Indo-Bangladesh Relations

Workshop on Water sharing in South Asia
PRIO,Oslo 14-5 June 2011
Indo-Bangladesh water sharing : dispelling fears and
building trust
Sreeradha Datta
IDSA , New Delhi India
Water evokes emotions
The water sharing issue is not merely technical and bureaucratic but also largely
political. ….
Without a doubt discourses on water is driven by ideologies and myths which over
time are perceived as truths
This more relevant in the context of India and Bangladesh
Bangladesh polity characterised by sharp polarisation
India is largely associated with one set of ideologue, one set of political ethos
that Awami League represents
Water rights vis-à-vis India is one of the few issues that evoke national
consensus within country.
The Ganges water sharing treaty 1997 continues to be the bedrock of water
sharing modality between the two sides
Thus quite simply ‘..if it were just a matter of sharing the water it would have been
solved long ago..’
Presentation’s broad outlines
This paper will briefly outlines Ganges water treaty
and its operation record of the past decade and half .
Examines the River Teesta negotiations.
The bilateral problems over water sharing
The move towards moving from bilateral to
multilateral dialogue and viewing the common river
system through basin management
Ganges water treaty
The basic principles
1. to arrive at a permanent sharing arrangement on the basis of existing
dry season flow in the Ganges without linking it to the augmentation
question. This marked a departure from previous Indian position.
2 to revive joint river water commission to work out the modalities for water
3 they also agreed to jointly monitor the flow at Ganges at selected points.
A joint committee formed with water experts from both sides to work
towards finalisation of an agreement on water sharing was formed.
This was a departure from the past
technical experts were brought under the supervision of political
leadership thus the discussion were ‘moderated in such a manner so as to
lend flexibility and give pre-eminence to the political agenda over the
obfuscation of engineering technicalities.’
Treaty outlines
Preamble, Operative part containing twelve articles, Annexe.
The guarantee clause provided the modicum of security
there is a guarantee for 5,000 cusecs to either side in the alternate ten
day segment in the period 11 march to 10 may.
Also when the flow goes below 50, 000 cusecs the treaty recognises
an emergency situation and provides for immediate consultations.
Validity for thirty years subject to review by the two governments at five
years intervals or as desired by either signatory.
India will not release less than 90 percent of its entitlement of water .
It also provides for a conflict resolution mechanism by prescribing a
joint monitoring of flows, which should eliminate or minimise the
possibility of disagreements over the data.
If Joint committee is unable to solve the matter will be referred to the
two governments.
The final agreement
Sharing to be by ten-day periods from January1-May31 every year.
50:50 basis, if the availability at Farakka is less than 70,000
Bangladesh will get 35,000 cusecs and India the balance of flow if the
availability at Farakka is between 70,000 and 75,000 cusecs.
India will receive 75,000 cusecs and Bangladesh the rest in case of
availability of 75,000cusecs or more.
During the critical months of April Bangladesh will get a guaranteed flow
of 35,000 cusecs in the first and last ten days of April, and 27,633 cusecs
during the period 11-20April.
If flow falls below 50,000 cusecs in any ten-day period the two
governments will enter into immediate consultations to make emergency
The schedule is an indicative schedule based on the average 40 years
flow data, 1948-88
The first crack
Availability of waters of Ganges at Farakka turned out to be far less*
For the next twenty days the flow of water was notably below the quantity
tributaries of Padma, Goari.Madhumati, Arial Khan and others had
dried up.
End of march, flow recorded only 6500 cusecs the lowest ever water level.
By early April the flow kept fluctuation between 10,000- 25,000 cusecs
and by early May water availability at Farakka 40,000 cusecs.
Bangladesh thus received less water than was stipulated under the treaty
in 12 out of the 15 days during dry season of 1997.
The Indo- Bangladesh joint committee held its first meeting at Bheramara
few kms away from the Hardinge Bridge site,
JRC met Dhaka, 10 April
India confirmed that flows at Farakka had indeed slowed down but
attributed this situation to the normal hydrological cycles that occur
every four – five years. It explained that ice in Himalayas was not melting
enough to raise water levels.
