Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tala-Paikgacha Road And Ganges Water Treaty

Bangladesh had to sign its first water-sharing deal at the ministerial level, ignoring the lessons we had learnt from the Indus Water Treaty.

I HAPPENED to travel through the Tala-Paikgacha road last week and found it not accessible to any vehicular traffic and causing miseries to the people and their livelihood. It appears that the only way to reach Paikgacha from Tala was to travel by ‘bhot-bhoti’, which is a very dangerous option and time consuming as well, since the road connection has been completely cut off due to the submersion of this road.

It appears that the root of all these evils is the death of the river Kapataksha, which, in fact, originated from the Ganges. Thus, anything that happens to the Ganges will affect the wellbeing of the river Kapatakhsha. This river takes the name Shibsha at Shibbari near Paikgacha and the name Arpangasia near Bedkashi. The Kapatakhsha used to carry glacier water and made both its banks fertile to help build orchards and land tracts that used to produce three crops a year for hundreds of years before the Farakka barrage was in place. Effects of the reduced flow of the Kapatakhsha were first felt in the south-west during the late 1970s and most of the rivers that received its flow started to silt up. The freshwater used to make this land one of the most fertile plains on earth and we were one of the self-sufficient areas of this country. However, siltation and subsequent water logging due to the death of these rivers and more so of the Kapatakhsha has caused immense suffering, loss of food security and livelihood of the people, destruction of orchards, deaths of animals, including baboons that were dependent on its water flow.

I was brought up on the bank of the river Shibsha, which is now virtually a dead canal. It is an impossible task—and a dream that will never come true—that Bangladesh will have the means and resources to dredge the 266-kilometre long river named Shibsha, Kholpetua and Arpangasia before it fell into the Bay of Bengal. If it is dredged that will rather further destroy the flora and fauna of the region due to the free entry of saline water from the sea. Sick, and almost dead, the Kapataksha was not spared by the land grabbers, just like many other rivers of Bangladesh. The dead body was booty for them and they spared no time to gobble up the land that emerged and built houses, shops, clubs, factories and fish farms and made the water logging situation worse. As an ordinary citizen, I tried to discover the pathogenesis as to why the Kapatakhsa (Kobadak) and later, Shibsha, are dying and has come to the following conclusions that may give food for thought to readers.

Historically, Kobadak maintained its principal discharge from the Ganges, along with its branches and sub-branches which drain about 3,315 square kilometres of the districts of Kushtia, Jessore and Khulna. With the direct assistance from the World Bank, India erected the Farakka barrage in 1964 to increase the navigability of the Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Haldia ports. Pakistan protested against this to the international community; however, it was completed in 1972. By the end of 1975, it was agreed upon to run it with specified discharges for a period of 41 days from April 21 to May 31, 1975. Today we are having drainage and ever-increasing water-logging problems and witnessing the death of our rivers in the southwest.

Similar situation about sharing river water exists in the subcontinent between India and Pakistan. The Indus Water Treaty happens to be a water-sharing treaty between the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The agreement took place under the auspices of the World Bank and was signed in the Pakistani city of Karachi on September 19, 1960. It was the result of eight years of negotiation under the close watch of representatives from the World Bank. The treaty is intact today despite three full wars between the two countries. The signatories in the agreement were Mohammad Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan and Jawaharlal Nehru, the prime minister of India. Jawaharlal Nehru, it is said, returned to Delhi on the same day he signed the treaty and he was in a hurry to settle the longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan in sharing the water resources of the major rivers in the shared geographical region of Punjab. Although Field Marshal Ayub Khan was a dictator, Nehru nonetheless took his-arch rival Pakistan under his fold as a friend by signing this treaty.(The New Age BD)

As opposed to this, Bangladesh had to sign its first water-sharing deal at the ministerial level, ignoring the lessons we had learnt from the Indus Water Treaty. At the outset, our government machineries were not mature as compared to those of Indian counterpart, who had no emotionally charged preoccupations to be less protective to save their national interest. We live in a fast paced, got-to-have-it-now world. Unfortunately this environment is good for the powerful and bad for the underdog. In a high pressure environment, the time and patience required in any negotiation is often considered too burdensome to do it properly. So the underdog settles for making the powerful happy. After having no movement on the Ganges Water Treaty from India, a 30-year agreement was signed in 1996. This time, we have again failed to have any guarantee clause for the minimum amount of water Bangladesh will receive and future hydrological parameters were not taken into account.

As a result, Kapatakhsha had little water left. Therefore, in order to prevent the death of the river, provisions of the 30-year long Ganges Waters Treaty may need to be re-negotiated and it is in the best interest of Bangladesh. If there no room to manoeuvre, scrapping the 30-year deal is necessary. If we fail to overcome the hearts and minds of our big neighbour, India, we must demand at the International Criminal Court located in The Hague that India should pay compensations for the damages it has caused in the last 40 years due to the unilateral withdrawal of the Ganges water. The World Bank must be taken on board in any future the Ganga water treaty negotiation since Farakka Barrage was financed by them.

BY : Dr Mohammed Habibur Rahman.