more than
one Indian
state. The major rivers flowing east to the Bay of Bengal are the
Damodar
(on which a multipurpose project was constructed in the 1950s), the
Godavari (shared between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu), the Krishna
(subject of ambitious and disputed plans), the Mahanadi, and the
Kaveri,
over which Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry have claims.
The
longest river flowing west is the Narmada, arising in Madhya Pradesh
and
flowing through Maharashtra and Gujarat before meeting the Arabian
Sea. The
Narmada is the subject of the largest multipurpose river project of
today
involving 29 major, 450 medium, and 3000 minor dams, all of which have
been
cleared and many of which are either completed or under construction.
Controversy has centred on the Sardar Sarovar dam, not because Madhya
Pradesh any longer disputes Gujarat receiving the most part of the
waters,
but because of public protests on the height of the dam, the area of
submergence, and the terms of resettlement and rehabilitation of
displaced
peoples. The long campaign waged by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)
has
received maximum publicity and considerable sympathy. The Tapti also
flows
west, and there are a series of shorter rivers from the Western Ghats
in
Karnataka and Kerala flowing into the Arabian Sea.
International Disputes Partition ruptured the Indus River basin in
1947 and the separation of
Pakistan from India was accentuated into hostility with the hardening
of
the Cold War about the same time. Nevertheless, the Indus Waters
Treaty was
signed in 1960 and continues to testify to the possibilities of
honourable
agreement in South Asia. Why? Without going into details we note the
following characteristics of the Treaty:

* It took 12 years and a very high degree of engineering and
diplomatic
expertise to negotiate the agreement.

* The United States took an active interest in resolving the problem
and
acted through the good offices of Eugene Black, President of the
World
Bank, which bankrolled new water projects in Pakistan and so
ensured its
acceptance of the division. India also made financial
contributions to
Pakistan's new projects.

* Field Marshall Ayub Khan had taken power in Pakistan in 1958 and
seemed
more willing to reach agreement with India than his military
successors.

* The Treaty divided the Indus and its five tributaries once and for
all
between Pakistan, which received the western rivers of Indus,
Chenab and
Jhelum, and India, which received the eastern rivers of Ravi,
Sutlej and
Beas. This enabled independent rather than cooperative development
of water
resources. There were no provisions for continuous sharing, or
joint
management, which probably would have posed problems.

* A Permanent Indus Waters Commission composed of members from both
governments was established and meets regularly; an Arbitration
procedure
was also agreed to but there has been no need to use it to date;
Pakistan
has quibbled over India's construction of the Wular Barrage on the
Jhelum,
but that problem could be settled even as Pakistan's Salal
hydro-electric
project was settled.

On the other hand, India and Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) had
endless
difficulties and protracted negotiations before signing an agreement
on
sharing the Ganges waters in December 1996 valid for 30 years. The
dispute
originated in the announcement by the Government of India in 1961 that
it
would construct a barrage at Farakka, close to the apex of the Ganges
delta
and the international border, in order to flush out silt from the port
of
Calcutta on the lower reaches of the River Hooghly. This project had
been
under discussion since the mid 19th century and was completed only in
1975,
but Pakistan anticipated that by increasing the flow of water in the
Hooghly India would reduce the flow in the main channel of the Ganges
below the
quan tity needed to maintain the agricultural economy of East Bengal,
especially
during the dry season. Legal principles of sovereignty (the Harmon
doctrine), and on the rights and obligations of upper and lower
riparian
states were argued at length, and some technical suggestions advanced,
but
no negotiations were undertaken between India and Pakistan on the
Ganges
between 1961 and 1971. The independence of Bangladesh in December 1971
and
the signing of the Indo-Bangladesh Friendship Treaty in March 1972
created
a propitious atmosphere to settle the dispute and a Joint Rivers
Commission
was established in November 1972 to maintain liason and make studies
"so
that the water resources of the region can be utilized on an equitable
basis for the mutual benefit of the peoples of the two
countries."(Article 4 (d)
Emphasis added). The real problem, however, was that there was
insufficient
water in the Ganges during the dry season (March to May) to meet the
stated
needs of both countries; grievances grew on both sides as water was
alternately released to each side, but without written agreement on
the
basis of sharing or the operation of Farakka. Political relations
soured
after 1975 with coup and counter-coup overtaking Bangladesh and
changes of
government in India as well precluding more than interim agreements
reached
in 1977, 1982-84 and 1985-1988. Meanwhile, the focus of discussion
shifted
to augmenting the dry season flow of the Ganges; for more than ten
years
mutually exclusive (and unacceptable) proposals were made on how to do
so.
India favoured diverting excess water from the Brahmaputra by canal;
Bangladesh favoured constructing reservoirs on the upper reaches of
the
Ganges in India and Nepal. Other political issues, such as border
demarcation, Chakma tribals, refugees, migrations, and domestic
politics in
both countries dominated the discourse between the two governments and
only
after these were calmed could a Ganges Treaty be signed, with
considerable
éclat on both sides, on 12 December 1996.