Advantage Bangladesh
Treaty of long-term duration unlike the previous
De-linkage from the question of augmentation.
Fail-safe provision to prevent treaty vacuum.
Intermittent flow shortage
The first ten days of February, 2009 was 81,650
cusec which was lower than the 40 years historical
average flow of 86,323 cusec as mentioned in treaty.
River Teesta negotation
Teesta River. While the issue was first raised in 1974 during the
second meeting of the Joint River Commission, the issue acquired
additional attention due to shortfalls in Teesta waters.
The barrages on the Indian (2000) and Bangladeshi (1990) sides
designed for 20,000 cusecs and 10,000 cusecs respectively.
The flow of water in Teesta stands at 5,000 cusecs and this provides
less water for Bangladeshi crops thereby evoking strong criticisms. In
the past Bangladeshi demanded 80 per cent share of Teesta with the
remaining 20 per cent going to India.
India wanted a more equitable distribution of 39-36 per cent in its
It wanted to keep the remaining portion of the water as its natural
flows and for common usage by both countries. This however was not
acceptable to Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi Concerns
Poor water flow down the Ganges has been one of the causal factors
behind a gradual silting-up of Bangladesh’s river systems over the past
This reduced water flow, causing desertification in the downstream
districts, it is also causing river beds to become shallow with silt and
spill over during the monsoon, causing devastating floods along its
An estimated 2.4 billion tons of silt is carried by the seven major river
systems, a substantial portion of which is deposited within the
Bangladesh territory
The flow of Ganges water is due to the abstraction of water on UP,
Bihar Haryana and west Bengal.
India has entered into agreement with Bhutan to divert flows of
Sankos and Manas tributaries of Brahmaputra that joins the Ganges
India planning a reservoir on Barak the mains source of Meghna
Indian proposal
The JCE decided that the dimensions of ‘principle’ and ‘details’
The Indian side proposed keeping 10 per cent of the Teesta
waters for its natural flow and sharing 15 per cent in proportion
to the command areas in Indian and Bangladesh territories.
In the 2003 rounds of discussion India had insisted on scientific
study and using hydrological survey before considering the
water sharing formula, which Bangladesh finally agreed to in
Indian domestic imperatives
Presently Bangladesh has proposed water sharing on a 50-50 basis at
Gazoldoba however, water falls under the state subject in India. A final
decision therefore, can be reached only after consultations with the
state government of West Bengal in India.
over 1million hectares of land in six districts of West Bengal are
dependent on water from Teesta and it had already planned three
hydro power plant including one with Sikkim. As is known, Teesta flows
through Sikkim and norther West Bengal before entering Bangladesh
Previous W B, CM Bhattacharya held New Delhi’s generous position
on sharing of water as one of the reasons for siltation of the Calcutta
port and its reduced navigability; Bangladeshis have been far more
vociferous in their criticism of the treaty.
Bangladeshi domestic rhetoric
Bangladesh believe India is taking advantage of the provision
treaty mentions the sharing of water during the period from January 1 to May 31
but not during the period from June 1 to December 31, which has enabled India
to withdraw water unilaterally during this period.
The Bangladeshi civil society
Public interest writ filed in 2008 led to a court ruling questioning the
government for not asking for a review of the treaty although an international
treaty is outside the purview of domestic jurisdiction.
Indeed during the same year, Bangladesh received larger quantum of
water than was specified in the agreement.
Total flow reaching at Farakka during the first ten days of February, 2009
was 81,650 cusec which was lower than the 40 years historical average
flow of 86,323 cusec as mentioned in treaty. Bangladesh was supposed to
get 46, 323 cusec water but it apparently received 41,650 cusec water in
first ten days of February.
Tipaimukh Project
India’s planned dam at the Tipaimukh, river-linking project and erosion
of border rivers.
Tipaimukh Project on the Barak river in Manipur.
The project is planned to generate 1500-MW hydropower and flood
control for both Manipur and Mizoram.
This involves building a 162.8-metre high rockfill dam around 500
metres downstream of the confluence of river Barak with Tuivai.
