October 04, 2003


In December 2002, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced he was making water a top priority. By linking India's largest rivers in a countrywide grid he will get water from the north to the states of the south and east that were hit by severe droughts in 2002.

The plan will redraw the hydrological map of India, taking flood waters from 14 Himalayan tributaries of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers in northern India and Nepal and transferring them south via a series of canals and pumping stations, across the Vindhya mountains to replenish 17 southern rivers, including the Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery. Up to 1500 cubic metres of water a second will be pumped south.

In all, the scheme will mean building around 300 reservoirs and digging more than 1000 kilometres of canals. According to retired military engineer, Sudhir Vombatkere, who is now with the Mysore Consumer Action Forum, the project will flood an estimated 8000 square kilometres of land. This could leave three million people homeless.

This will bring disaster to the rivers in Bangladesh most of which comes down through India and meets the Bay of Bengal. Bangladeshi government scientists estimated that even a 10 per cent to 20 per cent reduction in the water flow to the country could dry out great areas for much of the year. More than 80 per cent of Bangladesh's 20 million small farmers grow rice and depend on water that has flowed through India. This could trigger a long-term disaster on the subcontinent and trigger bloodshed in the region. Although the Indian and Bangladeshi governments have a water sharing agreement for the Ganges, there are none for the other 53 rivers that cross the border. Bangladeshi water engineers say that Indian barrages, canals, reservoirs and irrigation schemes are slowly strangling the country and are stopping its development.

India is also all set to build a hydroelectric power plant, a massive barrage inclusive, upstream of a major river system of Bangladesh that could inflict on its downstream neighbours economic, ecological and human catastrophes.

After completion of the project, Bangladesh would get less water in three rivers � Meghna, Surma and Kushiara and consequently one fourth area of our country from Sylhet to Barisal will turn into deserts.

Bangladesh and India have been at loggerheads over water sharing since 1974, when India completed the Farakka Barrage, diverting crucial dry-season flows into Indian irrigation canals.

The recent JRC (Joint river Committee) meeting between the two countries ended with no resoultion on the above issues.

Now the situation will be really worse if the projects start commissioning.


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