The significance of the Treaty is multifold. It is a long-term
agreement,as
Bangladesh wished, valid for 30 years and renewable, with a provision
for
five yearly reviews, as India wanted. It provides a formula for
sharing the
actual flows of water during the lean season on a 50: 50 basis with a
guaranteed basic minimum of 35,000 cusecs to each side being released
in
alternate ten-day cycles. It recognizes the need to cooperate in
studying
ways to augment flows of water and to conclude further water sharing
agreements on common rivers. It requires immediate joint consultations
in
case of emergency situations such as sudden shortfalls below 50,000
cusecs
in the flow. It establishes a Joint Committee for settling
disagreements
with a possibility of reference to the Joint Rivers Commission and,
failing
that, to the two governments. In short, it appears to meet the core
concerns of both sides and states the guiding principles of "fairness,
equity, and
no harm to either side" three times. The treaty was made possible, no
doubt,
by the statesmanship of chief decision makers in the two countries
-Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and successively Prime Minister
P.V.
Narasimha Rao and Minister of External Affairs (later Prime Minister)
I.K.
Gujral of India, who was willing to de-link the water issue from other
political problems-as well as the support of West Bengal Chief
Minister
Jyoti Basu and the sustained contributions made by non-officials,
notably
those at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi and the
Bangladesh
Unnayun Parishad in Dhaka. By and large the treaty was widely welcomed
and
criticisms and grumbling by opposition parties in Bangladesh and the
state
governments of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India kept within bounds.
Nevertheless, the working of the Ganges Treaty has not been smooth and
one
Bangladeshi critic told the author that the only reason it was
accepted was
that "any agreement was better than no agreement, even if it were no
better
than earlier ones." There are several reasons for the sense of
insecurity
that still surrounds the Ganges Treaty. First and most important are
the
frequency of low flows (below 50,000 cusecs) in the Ganges during the
lean
season and the absence of any agreed formula-other than consultation--
for
dealing with this problem that surfaced within the first two years.
Users
in both the upper and the lower riparian states are likely to be
discontented.
Secondly, the rapid variation in water levels induced by alternate
ten-day
cycles could endanger the safety of feeder canals. Thirdly, sometimes
there
are discrepancies between releases of water at Farakka and what is
received
down stream either in Bangladesh or in Calcutta that are neither
anticipated nor publicly explained. Fourthly, a web of familial "big
brother/little
brother" emotions complicate all dealings between India and its
smaller
neighbours. Finally, the absence of a political culture of
accountability,
public information, and community participation in South Asia makes
governments and the agreements they reach very vulnerable to
opposition
parties and their tactics of expediency.

