River Linkages

Updated: Sep 30 2003, 05:30am hrs
The Union governments Rs 650,000 crore project that envisages interlinking the countrys two main river basins and transferring water from surplus areas to deficient ones has received considerable flak from inhouse critics for being over-ambitious, technically and environmentally unsound. Now, over the past few months, it has been subjected to a barrage of criticism from across the border as well. Following President Abdul Kalams and Prime Minister Vajpayees Independence Day speeches extolling the virtues of the project, Bangladesh has suddenly woken up to the fact that it would cause colossal loss to Bangladeshs environment and economy. In fact, so exercised is Dhaka that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has even set up a high-powered task force to scrutinise the entire issue, even alleging that it is contrary to international law. Moreover, it has also exhorted both Nepal and Bhutan, the two other states whose participation in the project would be necessary for its successful implementation, to voice their objections as well.

However, Bangladeshs disapproval of the project on grounds that its implementation would divert waters from the Brahmaputra and its tributaries to the Ganga, thereby leaving it water-starved during the dry season, may well be unfounded. According to studies conducted by Indian experts, there is no real conflict of interests amongst the various states. While no problems are envisaged during seasons of plenty, the agreements signed between the two states already stipulate that Bangladesh will continue to receive its share of the river waters during the lean seasons. For instance, while, according to the Ganga Treaty signed in 1996, Bangladesh is assured of a stipulated quantum of water during the dry seasons, Dhakas lean season share could benefit by receiving part of the augmented water availability if the river interlinking project goes through. Nepal, for its part, could benefit by harnessing its hydro potential with the Himalayan component of the project. Of course, all this would be premised on frank and transparent consultations between the involved parties. Given that most of Indias problems with its neighbours are the result of a feeling of being ignored as well as a lack of transparency, the government would do well to take them into confidence on the project so as to reassure them that not only would their interests be safeguarded, but also instruct them on the benefits accruing from participating in the project.