Sunday, March 18, 2012

Implementation of Indian river-linking project and concerns for Bangladesh

The Indian Supreme Court’s (SC) recent verdict to implement the Interlinking of Rivers Project (ILRP) has added an additional element to the list of unresolved issues between India and Bangladesh with regards to water resources management in shared rivers. The people of Bangladesh have expressed their disappointment in various news media over the proposed Tipaimukh dam, lack of Teesta water sharing treaty, and the failure to implement the Ganges Treaty in the last 15 years.

This new development (or re-surfacing of the old concept from 2002) on Inter-linking of River Project (ILRP) in India is a matter of concern. This project, if implemented, will have far reaching and long-term impacts on Bangladesh, yet there is no reaction from any major political parties and the government. Recently, the Advisor Mr. Gawher Rizvi declined to make any comment on potential impact of the Indian Supreme Court’s recent verdict to implement the ILRP on Bangladesh until he sees the full text of the verdict. However, based on what is already known from Indian news media, the government could express concern over this unfortunate development and could demand more information from Indian authority.

It is not clear if the GoB has officially asked for additional information from Indian government. It is worth mentioning here that, when the ILRP issue was at the peak of discussion in the news media in 2004-05, the then Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Mr. M. Morshed Khan said “India has agreed on regional co-operation in water sharing management, apparently a major shift in Delhi’s policy to common rivers between the two countries. India assured that it wouldn’t implement its proposed river-link project without consulting the regional countries concerned” (The Daily Star, August 2, 2004), and then Water Resources Minister of India Mr Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said ” the Congress led coalition government will not implement river linking projects in the Eastern Zone to avoid any dent in relationship with Bangladesh” (The Daily Star, September 3, 2005). Hopefully, the current Indian government will honour the promise made by the concerned authorities in the past.

Recently, Mr. Ramaswami Iyer, the former Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Water Resources and one of the prominent experts on water resources, expressed his reaction to the SC’s verdict in an article posted on His response is well reasoned. He criticized the validity of this verdict by the court by saying that, “There are two problems here. First, assuming that there is a serious water scarcity problem, it is not the business of the Supreme Court to deal with it; there is an Executive Government to deal with such matters.” He is also of the opinion that, before issuing the verdict, the Supreme Court should have considered all view points on the ILRP issue as there are books written on the subject.

The issue of ILRP involves managing water resources on many international rivers that are shared by more than one country, namely China, Nepal, Bhutan, India, and Bangladesh. In this regard, the judges acted completely outside of their jurisdiction by saying that “Besides … benefits to the country, it will help the countries like Nepal etc, uplifting India’s international role (The Hindu, February 27, 2012).” It is not clear as to how the Indian judges can decide on a matter that involves Nepal. If the judges felt the responsibility to help Nepal, then they could have addressed the need of Bangladesh as well.

Bangladesh is a major stakeholder in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, and her interests need to be considered in all decision making process involving water resources management. However, like the judges, Mr. Iyer also neglected to address the interest of Bangladesh in his article. It is understandable that the Indian environmentalists have to be more concerned about their own issues and interests; however, the ILRP is an issue that requires an understanding the hydrology, ecology, environment, and socio-political ramification for all stakeholders in the G-B-M basin.

A three-day long conference titled “International Conference on Regional Cooperation on Trans-boundary Rivers (ICRCTR)” was held on December 17-19, 2004. The conference was attended by academicians, environmental activists, politicians, diplomats, and general public representing Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China, Japan, and the US. Over 500 people participated in the three-day long conference. The then Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Ms. Veena Sikri also spoke on the occasion. There were over 40 papers presented by experts, out of which about 20 were from India. All of the presented papers were published in a proceeding volume. As one of the editors of the proceedings I had an opportunity to read all papers in the document. The proceedings of the conference can serve as the baseline of knowledge about the ILRP for future reference.

To the best of my knowledge, the proceedings of the conference serve as the most authentic knowledge based on the issue of ILRP. The conference was attended by several hundred participants representing Nepal, Indian, Bangladesh, Japan, and the US. Among others were present many dignitaries from India, including Ramaswami Iyer, Medha Patkar, Sudirindir Sharma , Sudhir Vombatkere, S. Rao, S. Sinha, S. Gaguly, J. Bandophadhay, Bigsam Gujja, and Vergeese.

It is hoped that the judges will consider holding off the implementation of the verdict and will have a fresh hearing on the issue. The government of Bangladesh should pay a close attention to this development and stay engaged in the issue. Any party interested in learning all aspects of the ILRP issue should consider consulting the proceedings of the ICRCTR conference in making decision on managing water resources in the G-B-M basin in the future.

For interested readers, I am also including links to a few of my own write ups on the topic and would like to refer to the ICRCTR proceedings for other publications on ILRP.

BY :  Md. Khalequzzaman.

Dhaka should take water, border disputes to UN

Bangladesh has been going through its worst spell of misery in March since 1971. The weather is becoming hot prematurely, accompanied by frequent load-shedding of electric supply. The heat of double digit inflationary pressure continues to pauperise ordinary people.

In the land borders of the nation-state, Indian BSF boastingly continues to perpetrate its trigger-happy extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and random acts of terror and torture. The spineless leaders of the government of grand alliance under Sheikh Hasina run to Delhi for consolation and remain content with verbal assurances of Indian government leaders at the top that the shoot-at-sight practice of BSF will stop, only to be contradicted by BSF authorities on the ground that the practice will continue.