There are no water (or other) disputes between India and Bhutan and
joint
multipurpose projects on Bhutan's rivers have proved enormously
successful.
Notable among these are the Chuka Project financed by India in the
1980s on
the basis of 60 per cent grant and 40 per cent loan and producing
electric
power of which 75 per cent is sold to India, and the Kuruchu Project
that
has enabled market gardening in southeast Bhutan to become profitable
in
the late 1990s. Though a detailed project report and a feasibility
study was
prepared in the early 1990s for a big multipurpose project in eastern
Bhutan, the Sankosh, doubts about its size and the resettlement
problems it
would cause have delayed its implementation. There are many reasons
why
Bhutan and India exemplify a relationship of non-confrontational
'beneficial bilateralism' based on mutual respect, beginning with the
pragmatic
partnership initiated by Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Jigme
Dorje
in 1958 and sustained by the Wangchuk dynasty in Bhutan and successive
governments in India. Other reasons are Bhutan's careful and
integrated
water resource planning, India's deliberately low-key but supportive
role,
and relatively low politicisation within Bhutan. Perhaps most
importantly,
joint projects jointly planned have brought visible benefits to Bhutan
where per capita income and energy use have seen quantum leaps between
1980 and
2000. The same cannot be said about Nepal or Indo-Nepal joint
projects, which
have become increasingly controversial over the years. In view of the
excellent
presentations on Nepal made here earlier, perhaps it is unnecessary to
add
information, but a few comments contrasting with those on Bhutan must
be
made. The early flood control and power generating projects built on
the
Kosi and Gandak rivers in the 1950s and early 1960s were initially
seen in
India as being successful, but they came under increasing criticism in
Nepal, because their environmental costs were more visible than their
financial benefits, despite the establishment of a joint commission on
the
Kosi and a Gandak coordination committee. Both projects fell into
disuse in
the 1980s and new, greatly needed projects on common rivers, could not
be
initiated then. Some reasons for this lack of pragmatic cooperation
are
suggested. First, the extremely close geographical, historical,
religious-cultural, economic, and educational relations between India
and
the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal has created identity problems among the
ruling
elite of Nepal who must differentiate themselves from Indians, as well
as a
facile assumption of synchronization among India's
politico-bureaucratic
class. Thus, even in the absence of serious conflicts, the need to
cooperate and the difficulty of finding easy methods of cooperation
generates emotion
and harmful rhetoric of antagonism. Secondly, too many Indian
officials at
all levels have a 'style' of dealing with others that can be easily
perceived as 'arrogant' and 'imperial', and a tendency to take Nepal's
compliance for granted-or to obtain it by threat-- has been apparent
on
many occasions, aggravating Nepali resistance to Indian proposals for
joint
projects. Thirdly, palace politics in Nepal have created problems for
New
Delhi, as also the activities of the Nepal Communist Party and the
cacophony of recent parliamentary politics. Corruption is entrenched
in both
countries-or perceived to be so-- and exacerbates all other problems
related to construction. Fourthly, unilateral, changeable, and ad hoc
decisions by
Indian authorities on specific constructions, such as the Tanakpur
Barrage,
and the absence of any system of shared public information,
accountability,
or mutually agreed principles of usage, crippled the important
Karnali,
Pancheshwar, and Saptakosi projects and led to their suspension. And
fifthly, demographic and land-usage patterns in the huge Terai
borderland
between Nepal and India have been radically changed over the last 50
years,
increasing the need as well as the difficulties of deriving mutual
benefits
of power, irrigation, and flood management from border rivers, such as
the
Mahakali.

Mindful of such problems, the governments of India and Nepal spent six
years negotiating a treaty concerning the integrated development of
the Mahakali
river and informally consulted members of all political parties in
Nepal
before signing it in February 1996. The Treaty replaces earlier
agreements
on the Sarada Barrage, the Tanakpur Barrage and the Pancheswar
Project,
specifies how waters and costs are to be shared, and sets down general
principles of equal sharing, protecting existing consumptive uses,
mutual
benefit, and no harm to either party in guiding the operations of a
bi-national Mahakali River Commission. The Treaty provides for review
after
10 years, arbitration in event of disputes, and a life of 75 years.
Notwithstanding the detailed consultations and public support
mentioned
above, the Nepali Parliament attached strictures to the Treaty while
ratifying it and public controversy broke out soon after.
Establishment of
the joint Mahakali Commission and preparation of the detailed project
report were unaccountably delayed. Territorial disputes between Nepal
and India
surfaced, as also differences of interpretation on key provisions of
the
Treaty including "equal sharing" "protection of existing consumptive
use",
and power tariffs. Some in Nepal advanced the theory that water was to
Nepal what oil was to OPEC and should be used coercively. Some in
India
questioned the possibility of any cooperation with Nepal whatsoever.
The Treaty
remains unimplemented to date, depriving eastern India of much needed
hydel power
and Nepal of income. Even an outline of India's international water
disputes indicates the
complexity of South Asia where weak state structures and weak civil
societies dilute efforts to build cooperative relationships.
Civilizational
and kinship ties reduce themselves to bitter familial squabbles. While
India accounts for approximately 80 per cent of area, population,
resources, and
skills in South Asia it suffers from what I have called the 'Kautilya
nightmare' of fearing a hostile combination of its smaller neighbours
assisted by one or more outside power. And the smaller neighbours
suffer
from a corresponding 'Raj nightmare' of fearing assertions of India's
superior power. In the Ganges basin India is situated as the lower
riparian
with respect to Nepal and the upper riparian with respect to
Bangladesh,
but is obliged to make 'concessions' to both and simultaneously ward
off
criticisms at home for 'sacrificing' legitimate Indian interests. The
obvious answer is to look at river basin development in a setting of
institutionalised regional cooperation and obtain substantial
international
financial and technical support for doing so. Unfortunately, the South
Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has been slow to
move beyond
meetings and declaratory agreements into tangible progress on the
ground,
and is currently stalled by the Pakistan-India impasse; nor does its
charter permit discussion of bilateral disputes. Fortunately, there is
a growing
realisation of the imperative of regional cooperation for development
throughout South Asia, and numbers of persons and institutions work
toward
that end below the governmental level. With water a key to
development,
cooperative management must be made possible.

