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Ganges Water Sharing Indo-Bangla Treaty Expires In 2026

16 June 2021
Ganges Water Sharing Indo-Bangla Treaty Expires In 2026

Jehangir Hussain :
The 30-year Ganges Water Sharing Treaty Bangladesh signed with India in 1996 expires in 2026.
The treaty, experts think, was signed on inaccurate projection of future flow and the obligation of allocating guaranteed flows to Bangladesh.
On expiry of the treaty Bangladesh would be back to square one on what experts call ' a dispute with no end in sight'.
The provision of guaranteed minimal flow alternately to India and Bangladesh during dry months leads to frequent differences regarding getting the shares allocated in the treaty.
Experts also say that the Treaty underestimated the adverse impacts of climate on lower riparian Bangladesh due to undeclared increasing water withdrawals by India from the upstream. Statistical analysis of the post-Treaty data collected during 1997-2016 showed that 65 per cent of the time Bangladesh did not receive its guaranteed share during critical dry periods when it had high demand for water to meet irrigation and other needs.
Climate change further complicated the situation for lower riparian Bangladesh.
In the absence of transboundary institutional mechanism, India took extra advantages to create severe water scarcity for downstream Bangladesh leaving adverse impacts on its ecosystems and livelihoods of millions of people.
When India commissioned its Farakka Barrage, a few kilometres above the international boundary, in 1975 disregarding the stipulations in an agreement, that allowed India to test run Farakka Barrage and its feeder canals for 41days until May 31, the dry season flow into Bangladesh fell drastically creating huge problems for Bangladesh and its people.
This resulted in the dispute over the sharing of the dry season flow between the two countries that led Bangladesh to go the United Nations and after a series of negotiations, India and Bangladesh signed a five -year agreement in 1977 with a guarantee clause that required India to provide not less than 80 per cent of Ganges waters at Farakka to Bangladesh.
After the expiry of the treaty in 1982, Bangladesh faced uncertainties in getting Ganges waters in the dry months as India began to withdraw the waters from the upstream at sweet will. A number of memorandums of understanding were signed with the guarantee clause gone.
In 1996, the two countries signed 30-year Ganges Water Sharing Treaty to share the dry season flows of the Ganges.
The treaty based on inaccurate estimates of water availability at Farakka in India and Hardinge Bridge in Bangladesh, the two identified sharing points, created new challenges and issues between the co-riparian countries.
Experts say that Bangladesh was frequently deprived of its minimum share during the most critical periods during the dry seasons.
Water experts in Bangladesh think that a quantitative evaluation of the current Treaty is essential to negotiate for a permanent Ganges sharing treaty.
Ganges waters are shared on the basis of water availability   recorded at Farakka in India and Hardinge Bridge in Bangladesh.
The 2,600 km long Ganges River originates in Gangotri in  the Central Himalayas at an altitude of 7,010 m, and extends into the alluvial Gangetic Plains before falling into the Bay of Bengal after washing a  total catchment area of about 1,087,000 km, spread across China,  Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
The hydrological cycle and water resources of the Ganges basin are governed by the southwest monsoon, characterized by high temperatures, heavy rainfall with strong seasonal variations, as a result, the region faces devastating floods in the monsoon and water scarcity in the dry season, spanning November and May.
The water scarcity in the downstream during the dry season causes adverse socio-economic impacts in Bangladesh by disrupting agriculture, fisheries, forestry and navigation. Experts identified flawed projection of future available water flows at Farakka, incorrect estimates of guaranteed flow during critical dry periods, incorrect protection of flows at Hardinge Bridge, lack of guarantee clause for Bangladesh and not taking environmental and economic impacts on Bangladesh into the consideration, as the main flaws of the treaty and also the main problems on the way of its implementation.
In 2004, I interviewed former Indian prime minister I K Gujral at his Janpath residence in Delhi.
At the outset he presented me a book authored by him and said that he had done a lot for Bangladesh by facilitating the signing of the 30-year Ganges Watars Sharing Treaty in 1996 as foreign minister of India under Prime Minister Deve Gawda. Sheikh Hasina was then prime minister of Bangladesh.
Asked why he did not facilitate the signing of a permanent Ganges Sharing Treaty as Indian prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan president Ayub Khan had signed the Indus Waters Treaty in 1961 in Karachi, then the capital of Pakistan with the World Bank and the United Nations as guarantors, Gujral said nothing but presented me all the books he had authored.

(Jehangir Hussain, is a journalist, jehangirh@yahoo.com).

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