Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Bangladesh: Indian Reaction to Foreign Ministers recent remarks

[Bangla Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan rubbished all allegations about functioning of training camps for insurgents from Assam, Tripura and other States in Bangladesh and made counter allegations that India was harbouring “terrorists” of Bangladesh. Indians and the international community will certainly dismiss the outbursts of this gentleman as sheer puerile utterances because the Government of India and the State governments of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura are fully aware about the precise locations of these camps. It is not for nothing that Bangladesh has repeatedly denied Indian requests to hold joint investigations by the two sides regarding these camps. However, more meaningless has been the Minister’s remark, accompanied no doubt with a smirk, that the reason why the per capita availability of water in Bangladesh was 20,000 cusecs (it should actually be cubic metres, cum) compared to Indian’s 2000 cusecs (cubic metres actually), because, he had pompously declared “India is unilaterally opening its sluice gates to get rid of its flood waters into Bangladesh”.]

Bangladesh and India : water resources miasmaz

Arabinda Ghose

The September 10 issue of a national English daily carries a front-page news item regarding the outburst of foreign minister of Bangladesh, at a meeting in Dhaka, at which the Indian High Commissioner Veena Sikri was present, regarding the Indian allegations about terrorist camps in that country.

Bangla Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan rubbished all allegations about functioning of training camps for insurgents from Assam, Tripura and other States in Bangladesh and made counter allegations that India was harbouring “terrorists” of Bangladesh. Indians and the international community will certainly dismiss the outbursts of this gentleman as sheer puerile utterances because the Government of India and the State governments of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura are fully aware about the precise locations of these camps. It is not for nothing that Bangladesh has repeatedly denied Indian requests to hold joint investigations by the two sides regarding these camps.

However, more meaningless has been the Minister’s remark, accompanied no doubt with a smirk, that the reason why the per capita availability of water in Bangladesh was 20,000 cusecs (it should actually be cubic metres, cum) compared to Indian’s 2000 cusecs (cubic metres actually), because, he had pompously declared “India is unilaterally opening its sluice gates to get rid of its flood waters into Bangladesh”.

One is reminded in this connection of former Bangladesh President H M Ershad’s statements in 1987 (or 1988), when his country was under a deluge, that “This water is not ours” (“Ei Jal Amader Noy”). The implication was that Bangladesh floods were caused in those two years, with an unprecedented severity, because India had been releasing flood waters by opening the gates of its dams and barrages.

In fact, some newspapers in Bangladesh had then alleged that India was releasing waters from its dams across the Brahmaputra in Assam. It was at this time, a Bangladeshi journalist had come to see this reporter and his colleagues, both of whom had “covered” the first phase of the Bangladeshi struggle in April-May, 1971 from our base at Agartala in Tripura, often crossing into East Pakistani territory (till that time) at great risks, for our coverage.

This reporter had suggested to that journalist to visit Assam and locate the dams across it from where impounded water was being released. He had told that correspondent then that there was not a single dam anywhere in Assam across the Brahmaputra (it is still the same in 2004 too), and had explained why in that particular year the intensity of the floods in his country was so high.

But the Foreign Minister’s outburst at least suggests that India should not release so much water for Bangladesh that caused floods in that country. For the information of the Minister, there still is no dam across the Brahmaputra river in India.

In North Bengal, there is a barrage across the Teesta, and in West Bengal /Jharkhand border, we of course have the Farakka Barrage. However, the complaint of Bangladesh (Earlier East Pakistan) had always been that India releases meager waters from this barrage resulting in desertification of south-West Bangladeshi districts. Now, under the 30 year old treaty signed in 1996, that country is entitled to 50,000 cusecs of water at the minimum from January 1 to May 31, the dry months.

So, it is obvious that the Minister was pointing to the floods caused in Bangladesh because of the huge amount of water flowing from the Brahmaputra in India to the Jamuna (the main course of the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh) which causes floods in the northern and the south eastern districts of Bangladesh. The Barak, known as the Meghna in Bangladesh as also some of its tributaries such as Gomti, Kushiyara etc. too causes floods in these districts.

If follows from the Minister’s outburst that Bangladesh would very much like India to reduce the discharge in the Brahmaputra river obviously during the monsoon months. This is precisely also India’s stand– at least it is the stand of the engineers associated with the so called river inter-linking concept– that some portion of the Brahmaputra waters should be diverted westwards from some point in the Goalpara district of Assam towards the Manas, Sankosh, the Raidak, the Teesta and other rivers towards the Ganga from where this surplus waters (tampped only, during the monsoon months).

However, one is certain that if this proposal is made by India, this very Minister will raise the hackles saying that India was conspiring to convert northern districts of Bangladesh into a desert by taking away the waters “belonging” to Bangladesh towards other States in India from Assam. In fact, during 2003, this was the dominant theme among “nationalist” Bangladeshis for India-baiting.

The truth of the matter is that the river-linking concept does not plan tapping the main Brahmaputra as of now, and proposes to divert some water from the tributaries – the Manas and the Sankosh which originate in Bhutan. It is true that these tributaries do cross into Bangladesh later. However, since the waters are to be diverted only during the monsoon months, there will be no impact on the availability of water in the northern districts of Bangladesh during the monsoon months or even later.

In this process, India is sacrificing her own interests by not tapping the hydro-electric potential of the Brahmaputra from its upper reaches in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Isn’t it time Indian stops being bullied by its truculent neighbour?

Assam Tribune 11/10/2004