NEPAL: EXPERTS DEMAND CLEAR ENERGY VISION

Nepalese water resource experts and the civil society have demanded
that Nepal spell out its vision on 'regional grid, energy trading and
rights of upper riparian' during the third summit of the World Water
Forum to be held in Kyoto, Japan from March 16 to 23 this year. They
have also asked the government to do the necessary homework to prepare
the theme paper to be presented at the summit. Sources at the Ministry
of Water Resources said that the government has not begun
consultations with the experts.

The Kyoto summit, to be attended by senior officials and the Water
Resources Minister, is attaching great importance to Nepal's
hydropower potential, according to water resource experts. Ministers
from Nepal, Brazil and Iran are scheduled to present their views
during the summit. According to a senior official at the Ministry of
Water Resources, Nepal will present its views on water sharing. "But
Nepal should be able to spell out its views particularly on regional
grid, energy trading and provision of water sharing," says Surya Nath
Upadhya, Chief of the Commission for Investigation of the Abuse of
Authority (CIAA). Upadhya, who had served as Secretary at the Ministry
of Water Resources, says sharing of water should be dealt with a broad
vision for economic development. Debate over sharing of water could
trigger unnecessary obstacles in good neighbourly relations, he says,
adding "but we should be clear about our rights as an upper riparian
sovereign country. "At a time when the focus is on equitable sharing
of natural resources, the meaning of upper riparian should be clear."

In a bid to meet the needs of the growing population, both India and
China are building high dams. India is introducing the 'Garland Canal'
mega project to overcome the problem of water scarcity. If India
constructs its grand canal, obviously it will use Nepal's big rivers
such as the Mahakali, Karnali, Koshi and Gandaki and cause massive
flood during the monsoon in the lowlands in Nepal, say experts. "What
will Nepal, as an upper riparian country, do if India constructs big
canals out of Nepalese rivers?" questions Dr. Janak L. Karmacharya.
"That is why Nepal should raise this issue during the Kyoto Summit."
But he thinks the 'link canal' concept will make India more
inter-dependent and Nepal can take some advantage from value addition.

Nepal's availability of fresh water per unit area is higher than the
world average. Annual average runoff is 225 billion cubic meters and
theoretical hydropower potential is more than 83,000 MW. However,
Nepal has been successful to harness only 0.4 per cent out of its
total potentiality. Besides, this Nepal has failed to claim its rights
over its water, say Nepalese water experts. One way or the other,
water has been a bone of contention between Nepal and India, they say.
Santa Bahadur Pun, a well-known water expert, thinks Nepal should go
for value addition to reap more benefits from its water. Besides, the
issue of the country's rights should be raised at the Kyoto summit.
Speaking at a programme organised by Nepal Water Partnership (NWP),
Pun also underlined the need to observe water from the security point
of view. Upendra Gautam, general secretary of the NWP, says that
harnessing water resources should be linked to economic transformation
of the country. "It can easily contribute to poverty alleviation if it
is given adequate focus."

HIMALAYAN WATER PROBLEM

FARAKKA, India - A mere trickle when it arises in a far away Himalayan
glacier, the river Ganges is a vast sea of churning water as it
cascades through the giant sluice gates which regulate its flow past
this small eastern Indian town.

For nearly a quarter century, the sluices of the barrage at Farakka,
close to the India-Bangladesh border, have been one of South Asia's
trickiest diplomatic disputes.

The river divides into two main streams at Farakka, one flowing
southwards to the eastern Indian port of Calcutta and the other
eastward to Bangladesh. The barrage aims to ensure enough water in the
south flowing tributary to keep one of India's main foreign trade
ports navigable during the dry pre-monsoon months.

