River-linking Project: Experts stay concerned

Monday, May 7, 2012: Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee yesterday reassured that India’s river-linking project will not harm Bangladesh as it does not include any Himalayan river that flows down to Bangladesh.

Many Bangladeshi analysts contest his view and say the project has already affected Bangladesh with India diverting Teesta water to Mechi River in Bihar through the Mahananda.

India has been diverting water from the Teesta to the Ganges basin though the water was supposed to feed the Brahmaputra river in Bangladesh, said Engineer M Inamul Haque, former director general of Water Resources Planning Organisation (Warpo).

“If they say they are not doing anything that harms us, it is not true. We have already been affected for diversion of Teesta water,” said Inamul, a leading hydrologist in the country.

India has recently completed a survey on linking the Ganges River with the Sundarbans and is conducting another survey on the Manas-Sankosh-Teesta-Ganges project.

It also initiated another survey on the Brahmaputra after the Indian Supreme Court had asked the Indian government to go ahead with the river-linking project.

While India keeps Bangladesh in the dark about its projects on trans-boundary rivers, different websites, independent studies and international reports give a gloomy picture, just the opposite of what the Indian high-ups are saying.

A report titled “Mountains of Concrete” published by non-governmental organisation International Rivers in 2008 says, “As many dams are built in the Himalayas, on every tributary and every river, the downstream impacts will extend from the mountains to the plains and all the way to the estuaries.”

“A large number of dams in the basins would cause dramatic transformations in the patterns, quantity and quality of flows,” it says.

A group of Bangladeshi experts conducted a study five years ago to ascertain the impact of the Indian project that involves linking 30 major rivers and diverting the water of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra.

About 30,000 square kilometres of Khulna and Barisal divisions, and parts of Rajshahi and Dhaka divisions will be severely affected, says the study. The capital also falls in the danger zone.

“We basically conducted a qualitative study based on information from several sources. The effects could be even worse,” said a senior analyst, who was involved with the study.

Biodiversity, agriculture and industry in the Ganges Dependant Area (GDA) — both sides of the Padma River — and parts of the Meghna River bank will be badly hit if India implements the river-linking project.

The GDA alone covers 20 percent of the country and is home to around 30 million people.

The river-linking project aims to divert river water from India’s north-eastern region that witnesses an annual rainfall of 3,500mm to its west, a region with annual rainfall as low as 700mm.

“If we want to ascertain the impacts of the river-linking project, we need details. But we do not know what they are doing,” Dr Ainun Nishat told The Daily Star earlier.

During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s India visit in January 2010, Bangladesh and India signed a treaty on bilateral cooperation that includes sharing of river waters.

Bangladesh allowed India to use water of the Feni River for its plant in Tripura after the two countries resumed talks for sharing the water of Teesta and Feni rivers last year. But India has still kept Bangladesh waiting on signing the Teesta water-sharing deal.

In the meantime, India went ahead with its river-linking and Tipaimukh hydroelectric projects. It did not even inform Bangladesh about the formation of a company to implement the Tipaimukh project.

Pranab yesterday told the Bangladesh prime minister that a subcommittee under the Joint Rivers Commission will be formed to conduct a study on the proposed Tipaimukh dam. Bangladesh will be informed about the findings to clear confusion from people’s minds about the project.