Waters that bind



    Budhigandaki (BGSP) ranks high in the list of Projects of National Importance. For its speedy implementation the government has formed Budhi Gandaki Development Committee—a special vehicle under the law which gives this Committee flexibility in the matters of speedy decision and execution of the project.

    According to pre-feasibility study of the project in 1984 its installed capacity would be 600 MW and it would generate 2.5 billion units of electricity annually. It is a reservoir project with an effective water storing capacity of 2,755 MCM, covering an area of 49.8 km2 at Full Supply Level.

    It shall impact 21 VDC of Dhading and Gorkha districts: about 28.2 km2 of agriculture land and 15 km2 of forest will be inundated and about 16,531 people will be involuntarily displaced (Dixit et al 2005).

    As the study was conducted sometime ago, one can assume that the number of people who will be involuntarily displaced would be substantially more and properties amounting to billions that have been created in this intervening period would also be submerged.

    In all, the environment effect and resettlement as well as the loss of fertile land, forest and other property is going to be colossal. A team of consultants from France is not only updating the project study, it has also been given the task to prepare the design, estimate and all other pertinent studies and documents including the bidding documents for project construction.

    In the face of huge permanent loss of fertile land and other property, this project not only should yield high economic returns it must also be appropriate in terms of the strategic use of water resources in a country which has the potential to meet the demands of water beyond its border.

    Project benefits
    Since the project site is 72 km away from Kathmandu—the main electricity load-centre of the country—and located about 2 km from the main highway, its location is appropriate in terms of approach, evacuation and the demand of energy. It is a reservoir project and hence it is also appropriate from the point of energy mix to meet the yawning gap between the primary and secondary energy in the country.

    The other crucial feature of the project is that it augments the water of Narayani (Gandki) River in huge quantity. According to a study by Nepal Electricity Authority the total regulated water during the dry season (October-May) would be 1670.46 MCM. In addition, the reservoir would trap the monsoon water during the wet season and reduce the flow of the river by 25.7 percent in June, 62.8 percent in July, 62.5 percent in August and 42.6 percent in September.

    These figures mean that downstream of the Gandaki River in India, substantially more water will be available for agriculture and other uses during the dry season, while during the monsoon it shall substantially contribute to flood control.

    Treaty with India
    Gandak River Basin covers an area of 2,030.15 km2 and consists of two main river systems, Trishuli and Kali Gandaki. Budhi Gandaki is a tributary of Trishuli River. All the seven tributaries of Gandak River meet at Devghat about 91 km upstream of Bhainsa Lotan at the border before entering India. Under the 1959 Gandak Treaty between Nepal and India, a barrage has been constructed at Bhainsa Lotan to arrest and feed water to canals in India.

    The Gandak Project irrigates 1,850,520 hectares of land in India whereas in Nepal it irrigates only 46,900 hectares, a meager 2.5 percent compared to what it irrigates in India. According to the treaty Nepal can withdraw the waters of Gandak River in any quantity for its use save that any trans-valley withdrawal for the months of Feb-April requires a separate agreement between the countries.

    The highly asymmetrical benefits sharing of the Project between the countries and the establishment of the rights of India are tantamount to the capture of river waters, and were heavily criticized at the time of the treaty. The feeling of unfairness still hovers over Nepal-India relations.

    Window of opportunity
    The relationship between Nepal and India in matters of water resources cooperation has unfortunately not been very happy. The indelible scar of unfairness in the mind of Nepali people resulting from the Koshi and Gandak Agreements between the two countries in the 1950s could not be wiped out even by Mahakali Treaty in 1996 which, unlike in the fifties when the decision was made during exclusive monarchy, was ratified by two-third majority in the Nepali Parliament.

    Despite the wide support and validity that Mahakali Treaty enjoyed in Nepal it ran into rough weather mainly because of the indifferent attitude of India. These treaties have not been fully implemented, yet the arresting and feeding of water to the Indian canals or the diversion to electricity production in India under the treaty has not been interrupted even for a day.

    On matters of cooperation in water resources the innumerable meetings at various levels for all these years have not produced a single example which both the countries can boast of in lieu of their strong bilateral ties.

    Unfortunately, this unhappy experience in matters of water resources has been further exacerbated by the widely expressed grievance against India for meddling in the internal affairs of Nepal in recent times. In fact, the geography in general and water resources in particular binds the two countries in such a way that they need to cooperate for mutual gains. With the growing onslaught of climate change and its repercussion in water management there does not seem to be any alternative to cooperation.

    Fortunately, Budhi Gandaki project presents a unique opportunity for cooperation between the two countries. In the context of the availability of regulated water and energy also, the flood control services cooperation is practical. If there is a need to revisit the Gandak Treaty both the countries should be ready to usher new confidence by renegotiating the old treaty.

    If a new initiative could be started among the Nile water sharing countries, leaving behind the old agreements; if US and Canada can agree on the downstream benefit sharing of the Columbia River; if South Africa can cooperate with Lesotho and agree to pay royalty for the water stored in the latter; if Senegal, Mali and Mauritania can agree on the construction of a reservoir and share the benefits in the Senegal River; why can’t Nepal and India cooperate in matters of the use of the water of BGSP?

    If the downstream benefits are not shared in BGSP the proponents of this Project in Nepal would be criticized as embarking on a wrong policy whereas the Indian policymakers would be criticized for missing the opportunity and hindering India-Nepal relationship. This is also a litmus test for the Indian Prime Minister’s commitment in Dhaka in 2011 for sub-regional cooperation on matters of water resources. A sub-regional cooperation cannot be built on the altar of distrust between the partners.

    The writer is a water expert and former Secretary at the Ministry of Water Resources


    Source : Republica