Despite a landmark deal three years ago on sharing the dry season
flows at Farakka, India and Bangladesh continue to squabble over what
many consider to be the region's richest natural resource.

The surrounding countryside is covered with lush green paddy farms and
water bodies teeming with fish. The Ganges and its Himalayan
tributaries have blessed the plains of north India and Bangladesh with
farm abundance, giving huge profits to landlords, agribusiness
corporations and major food exporters.

This is why years of diplomatic negotiations and various accords on
sharing the river water have failed to fully satisfy Bangladesh where
the Farakka barrage fires political passions.

The dispute centres on differing views about the negative effect of
the barrage on farming, fisheries and industry in Bangladesh and ways
of boosting the lean season flow of the Ganges at Farakka.

Farakka typifies the deepening water crisis in South Asia which can
worsen hunger and cause widespread economic loss in the region unless
riparian governments show greater maturity in tackling differences
over water sharing, say experts.

Because rivers do not respect national boundaries, it is vital that
India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh stop viewing river water sharing
issues from exclusively national angles, they argue.

(Publisher's note -- is it that rivers do not respect national
boundaries, or rather that nations do a poor job of respecting
rivers?)

According to Himalayan water expert Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, the two
largest Himalayan rivers -- the Ganges and the Brahmaputra -- along
with their tributaries, comprise the third largest water resource in
the world after the Amazon and the Congo-Zaire group of rivers.

Yet, the region has one of the lowest per capita water availability
because of the huge population of half a billion people living within
the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin stretching from southern Tibet to the
arid western region of India.

The population, which includes the single largest concentration of the
world's poorest, is expected to double in the next three decades
coupled with a large increase in industrial demand for water.

''In the absence of a well-coordinated process of sharing and
prioritising diverse uses within the basin, the regional conflicts
(over water sharing) are showing signs of becoming acute,'' says
Bandyopadhyay.

Harnessing South Asia's Himalayan water resource is key to raising
living standards in one of the world's poorest regions. But this
requires a level of mutual trust and coordination, so far lacking.

Despite the huge annual flow of 1,400 billion cubic metres, the
Ganges-Brahmaputra basin faces water scarcity, say experts. A major
reason is that too much of South Asia's rainfall pours down in too
short a time.

Most of this comes during the four monsoon months beginning June.
Between January and August, the flow of the Ganges and the
Brahmaputra, measured at points in Bangladesh, has been found to swell
nearly 20 times.

The unequal bargaining power of India and its small neighbors such as
Nepal and Bhutan is seen as a crucial stumbling block in joint
harnessing of Himalayan waters. This was evident during the talks
between India and the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan during the
construction of the 336 MW Chukha Hydel Project on Bhutan's Wangchu
river.

The scheme was entirely funded and built by India which is the sole
buyer of the surplus electricity. According to former Bhutanese
government engineer Bhim Subba, India was ''able to do so under her
own terms.''

Critics of the proposed large dams in Nepal say that like Bhutan,
Nepal too would have to operate in a buyer's market. Nepal's estimated
hydroelectricity potential of over 45,000 MW is much in excess of
domestic demand and energy deficit India would be the only buyer.

POLITICAL IMPACT OF INDIA’S RIVER LINKING PROJECT

This international historic gathering, that is, “the International
Conference on “Regional Cooperation on Trans-boundary Rivers: Impact
of the Indian River-Linking Project” (ICRCTR) was, this is how I see
it, focused on water justice. I salute the people of Bangladesh for
pioneering this initiative towards water justice, which is an issue of
the utmost significance in our space and time especially in view of
our human civilization, which is more spiritual than nuclear, more
common than privileged, and more universal than unilateral.

Long ago, it was no less a person than Mahatma Gandhi, the Great Sage
of India, who had pronounced this fundamental truth about good
neighborhood: "One who serves his neighbors serves all the world."
Naturally, we expect the Government of India (GOI) to heed with
Mahatma’s words of wisdom.

But dismayed and shocked as we are, the GOI chose to go a
self-centered unilateral way to propagate and promote the
River-Linking Project (RLP), the subject of this conference, leaving
even behind their traditionally divisive bilateralism in the region.

