NEW Delhi’s seeking an unspecified time for an elaborate study on how to maximise benefits from the construction of the Ganges Barrage in Bangladesh appears to be an excuse to delay the implementation of the project. Bangladesh completed the feasibility study on the construction of the barrage on the River Ganges, which flows through Bangladesh as the River Padma, at Pangsha in Rajbari, meant to help Bangladesh to face water-related problems in its lower-riparian south-west, in 2013. The objectives of the Ganges Barrage is to offset the environmental impact of the Farakka Barrage, built in Murshidabad, India in April 1975 to divert water from the Ganges river system, on Bangladesh’s downstream by augmenting the flow of water to stem a gradual desertification in and to head off a salinity threat to the region that has been growing because of the low flow of water. Dhaka stopped going ahead with the project after the Bangladesh prime minister returned from a visit to India in April 2017. Now India at a meeting of the water resources secretaries of the two countries on Thursday sought more time, and that too unspecified, for the completion of a study by expanding the joint study group, with more experts from both the sides, to weigh the scope on the construction of the barrage.
While the professed objective of more time being sought for the expanded joint study group is to look into how both the sides could maximise their benefits from the Ganges Barrage and although New Delhi says that it has no problem with the construction of the Barrage on the Padma, the move appears to delay the process of the barrage construction. New Delhi has a history of delaying the settlement of prickly issues with Dhaka, even in the water resources sector. One such issue is the signing of the agreement on the sharing of the water of the River Teesta, which has already been agreed on by both the sides in 2010. After the meeting that took place on Thursday, New Delhi says that it has ‘only a few things’ to be done and it has not been into the stage of signing the agreement even when the Bangladesh prime minister would visit India in October and Bangladesh’s water resources secretary echoed the position by saying that ‘it has not been finalised yet.’ The possibility of the signing of either an interim or a framework agreement on the sharing of water of seven transboundary rivers, including the Teesta, by September has only come up. New Delhi also appears reluctant at holding the meeting between the two water resources ministers under the Joint Rivers Commission framework, meant to take place every year alternately in Bangladesh and India, although such a meeting was last held in New Delhi in March 2010, with Dhaka having written to Delhi at least 10 times since the second half of 2010 for the meeting.
India is not learnt to have considered the environmental impact of the Farakka Barrage on the lower-riparian Bangladesh when it constructed the barrage in 1975. Now India’s seeking to weigh the impact of the construction of the lower-riparian Ganges Barrage on the upstream Indian side sounds way beyond logic. Dhaka must, therefore, assert its position when it takes up the issue with India.
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