West Bengal objects to BD’s Ganges Barrage too

West Bengal objects to BD’s Ganges Barrage too

Sutirtha Gupta, Kolkata,

West Bengal has been a major obstacle to the Teesta water agreement between Bangladesh and India. They are now objecting to the Ganges Barrage Project proposed by Bangladesh.

Recently in a letter to the Indian government, West Bengal Chief Secretary Basudev Bandyopadhyay made clear their position on the Ganges Barrage Project of Bangladesh. On behalf of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the central government was informed that under no circumstances should Dhaka be allowed to construct a barrage on the Ganges and risk floods and erosion in West Bengal. They also refused to take part in any discussion between the countries on this topic.

At a meeting in October between the two countries, a decision was taken to form a Joint Technical Sub-Group with the purpose of studying the potential impact of this project. At least one representative of West Bengal was set to be part of the group. But West Bengal CM’s office has said they will not send any representative to the committee. Indian Water Resources Secretary Amarjeet Singh tried to negotiate with the West Bengal government, saying that this project was particularly important for relations between the two countries. If necessary, experts from the center were willing to visit Kolkata to discuss the issue with local experts. Mamata rejected that proposal too.

Experts worry that this might create a strain in Delhi-Dhaka diplomatic relations. Recently Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved Sheikh Hasina’s proposal to construct a dam and reservoir across the river Padma, the main distributary of the Ganges.  A few days ago, she requested India to be partner in this project. Similar to the Teesta case, the Modi government is yet again unable to go ahead with this project due to Mamata Banerjee’s opposition.

The Ganges Barrage project along with Ganges Basin development is scheduled to be finalized during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s next visit to India. (Also Read: Sheikh Hasina’s Delhi visit remains uncertain)  Bangladesh is placing more importance on this project than on Teesta, as cited by a Bangladeshi diplomat.

The Ganges Barrage Project materialized when the Bangladesh government decided to build a dam on the river Padma in Pangsha of Rajbari district. Several discussions between the two countries regarding the issue have taken place. The matter gained momentum when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited BD last year. Modi promised to support the implementation of this proposal. The proposed barrage construction site of Pangsha, Rajbari is exactly 200 km south of the infamous Farakka Barrage. Bangladesh rationalizes that despite the excess water after the Ganges water-sharing agreement, they are unable to utilize it to the full extent as they do not have any dam or reservoir to hold the water. As a result, the uncontrolled excess water rushes into the sea. A barrage on the Padma was imperative to solve the problem.

This will also act as a second bridge on the Padma and improve communications between the north and the south parts of Bangladesh. According to experts in Bangladesh, the dam would prevent the Ganges from carrying waste into the sea while filling reservoirs for irrigation and drinking water along a 165 km stretch of the river. This will also solve the navigability problem of Padma as well as Ganges, Dhaka justifies, as half of the projected 165 km worth of water reserve will be in Bangladesh (82 km) and another half will be in West Bengal. The severe scarcity of water in the Ganges of Suti to Dhulian region in West Bengal will also be long gone. Their farmers will also be able to use the withheld water of Ganges Barrage for irrigations through canals.

The Ganges enters Bangladesh through Suti ‘administrative division’ of Murshidabad, just south of Farakka embankment.  After that, Ganges flows through Rajshahi in Bangladesh or sometimes over Jalangi in West Bengal. From Jalangi it takes the name Padma and flows through the heart of Bangladesh.

Even though the Indian government approves Bangladesh’s barrage project, West Bengal thinks it will result in more loss than any gain. The West Bengal Chief Minister came to this conclusion after discussion with several water management experts. According to them, a barrage will definitely increase Ganges water but the practical use of the reserve will not be in West Bengal’s control. So, on one hand if the water reserve is more than necessary, then the surrounding areas could be inundated. On the other hand, a sudden release of water in that dam will result in reduced water flow in the Ganges. Experts fear if another dam is constructed near Farakka, Nadia-Murshidabad may face increased erosion. These are the reasons that West Bengal is opposing the Ganges barrage project.

Sources revealed that in the letter to the Ministry of Water Resources, Basudeb Banerjee wrote: “West Bengal was kept in the dark over the project. There is no question of our state being part of Joint Technical Sub-group. Since the Farakka water sharing treaty, West Bengal has endured losses of around Rs 707 crore (7.07 billion) due to the breach of river embankments. Now, with the new Ganges Dam, risks of flooding may aggravate. Hence, West Bengal cannot give approval to the treaty.”