The GOI’s RLP envisages river development in two components. First
component includes 14 Himalayan river links in India's north. The
second includes 16 peninsular river links in India's south. The
Himalayan river links include Nepal, the upper riparian country in the
Ganga basin. It comprises potential storage projects in Nepal. The
project eventually links one component with another.

Apparently inspired by China's on-going multi-billion US dollar
South-North Water Diversion Project, which is within China’s
territorial jurisdiction, India's RLP in the present incarnation plans
to take over the international rives in their both upstream and
downstream riparian flows. This planned takeover is in no way under
India’s sovereign territorial jurisdiction and water right regime.
Even then, according to RLP work schedule, Indian National Water
Development Agency (NWDA) will complete the RLP feasibility studies by
2005-6. And it will work out procedures to complete all the river
links by 2015-16. The Task Force on Interlinking of Rivers claims,
“the pre-feasibility studies carried out by NWDA for the various links
in the Himalayan Component have taken into consideration of the
existing, ongoing and proposed dams on the common river systems in
Nepal….for which preliminary studies have been conducted by the
respective countries…These studies need to be further detailed,
surveyed and investigated in cooperation with Nepal…”

Whatever the claimed status and destiny of the project, what is clear
by now is that GOI has absolutely unilaterally visualized a critical
role of Nepal's river water as well as territory in the planning of
RLP. And going by what the Prime Minister and Water Resources Minister
of Nepal categorically told the visiting Water Resources Minister of
Bangladesh on 23 January this year in Kathmandu, the Indian government
has done so without duly consulting Nepal, and getting its due
consent.

At this stage, a historical as well as geo-political sense of water
relations between India and Nepal will be relevant. The GOI sources
have been advising Nepal to adopt a subordinate role model to develop
the water resource, a natural endowment that originates in the High
Himalayas and Tibet Autonomous Region. This role model of water
resources development means to unquestionably recognize India as the
one and the only paramount developer who will participate in the
planning, development and management of Nepal's water resources. Given
the GOI’s self-assumed paramount geo-political role in South Asia, and
the on-going murderous political instability in Nepal, the GOI
presumably feels it safe to conclude that His Majesty's Government of
Nepal (HMGN) will see the timely trade off between surrendering its
water right on all major rivers of Nepal to India and its (HMGN’s) own
political survival.

The GOI at the mean time seems tactfully aware of the fact that it
needs to create a so-called legal base for effecting a subordinate
role model for Nepal. This is perhaps more required because of the
opposition in Nepal.

Any government in Nepal, coalition or otherwise, has in itself never
been a problem on the GOI’s way of making a deal in water resources
with Nepal.

Rather, the GOI has been facing opposition from those in Nepal who
have never been empowered. It is this reason why the general Nepali
people, who has never been duly represented in power through an actual
majority vote, seriously doubt the GOI’s doing and intention towards
the equal sharing and fair development of the country’s water
resources. Probably King Birendra, who got assassinated in June 2001,
was one major leadership exception.

He could sense how the general Nepali people evaluated the impact of
India-Nepal water deals. It was he who for the first time stated in
public that the general Nepali people felt “cheated” by the GOI in its
water deals with Nepal.

To preempt the legitimate doubt of the majority of the Nepali people
towards its international water behavior, the GOI has accelerated the
process of signing several new understanding and agreements with the
HMGN on water projects even during these years of murderous political
instability in Nepal. For example, the 1996 Mahakali river treaty, in
which the provisions of 1991 Tanakpur barrage agreement were
subsequently comprised, was primarily designed to legitimize the GOI’s
unilateral construction of the Tanakpur water project by allowing the
GOI to build 577 meter-long left afflux bund in the Nepali territory,
and perpetuate India's unequal share on the Mahakali river against the
diminished life of the Sharda Barrage agreement signed in 1920s. The
October, 2001 inception report or guiding document for joint studies
on High Dam on Sapta Kosi, where Nepal enjoys unrestricted right to
utilize water under 1959 Kosi treaty (amended in 1966), is logically
viewed to limit Nepal's water right as India, for its strategic water
security objective of RLP, gives the highest priority to hydropower in
the project. This conclusion is derived on the basis of the GOI’s
protracted negotiation on the “guiding document” on the Sapta Kosi
joint study. While other countries are on the hold and not taking
measures to undertake even simple evelopment works in Nepal for “lack
of security” and “regular” government business, nothing stops the GOI
even to raise issues, initiate, and enter new understanding and
agreements with His Majesty's Government of Nepal having far reaching
impact and grave consequences of the sharing of natural resources on
the territorial integrity of the country.