Bangladesh, as a downstream riparian, feels that the share of the
Barak river will be greatly reduced damaging it economically and
The Project will have a 6 X 250 MW power house and will be
completed in an estimated time of 12 years. MOU with the Govt of
Manipur has been executed and NOC from the Govt of Manipur and
Assam have been obtained. Development work on the Stage II
activities of the project is being taken up.
Tipaimukh rationale
Conceived way back in early 1970s, Bangladesh had requested
India to address the flooding of Sylhet.
As a run-of-the-river project on Barak, the Tipaimukh will
power generation and not a water diversion project.
But given the limited communication from the Indian side and
little objective study, the public discourse in Bangladesh was
dominated by speculative fears of India’s unilateral diversionary
With provision of water storage for no more than 10-days during
the monsoon or surplus flow, this project would thus not only
restrict the excessive flows during monsoon but also use that
excess quantity to augment the limited amount of water
available during the lean season.
Bangladeshi opposition
Opponents in Bangladesh compare the project similar to the Farraka
Barrage and fear that if not challenged a repeat of being denied less
water would happen again
The planned project has also faced protests from within the Indian
northeastern states on issues of displacement and compensation.
India has opened channels of discussion and invited Bangladesh for
on-site visits to dispel any concern over the project
Critics in Bangladesh feel that the Farraka Barrage, which was started
as a trial run in 1974, was cleverly manipulated by India to extend the
trial to its advantage.
They feel strongly that the southwestern region of Bangladesh has
been critically affected by the limited water it receives from the Ganges
and that farming, fishing and logging have badly suffered.
Bangladeshi complaints
Though India and Bangladesh have
signed Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, Dhaka
continues to complain that it has not got a fair
But have never asked for a review , even
BNP has not in power or outside
Environmental changes related
South Asian states are largely agrarian and
heavily dependent on water. They share
common water resources as well as similar
water usage patterns
Nearly 70 percent of the Himalayan glaciers
are receding which eventually will lead to
severe water shortages in the region.
Environmental changes have caused the
river basins to dry and groundwater supply
Climate change adverse effect
Average temperature in the Himalayan rising resulting in the late arrival of
monsoons, adversely affecting paddy production
A study carried out under the BDCLIM (Bangladesh Climate) project indicate
that the average annual runoff in the Brahmaputra basin would decline by 14
per cent by the year 2050
This has been a major source of concern for many of the governments which
have in the past years been confronted with this problem. National water
policies have been formulated by some of the states like Bangladesh, Bhutan,
and India.
lack of poor implementations of the policies. Indeed turf battles within states
have not led to optimum utilisation of these policies
The retreating glaciers would also directly affect the entire sub-Himalayan
region, especially the lower riparian states of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and
Pakistan, causing floods, drought, and shortage of fresh water
Cooperative framework
To regard water sharing as a contentious issue between the two
governments is probably far too alarmist.
It is, however, an emotive issue within Bangladesh, raised frequently to
feverish pitch by political parties.
At the state level, institutional arrangements and ground realities has
enabled sensible riparian approaches.
India provides to Bangladesh flood data on Farakka for Ganga (from
15th June to 15th October), and the flood data on Pandu, Goalpara
and Dhubri for Brahmaputra river and of Silchar for Barak river during
monsoon period (from 15th May to 15th October). Data of river Teesta,
Manu, Gumti, Jaladhaka and Torsa are also provided.
Bangladesh has been able to adopt precautionary measures with the
availability of this free information supplied by India.
Way Forward?
The only way forward is good hydrodiplomacy and consultation
backed by technical knowledge to manage riparian relations
between the two.
Bangladesh cannot change its lower riparian position and will
have to engage in cooperative arrangements based on water
sharing and not on water rights.
India as an upper riparian has the responsibility to ensure that
the equitable principles are best adhered to without
undermining its own requirements
The problem of lack of information
At official and public domain
Obvious need for Transparency
Way Ahead
Cooperative frame work
Shift from bilateral to multilateral
Integrated River basin management
Ganga Meghna Brahmaputra
Huge hydropotential
Navigation potentials untapped

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