Thursday, March 09, 2006

Farakka----India’s diabolical water conspiracy against Bangladesh

The abnormal drying up of major rivers and their tributaries coupled with sharp fall in underground water levels has caused a serious threat to the environment, navigation and irrigation in northern and north-western regions of Bangladesh.

Sources in the Water Development Board (WDB) and experts said water flow in the Brahmaputra, Teesta, Padma, Mohananda and their tributaries has slowed down abnormally causing emergence of hundreds of shoals adversely affecting navigation and irrigation.

They said the serious situation has been created by the unilateral withdrawal of waters from the international rivers by India through its Farakka, Gozaldoba and Mohananda Barrages in the upstream, which also causes unusual fall in the underground water levels.

It also brings about changes in the overall climatic pattern. As a result, the northern region is experiencing extreme cold and hot weather, the sources said.They said if this situation continues, the process of desertification will be accelerated affecting environment, climate, ecology, bio-diversity, agriculture, habitation, navigation and irrigation in northern and north-western Bangladesh.

The navigation has almost come to a halt at all points of the major rivers since the advent of the current dry season. Only five out of 15 spans at the Hardinge Bridge and only one out of 44 sluice gates of the giant Teesta Barrage Project (TBP) at Dalia point in Nilphamari district is releasing a little quantity of water.

The water level in the Brahmaputra has marked an all-time fall at all points in Kurigram, Gaibandha, Jamalpur and Mymensingh districts.

The navigation has stopped at the Teesta Railway Bridge and other points of the river Teesta. It has come to a halt for the first time in the river Brahmaputra at all its entry points.

Farmers are unable to irrigate their Boro fields sowed earlier on char lands for want of water. Hundreds of boat passengers remain stranded on chars and shoals almost everyday when their boats and ferries hit the emerging shoals, the sources said.

History of the Ganges Conflict between Bangladesh and India

Negotiations on sharing of Ganges water at Farakka was started from 1960 at the time of signing of Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan. India decided to construct a barrage across the Ganges at Farakka in 1951 in order to divert water to Bhagirathi to maintain its navigability which was being hampered due to siltation. Construction of the Farakka Barrage was started by India in 1960 unilaterally violating the international norms of any construction for diversion of water on any international river. Construction of the barrage having a length of 7363 ft, designed for a maximum design discharge of 27,00,000 cusec and a head regulator for diversion capacity of 40,000 cusec of flow.

Over the next years, Pakistan occasionally responded to reports of Indian plans for diversion projects of the Ganges, with little Indian response. In 1957, and again in 1958, Pakistan proposed that:

1. the advisory and technical services of a United Nations body be secured to assist in planning for the co-operative development of the eastern river systems;
2. the projects in the two countries be examined jointly by experts of the two countries before their implementation; and,
3. the Secretary-General of the UN be requested for the appointment of an engineer or engineers to participate in the meetings at experts level.

India turned down these proposals although it was agreed that water resources experts of the two countries should, "exchange data on projects of mutual interests." These expert-level meetings commenced 28 June 1960.

At the third secretaries' level meeting, Pakistan proposed that an agreement should provide for:

1. guarantee to Pakistan of fixed minimum deliveries of the Ganges waters on a monthly basis at an agreed point;
2. construction and maintenance of such works, if any, in India as may be necessary in connection with the construction of the Ganges Barrage in Pakistan;
3. setting up of a permanent Ganges Commission to implement the agreement;
4. machinery and procedure for settlement of differences and disputes consistent with international usages.

India again argued that such an agreement could only take place after the two sides had agreed to "basic technical facts."

The fifth and final secretaries-level meeting was held in New Delhi from 16-21 July 1970, resulting in three recommendations:

1. the point of delivery of supplies to Pakistan of such quantum of water as may be agreed upon will be at Farakka;
2. constitution of a body consisting of one representative from each of the two countries for ensuring delivery of agreed supplies at Farakka is acceptable in principle;
3. a meeting would be held in three to six months time at a level to be agreed to by the two Governments to consider the quantum of water to be supplied to Pakistan at Farakka and other unresolved issues relating thereto and to eastern rivers which have been subject matter of discussions in these series of talks.

Little of practicality came out of these talks, and India completed construction of the Farakka Barrage in 1974. Water was not diverted at the time, though, because the feeder canal to the Bhagirathi-Hooghly system was not yet completed.