To pursue its dominance systematically, the GOI has always been in the
habit of completing the cross-border water infrastructure projects in
the river basin without consulting Nepal. On the contrary, it has been
happy to take a stand on the basis of the unilateral downstream
riparian right to stall water projects, such as Sikta and Babai, in
Nepal, and indefinitely delay poor agrarian Nepal’s development
efforts.

Indeed, exporting hydropower to India and earning blue revenue has
been an ingrained organizational cliché for the conventional public
power agents in Nepal as well. This was the cliché that was used to
its maximum in the public relation exercise during the forced and
hasty ratification of Mahakali river treaty by the Nepali parliament.
But those Nepalis with their common sense in place understand well
that all that glitters is not gold. Yet, GOI would like to nurture the
cliche and sell it to the Nepali psyche that it is only GOI-led
hydropower development where all that glitters is gold, so it is
necessarily helpful to Nepal. The GOI would like to stress further
that Nepal should not ask for any downstream benefit in the form of
flood control, environmental conservation, and regulated supply of
water for increased water and food security as its unilaterally
constructed structures on and around the international border have
already claimed prior use right on the water. The conventional public
power agents without any critical alternative vision would certainly
be obliged to accept what the GOI says. Even so, this informs one
about the basic strategic water interest of the GOI in Nepal. And this
interest has been to have control over the Nepal’s water resources. In
the 20th century, the control was mostly in the form of irrigation
projects. In the 21st century, the control attempts will be mostly
through hydropower projects.

Given the GOI’s self-centered unilateralism in water resources
development, its deep all-round involvement in Nepal’s domestic
politics and consequent insecurity emanating from this involvement, it
is not easy for the Nepali political leaders, to understand and
appreciate the critical relationship that inseparably exists between
the country’s territorial integrity, water rights and internal sense
of security in the Ganga basin, and assert for the same. One feasible
way to alance the extreme unilateralist pressure created through RLP,
that ultimately seeks to annex Nepal in the RLP design in the name of
optimum water resources development, would be to make concerted
diplomatic and political efforts, even though it may take some years,
to supply fresh water from Nepal to Bangladesh using pipe technology.
Sure, Bangladesh and Nepal cannot go for this without the GOI‘s
cooperation. But it will be very difficult to GOI to oppose this
proposal as it helps to serve two least developing neighbors, and
which also contributes in meeting the humanitarian Millennium
Development Goal of Poverty Reduction and safe water supply adopted by
the UN in September, 2000.

Another way to balance India’s extreme unilateralism will be the
cooperative research arrangement on the impact of climate change on
the Himalayan ecology, the mainstay of the major rivers in the region.

China has moved forward by regularly providing data on Yarlung Zangbo
or Brahmaputra River to downstream India. Chinese researchers have
called for regional cooperation in fighting against the potential
flooding from rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region. They
consider the regional approach will upgrade the monitoring and combat
systems of such a transnational issue. Such an approach has also been
proposed by researchers from Nepal and the United Nations' Environment
Program (UNEP).

Experts consider implementing integrated basin management encompassing
both the mountains and the lowlands is the key to meeting the above
challenges.

A major effort must be made to identify win-win solutions for people
living in both highland and low areas.

Through projects such as RLP, the GOI is attempting to unilaterally
control a fundamental natural resource, which is most essential for
the ecology, human beings and the animal kingdom. This also indicates
GOI’s hegemonistic understanding about water. Water is not static-it
is unitary yet dynamic through out its flow. It is indivisibly linked
with two basic elements of the state-the people and the territory. The
GOI wants to maintain India’s internal water security in the face of
the predicted severe water scarcity through the traditional means of
strategic expansion and control. But the use of traditional philosophy
of power politics to help address the problem of the 21st century will
perhaps not help. Whether the GOI wants to raise the already increased
level of conflict, and intensify the covert operations at the same
time, the choice is theirs. For Nepal, in the face of GOI’s continued
interference there is no choice to make but be a bad neighbor. The RLP
in the presently propagated and promoted form does not represent a
civilizational foresight. The situation, nevertheless, can definitely
take a positive and cooperative turn if the GOI heeds the words of
Mahatma.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Water Issues in South Asia." 123HelpMe.com. 01 Oct 2014
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