Nepal delays vital plans to get the Ganges flowing

    Bangladesh had been negotiating with India for augmentation of flows in Nepal
    Bangladesh had been negotiating with India for augmentation of flows in Nepal

    Despite Delhi’s nod, the sub-regional plan to augment the water flow of the Ganges River, on which more than 40% of Bangladeshis depend for agriculture, stumbles as the Nepalese government sought further time before approving the regional initiative.

    The foreign and water resources ministries said Dhaka asked Kathmandu to attend a meeting of the Tri-Nation Joint Working Group at a convenient time, but the interim Nepalese authorities said they “have no mandate for approving such an initiative.”

    Under a sub-regional initiative, Bangladesh, India and Nepal in mid-April formed a joint working group comprised of officials from the three countries that share the Ganges River, which is considered the lifeline of Bangladesh and many Indian states for agriculture and livelihood.

    Approval of the augmentation plan, followed by the construction of huge upstream reservoirs in Nepal, would add about 188,000cusec of water to the 1,087,300sqkm river system, resuscitating Bangladesh’s Ganges-dependent moribund rivers in the southwestern region.

    The reservoirs have the potential to generate up to 83,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity, of which at least 42,000MW are technically and economically exploitable, according to a study by Nepalese water expert Hari Man Shrestha.

    “Nepal has agreed to work for the initiative [of flow augmentation and hydro-electricity generation] with Bangladesh and India.

    “We have already formed a joint working group comprised of the representatives from the three countries,” Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told the Dhaka Tribune on May 7.

    “But the interim administration in Nepal has sought more time to give its nod on the project, as this is a political decision. I hope settlement of the political situation in Kathmandu will remove all barriers,” she said.

    According to the Election Commission of Nepal, the caretaker government of Khil Raj Regmi is supposed to hand over power to the next elected government after the planned general elections in June.

    However, political parties in Nepal are doubtful that elections will be held in June. The visiting former US president Jimmy Carter met the Nepalese political parties on April 1, and told the media that the elections could realistically take place in November.

    Water Secretary Shaikh Altaf Ali told the Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh had been associated with two separate joint working groups, formed to examine the areas of cooperation in the water and hydropower sectors, with representatives from India, Bhutan and Nepal.

    The first joint working group, comprised of officials from Bangladesh, Bhutan and India, met on April 18 in Dhaka to discuss the issue of water flow augmentation and the generation of hydropower on the Brahmaputra. The second group involves Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

    The Brahmaputra River, originating in China, meets the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh after crossing Bhutan and India. The Bhutan government’s study shows that the kingdom’s hydropower potential is 30,000MW, of which 23,760MW is technically feasible.

    “We are hopeful that Nepal will soon join the Ganges flow augmentation initiative, which will create a win-win situation for all participating countries,” said Altaf Ali.

    Dr Ainun Nishat, water expert and former member of the Bangladesh-India Joint Rivers Commission, told the Dhaka Tribune that the flow augmentation, if implemented, would meet the water demands of Bangladesh and India.

    Nishat said Bangladesh had been negotiating with India, the key player in South Asian water regime, for augmentation of flows in Nepal.

    The flow of water in the Ganges, Padma and some 50 small rivers in the southwestern region has been receding since India’s commissioning of the Farakka Barrage, some 16.5km up from Bangladesh border.

    Article eight of the Ganges Waters Sharing Treaty signed in 1996 stipulates that both India and Bangladesh would work for flow augmentation in the Ganges in mountainous Nepal, which requires an insignificant portion of water.

    Experts say the anti-Indian politics in Bangladesh has discouraged India from taking up sub-regional projects on water and hydropower. They said the situation began to change after the Awami League came to power in early 2009.

    The premiers of Bangladesh and India agreed, in joint statements, to manage the common rivers with joint initiatives.

    Pia Malhotra, in the report on Water Issues Between Nepal, India and Bangladesh, published by Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, said: “Water issues in the region are really a product of political relations.”

    “If the relations between the countries had been better, water issues would not have been so intractable,” said Malhotra.

    Source : Dhaka Tribune