India approached Bangladesh for test operation of the Farakka Barrage and feeder canal. The then prime Minister Sk. Mujib agreed to India's proposal for test operation of the barrage and feeder canal. Initially in 1975 India was allowed to divert flows varying from 11000 cusec to 16000 cusec for a period of 41 days from 21 April to 31 May '75 with the understanding that India will not operate feeder canal until a final agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh on the sharing of Ganges water. Violating this understanding India started diverting the Ganges water in the upstream unilaterally in 1976 & 1977. Unilateral withdrawal of Ganges water during the dry months resulted serious adverse effects on environment, agriculture, industries, fisheries, navigation, river regime, salinity contamination in the surface and ground water, etc. in the southwestern and western areas of Bangladesh. Covering almost 20% of countries area is 30,000 sq. km inhabited by about 30 million people.

Historical natural flow at Farakka dwindled due to human intervention in the upstream of the Ganges within the Indian territory. Moreover, the Ganges water has also polluted with the toxic chemicals and heavy metals from industrial effluent discharged into the river within the India. Withdrawal of the Ganges water upstream of Farakka varies from 40,000 cusec to 45,000 cusec during the month of March & April apart from diversion at Farakka to the feeder canal which means India has been withdrawing about 60,000 to 80,000 cusec of water from the Ganges leaving a very negligible amount of flow for Bangladesh in recent years.After failing in attempts to resolve this issue peacefully and amicably Bangladesh raised the issue of Ganges water sharing in the UN General Assembly session in 1976. Confronting adverse international opinion India had to sign an ad hoc agreement for 5 yrs on Ganges water sharing in 1977 where she had agree to the just share of Bangladesh on the available flow and to increase the flow at Farakka through augmentation to meet the increasing demand of water of both Bangladesh and India. India also agrees to include Nepal for finding long term solution to the problem.
During the period from 1978 to 82 Bangladesh received more than its share for all the years excepting one when the flow at Farakka fall unexpectedly but the India released the guaranteed minimum flow.

1977 agreement was expired in 1982 and India denied extending it. The then military ruler Gen.Ershad succumbed to the Indian pressure and signed a MOU scrapping the 1977 agreement where the interest of Bangladesh was compromised and the guarantee clause was excluded. MOU signed in 1982 was expired in 1985 and extended to 1988 through two other similar extensions. From 1989 onward India refused to come to any deal with the Bangladesh on Ganges water sharing. No treaty or agreement existed till 1996 during which the average low flow has come down to 10,000 to 12,000 cusec with one extreme event of 9000 cusec. During the period of the last democratically elected Govt. of Bangladesh Begum Khaleda Zia in spite of all assurance of the Indian Prime Minister Narashima Rao to reach a just solution to the Ganges water sharing, India fully avoided reaching any agreement with the Govt. Bangladesh again raised the issue in the UN General Assembly but to no effect.
Ecological impact of Farakka barrage
Bangladesh faces at least 30 upstream water diversion constructions of which Farakka Barrage is the major one. The effects of Farakka Barrage on water resources, socioeconomic, and culture have been disastrous. An attempt has been made here to unfold such ecological disaster before the readership.

Discharges in the Ganges

The gradual decrease of water in the Ganges at the Hardinge Bridge point due to unilateral withdrawal by India has caused the fissured ground to let air into the ground, and reflects, absorbs, and radiates solar radiation, instead of the almost complete absorption when it had been covered with water.

Ganges Distributaries

The Mahananda is the only tributary of the Ganges in Bangladesh. The main distributaries of the Ganges in Bangladesh are the Baral, the Gorai, the Arial Khan, the Bhairab, the Mathabhanga, the Kumar, and the Ichamati. Distributaries have daughter distributaries. The daughter distributaries are the Musa Khan, the Madhumati, the Pashur, and the Kabodack. Water discharging capacity of these daughter distributaries has resulted in due to the weak flushing power in the Ganges. All the aquatics and the amphibians that lived in watercourse during November through June and in during July through November, along with sportive Gangetic dolphins, are gone. The river can no longer feed thousands of ponds, ditches, and more than 900 km2 of floodplains.


Floodplains that used to have water for 12 mo within depths of 1.1 to 2.2 m, 10 to 11 mo within depths of 0.70 to 1.10 m, and 8 mo within depths of 0.25 to 0.60 m, can now have water for 6 mo, 4 mo, and 1 to 3 mo, respectively, making an overall spatial and temporal drop of about 50% and a drop in ground water recharging.


The monsoon season water depth in the post-diversion era is about the same level as the dry season water depth in the pre-diversion era. The water contents of the second-largest surface water resource have been reduced by about 50% making also a decrease in ground water recharge.


Ditches would provide seasonal jute retting, fish raising, and cleaning water facilities. They would hold water from July through February, depending on their depths and locations. Additionally, bushy sides of ditches had been abodes of migratory birds, which are no longer observed. These dry reservoirs have been absorbed into agricultural land or homesteads.