Delhi leaders have already reneged on their promise of signing a Teesta water-sharing treaty, scheduled for January this year, and also broke their words on keeping the Tipaimukh mega dam project in abeyance until its adverse impacts on Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna basin in Bangladesh were taken into account to modify or abandon the project. Delhi has not only unilaterally gone ahead with the work of the Tipaimukh dam (simply to fill up that dam initially will require 3 years of continuous deprivation of Surma-Kushiyara flows), but also under Indian Supreme Court order revived its river-linking project to divert the water of Brahamputra and Ganges and their tributaries to South India. That is a deadly scheme bound to result in desertification of the whole of Bangladesh, the morbid south-western delta, which is already suffering extinction of many distributory streams on account of Farakka barrage, and other upstream diversions of Ganges and other common rivers by Indian structural intervention. 

Of late, a hue and cry has been raised in the West Bengal state of India, asking Delhi for further unilateral blockage of Bangladesh’s share even under the unequal Ganges Water-sharing treaty. The excuse is that Bangladesh is benefiting from Farakka seepage and breaches in the Farakka structure under natural sea-ward drive of the river.
Ordeals of electricity failures and worries over boro-irrigation apart, this March has also witnessed a crime wave of enormous proportions haunting civic life. In and around Dhaka city itself there are daily incidents of dead bodies found, often cut to pieces. Contract killings have gone up throughout the country. Kidnappings and extrajudicial murders are often being ascribed to plainclothesmen and men-in uniform alike of the law-enforcing agencies, some of whom have been found implicated in acts of extortion and robbery. Then there was the case of mysterious double murder, in their own bedroom in a secure apartment, of a journalist-couple who were doing investigative stories on corruption in high places. On-line news and blogs suggested that the police identified and interrogated the mastermind of the felony and let him go under verbal advice from the top. 
Another sensational murder of a Saudi diplomat followed suit. The mystery is still unsolved. Although Saudi authorities have expressly been calm pending investigation by Bangladeshi detectives and their own detective team, Bangladeshi expatriates are worrying about possible repercussions affecting their entry and livelihood in Saudi Arabia.
The overwhelming sense of insecurity amongst the public has been further heightened by political confrontations in the second week of March. There has been mass arrest of opposition activists throughout the country and seizure of their vehicles on one pretext or another to prevent a march-to-Dhaka programme of the BNP-led opposition alliance and its grand rally on March 12. What took the public by surprise and caused enormous distress and dislocation countrywide was the virtual siege of Dhaka by armed police and ruling party picketers with sticks in hand, who in the name of security precautions kept inter-district public transports including trucks and vans off-the-roads for over two days prior to March 12 BNP rally, searched and delayed all private transports requisitioning some of them for fake government duty, and off-loaded all passengers suspected to be heading to the Dhaka rally, arresting many of them. On March 12 itself, the government virtually imposed an undeclared ‘hartal’ in Dhaka city, taking BRTC buses off-the-road and coercing the private bus-owners to do the same, discouraging private traffic by snapping cases of traffic rule violation without reason and at random on private cars and auto-rickshaws. 
Rickshaw pullers were subjected police extortion at every turn on pain of arrest on false charges. Thus Dhaka streets were empty. At all entry points leading to the city by road or by river, ruling party goons and police patrols stopped people from entering Dhaka, often beating them up. Within the city also, at different strategic points police and ruling party pickets took position to stop groups of pedestrians to proceed towards the Naya Paltan site of the grand rally. Some clashes occurred. Nevertheless, daring all handicaps a human sea gathered to hear the parliamentary Leader of the Opposition declare government a total failure calling upon it to resign. The Leader of the Opposition served a notice on the government with a 3 months’ ultimatum to restore the caretaker system for transmission of power through free and fair general elections, presumably within six months from that date. 
The government had disallowed microphone from most parts of the gathering excepting the central area, and had also prevented TV teams from life coverage of grand rally. But the ordeals of the public and the enthusiasm of the participants in the rally were covered in TV news. Already a sense of panic had spread throughout the country as a result of the government-imposed siege of Dhaka. The Awami League leaders while in opposition had imposed violent marches, sit-ins and sieges of Dhaka and the Bangabhaban leading to the emergency and military backed extended caretaker administration in 2007. Now in government, they have again resorted to siege tactics to prevent the opposition from peaceful assembly. Are they themselves making room for another emergency to prevent the opposition from election to power? Such doubts have been growing in inquisitive minds for another reason. 
Of late, on-line news and blogs have been circulating credible documents and stories about a number of advisers and ministers of the present government involved in dubious businesses and rackets at home, and purchasing properties abroad in the names of their wives and children. One such story shows an Adviser’s wife had set up a company with a front man, and without Bangladesh Bank clearance or government permission, has been sending large sums of black money to U.K. to procure immigration rights for the front man as investor and to buy properties in U.K. Similar stories are in circulation about ministers developing private properties and businesses in Canada, seeking immigration rights as investors. A sneaking suspicion is inevitable that some people in power are busy preparing to flee the country. 
In the backdrop of this grim picture, the silver lining of a good news has also showed up. It is from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Although the Tribunal has not accepted fully Bangladeshi position that the naturally formative landmass of the active delta parts of Bangladesh gives us equitable rights in the outer continental shelf, i.e. beyond 200 nautical miles of our coastline, the judges rejected Myanmar’s (by implication India’s as well) claim of “equidistance” principle for fixing maritime boundary and allowed Bangladesh exclusive rights over its continental shelf and waters up to 200 nautical miles, and rights on a mixture of equidistance principle and environmental considerations beyond.  
The tribunal’s judgment will certainly help us dealing with more complicated marine boundary settlement with our tricky neighbour India. Following that success, Bangladesh should also take the case of BSF “killing field” in our borders, and our water disputes with India to the United Nations.
BY :  Sadeq Khan.