Package solution to cross-border water problem needed

Published: 21:50, Jan 12,2017

 
 

THE government initiative for an official Indian recognition of 16 rivers, newly categorised as transboundary, and brings them under the purview of the Joint Rivers Commission, responsible for dealing with rivers shared by the two countries, is welcome. Bangladesh has, as New Age reported on Wednesday, already made a request to India for the recognition and provided it with all information and findings on the rivers identified by the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services, an independent research organisation set up by the Bangladesh government. The newly categorised transboundary rivers are the Karnajhora, Sribardi-Jhenaigati, Maharashi, Updakhali (Jnaneswari), Kharna-Balja (Mangaleswari), Mahadeo, Mahishkhula, Rangah-Bagli, Khasimara, Chela, Jaliachara and Lubha in Bangladesh’s north-east, the Lohar in the south-east, the Karnaphuli in the eastern hilly region, the Hariabhanga in the south-west and Sankosh/Ghangadar in the north-west. According to the deputy executive director of the research organisation, meanwhile, they have already prepared basic documents on about 46 common rivers, including 10 newly categorised transboundary rivers, based on data and information on catchment areas of the rivers, physical length, width and nature of the rivers concerned, population, pattern of agriculture and livelihood in respective areas so that the country can maximise benefits in bilateral negotiations under international laws.
There are, however, reasons to doubt, based on experiences, if India would make any sharp response to Bangladesh’s request. In the first place, there are now 54 common rivers recognised by the rivers commission between the two neighbours while India has mechanism either to obstruct flow of or withdraw water from almost all the rivers depriving the downstream Bangladesh of its rightful share of the water. Moreover, the countries have been able to reach an agreement only on the sharing of the Ganges water, signed in 1996, ever since the rivers commission came into being in 1972, essentially because of lukewarm Indian responses to Bangladesh’s repeated requests over the issue. One can also refer to the proposed deals on the Teesta and the Feni, which are yet to be finalised because of similar reasons even though both the countries completed the protracted negotiations five years ago. India’s failure to deliver on pledges of its successive governments made in the past few decades to resolve the transboundary water disputes has reached such impasse that it has even been unwilling to hold JRC meetings, supposed to be held at least twice a year, for the past six years, that too on tenuous grounds. It is important to note that while there has been no JRC meeting in the period, there is no alternative bilateral forum to address Bangladesh’s allegations of being denied due share as set out in the Ganges treaty, especially in lean period, in the past few years.
It is also true that the appeasement policy pursued by the incumbents, when it comes to dealing with India, has contributed significantly to the situation. In any case, it is expected that the government will take up the issue at hand seriously with its Indian counterpart in its efforts to reach a package deal on sharing the cross-border water on a fair and equitable basis.

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