Depletion of Natural Fish Breeding Grounds

The surface water resources had been the breeding and raising grounds of 109 species of Gangetic fishes. With the decline of surface water resources, breeding and raising grounds of fishes have been shrunk alarmingly. Fish is the cheapest source of animal protein (6.25%), one of the indispensables of life, and calcium (25%). Currently, the cheapest sources for protein and calcium have been depleted. Furthermore, the Ganges water would bring oxygen, nitrogen, lime, and phosphorus for brisk growth of rice plants in the pre-dam era, but the process has slowed now.

Changes in Agricultural Practices

Due to paucity of Ganges water a change in agricultural practices for jute, sugarcane, and rice has been found. The balance between the cultivation of jute and sugarcane is lost. As a result a lot of farmers have become unemployed and moved toward big cities for livelihood.

Aeration and Re-aeration of Water

The lack of running water over the basins has caused a deficiency of dissolved oxygen in recharging water. Fast-moving shallow streams that would keep the basins inundated at least during July through October had more aeration than sluggish deep streams or stagnant ponds or floodplains.

The basins of the Musa Khan and the Baral have lost the stream currents in distributaries, canals, floodplains, ponds, and ditches by almost 100% both in temporal and spatial scales.

Loss of Inland Navigable Routes

With the drying and the dwindling conditions of distributaries, goods are transported via roads and highways causing at least 5% fatalities/wk/km trip on crowded roads and highways. Distributaries provided cheap inland transportation routes, reducing costly and accident-prone land transportation. Generations-old trees were cut down to widen roads and highways to complement transportation. This destroyed habitats and caused a forced deforestation in an under forested country.

Hygienic Effects

Due to low water availability, people living in river bank have no water to bathe in during the summer. The country's news media reported of finding skin diseases like scabies, leprosy, yaws, trachoma, and conjunctivitis due to bathing in unclean surface water. Also, Schwarz et al. (1993) reported that principal infectious diseases related to water supply are typhoid, paratyphoid, fever, bacillary dysentery, amoebic dysentery, diarrhea, cholera, hepatitis, poliomyelitis, stomach disorder, schistosomiasis, drocontiasis, guinea worm, roundworm, and hookworm.

Loss of Professions

Apart from farming, the people in the basins were employed as fish men, potter men, boat makers, fishing equipment makers, fishing technologists, and providers of transportation by hackney carriages. It was found by survey that the number of these professionals dropped from 6, 4, 0.4, 5.4, 4.3, and 0.9% to 0.5, 0.5, 0.08, 1.3, 1.2, and 0.1% of the rural population, respectively. Only the number of rickshaw pullers increased, from 1.3% to 5.9%. As to the lost typical fishing assets, a population of 150 fishermen would make 350 fishing nets of 20 kinds for catching 15 to 20 varieties of fishes. These cottage industries and the technical hands in the basins have become extinct.

Ground Water

The U.S. Geological Survey reports surface water and ground water as a single resource (Winter et al., 1998). Filling of surface water resources and the recharging of ground water would occur during June through October. During November through May, evaportranspiration would drop the ground water table about 4 m (with 50% soil porosity; the actual water depth is 2 m) below the wet-season level, as would be found, during the dry season, from water levels in ponds and open wells, and by digging of new ponds and open wells. Every year the ground water is sinking by at least 0.5 m (Department of Public Health Engineering, Rajshahi, Bangladesh, personal communication, 1995). Although the drop in water table varies from place to place, a comparison of the depths of recently and pre-dam installed tube wells suggests about a 10-m drop in water table.

Arsenic Contamination of Ground Water

It is thought that depleting ground water has let air get in the ground below the pre-dam water table. Arsenopyrites buried in this layer of sediment formed water-soluble compounds of arsenic, which infiltrated to water. Although iron can purify water of arsenic in the presence of oxygen, this self-purification of ground water has not occurred completely since the water diversion started because of inadequate recharging water carrying scanty oxygen into the ground water.

Climatic Changes and Health Effects

An analysis of the climate data reveals that the summertime pre-dam maximum temperature has risen from 37 to 43°C and the wintertime minimum temperature has dropped from 8 to 4°C in the post-dam era (Adel, 2000). Further, the frequency of the highest relative humidity in post-dam period is 1.6 times higher than that in pre-dam period. The frequency of >100 mm rain events has been halved, causing a proportionately reduced infiltration from the monsoon rainfall, because the likely recharge occurs when (i) the soil has a high conductivity, (ii) the watertable lies at shallow depth, (iii) the soil is relatively wet, and (iv) the water input rate is low and lasts for a relatively long time interval (Freeze, 1969).
Reports are available on the appearances of health effects such as hypertension, asthmatic conditions, and increased patient suffering due to temperature fluctuations. It was found that one in every four families has an asthma patient, and more than 10% of the families have three asthma patients. Also, most of the asthma patients above 50 yr of age suffer from diabetes, hypertension, and stroke, the latter being the number one crippler and killer disease. Further, a general kind of aridity prevails in the city of Rajshahi, favoring uplift of aerosol dusts in the air. From the daily intake of 20 m3 of air, an adult individual inhales about 10 mg of dust. Annually, an adult individual inhales 2 g of dust. The inhalation of dusty air triggers allergic reactions in asthma patients and patients having asthma-like symptoms.

Increased Occurrences of the Worst Floods

Bangladesh has become more flood-prone than it was in the pre-dam era. Floods have hit with extraordinary ferocity in the southwest, northwest, northern, eastern, and central parts of the country in the post-dam era from time to time. Dams are used as flood outlets during the flood season when the upstream country cannot withhold the rising flood water. Floods cause irreparable damage to crops, livestock, and above all, humans. Bangladesh is never given a warning of potential floods by the neighboring country, forcing it to face the flood without preparation. The flood of 2000 inundated areas in Rajshahi, Nawabganj, Kustia, Satkhira, and Jessore. In Rajshahi, dead bodies were seen floating in the Ganges. Many people from the neighboring Indian downstream districts took shelter in the northwestern and southwestern parts of Bangladesh. It is reported that Bangladesh border forces had to guard against the upstream country's border forces' action of water release through Bangladesh.


Blogger Diganta said...

I wonder exactly how deep the problem is in Farakka. Why didn't the govt in Bangladesh pursue it with UN in last 30 years?

You can read on another water treaty that India has with Pakistan. That is Indus water treaty. Among 6 rivers, it is divided 3-3 for consumptive purpose. The treaty was brokered by World Bank. Pakistan approached WB at that time. I wonder why Bangladesh does not approach any International body for similar treaty. Is that is because they are not set to gain out of third party mediation?

6:57 AM  
Blogger Diganta said...
This is another paper which discusses the same issue in a better way.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Razib Rashedin said...

"I wonder why Bangladesh does not approach any International body for similar treaty."

I guess the problem is practical rather than theoretical. If the gangster from your neighborhood decides to piss you off there's hardly anything you can do. I assume Bangladesh can still go to an International court to ask for observers and new regulations but that would mean big time messing up with the big brother. Just imagine what the consequences would possibly be ! If Bangladesh had a nuclear power, things would have turned out to be pretty different ofcourse !!

3:26 PM  
Blogger Diganta said...

Don't agree. Bangladesh won't get anything if it gets international. In case of Pakistan, WB distributed the rivers 3-3. As three rivers are allocated to India, India has built large dams on them and stopped flowing them altogether into Pakistan. Hence, in effect Pakistan lost three rivers. Moreover the treaty allows India to use the other three rivers for non-consumptive(hydro-electricity) purpose.

Now there are 57 rivers which come from India to Bangladesh. Imagine if Brahamaputra is left and rest are divided 28-28. Right now India does not have dams on maxm of these rivers. End of the day, Bangladesh might get a better supply in the Ganges, but overall, a loss in equation.

The other effective route Bangladesh can take is to take it to OIC. The neuclear power is not the issue, if you follow the India-Pakistan case, you'll understand that International bodies prefer to be tilted towards upper-riparian nations to ensure stability of the agreement.

The best solution from Bangladesh point of view is to build rainwater-harvesting infrastructure. The rainwater is available in abundance all over Bangladesh. They must understand that they're in the wrong end of a natural resource like Natural Gas in case of India. In the long term that will give them the self-sufficiency, not a good deal with India.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Diganta said...

The Indus water treaty -
Quoting :
Even today, the Indus Waters Treaty is the only agreement that has been faithfully implemented and upheld by both India and Pakistan....

All the waters of the Eastern Rivers shall be available for the unrestricted use of Inida, except as otherwise expressly provided in this Article.....

Pakistan shall receive for unrestricted use all those waters of the Western Rivers which India is under obligation to let flow ...India shall be under an obligation to let flow all the waters of the Western Rivers, and shall not permit any interference with these waters, except for the following uses, restricted in the case of each of the rivers, The Indus, The Jhelum and The Chenab, to the drainage basin thereof: (a) Domestic Use; (b) Non-Consumptive Use; (c) Agricultural Use, as set out in Annexure C; and (d) Generation of hydro-electric power, as set out in Annexure D. Except as provided in Annexures D and E, India shall not store any water of, or construct any storage works on, the Western Rivers.

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Farakka is the most well connected railway station of this district.

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