Water Issues in South Asia

Water Issues in South Asia
If there is any single most important issue that mars bilateral relations among the countries of the subcontinent, it is water. The issues of cross-border water distribution, utilisation, management and mega irrigation/hydro-electric power projects affecting the upper and lower riparian countries are gradually taking centre-stage in defining interstate relations as water scarcity increases and both drought and floods make life too often miserable. Thanks to its location, size and contiguous borders with other South Asian countries, it is India, in its capacity as both upper and lower riparian, that has come into conflict with most of its neighbours, except Bhutan, on the cross-border water issues. Given an atmosphere of mistrust, an upper riparian India has serious issues to resolve with lower riparian Pakistan and Bangladesh and, despite being lower riparian, with the upper riparian Nepal. This, however, does not mean that India is solely responsible for certain deadlocks, even though its share of responsibility may be larger than other countries which have their own physical limitations and political apprehensions. As elsewhere in the world, and more particularly in the subcontinent where population explosion continues and environmental degradation worsens, water resources, like energy, are going to be much lower than the increasing demand, even if they are harnessed to the most optimum. Given the depleting resources of water, the issues of human security, and water security as its most crucial part, are going to assume astronomical proportions. The issues of water distribution and management are bringing not only countries of the region, but also states and regions within provinces into conflict since they are not being settled amicably within a grand framework of riparian statutes respecting upstream and downstream rights. What is, however, quite appreciable is that the countries of the subcontinent have made certain remarkable efforts to resolve their differences over water distribution through bilateral agreements. India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water Treaty (iwt) in 1960 allocating three eastern rivers (Ravi, Sutlej and Beas) to India and three western rivers (Indus, Jehlum, Chenab) to Pakistan. The iwt has remarkably survived the ups and downs of Indo-Pak relations, and despite wars the parties upheld the Treaty, although serious differences persist over various projects being undertaken by India over Jehlum (2 projects) and Chenab (9 projects) rivers. Similarly, the Ganges Water-Sharing Treaty (gwst) was signed between India and Bangladesh in 1996 and resolved the dispute over Farakha Barrage, although differences continue on Bangladesh?s share of water during the lean period. Nepal and India also signed the Mahakali Treaty in 1996, but despite ratification by the Nepalese parliament, the Treaty has remained stalled. Despite these treaties, serious differences over water sharing, water management and hydropower projects continue to spoil relations between India, on the one hand, and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, on the other. Differences between India and Pakistan continue to create ill-will between the two on around 11 large hydroelectric projects India plans to construct, including the Baglihar Project over which Pakistan has sought the appointment of a neutral expert by the World Bank after the failure of talks. More than the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir, the issue of the waters of Jehlum and Chenab has the potential to once again provoke people in Pakistan against India and push the two countries to war. Bangladesh, which shares 54 rivers with India as a lower riparian, has serious differences with New Delhi that hinder agreement on eight rivers, besides the continuing complaints by Dhaka over sharing of water of Ganges. The Indian plan, which is now under review, to build a big river-linking-project that includes diversion of water from Ganges and Brahmaputra, has become yet another source of antagonism between the two countries who have not been able to sort out their differences over a whole range of issues that continue to fuel political tension which, in turn, does not allow the resolution of differences over water. As an upper riparian, Nepal has a different relationship with India and faces many problems in constructing its dams due to opposition by the lower riparian and has serious doubts about the projects proposed by India. Nepal?s mistrust, beside other factors, has been reinforced by what it perceives to be various unequal treaties ? starting from Sharada Dam construction (1927), 1950 Treaty and Letters of Exchange of 1950 and 1965, Koshi Agreement (1954), Gandak Agreement ((1959), Tanakpur Agreement (1991) and the Mahakali Treaty (1996). Since 400 million people live in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna region, India needs Nepal to meet its energy needs and for management of water. Besides many issues of water sharing among the countries of subcontinent, there are huge water and energy related issues that are critically affecting the food security, environment and agriculture. Above all, projections of scarcity of water in the future presents a doomsday scenario. There are serious differences over water-sharing within different states/provinces in India (Ravi-Beas dispute between Punjab and Haryana and Cauvery dispute among the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry) and Pakistan (water sharing dispute and construction of dams over Indus between Punjab and Sindh and also nwfp). Rigorous exploitation of groundwater in India and Pakistan is rapidly depleting aquifers which is a cause of great concern. Contamination of water and presence of arsenic in groundwater has become a major concern, especially, in Bangladesh and some parts of India and Pakistan. Climatic changes that are being forecasted and low-water discharges need to be addressed collectively. India should, as SAFMA?s Delhi Declaration says, ?make more efforts to discuss bilaterally with its neighbours problems relating to river waters. A new regional understanding of the riparian issues is essential to resolve Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-Pakistan water issues?. Some way out should be found on the Baglihar issue between India and Pakistan to keep the sanctity of Indus Water Treaty. Regional Riparian Statutes must be obligatory to resolve the bilateral water disputes. rrr statute model, respecting Helsinki Convention proposes 8K upstream and downstream rights, should guide the countries of subcontinent to avoid conflict over water and reach a lasting understanding for the collective good of our people. Lastly, the ?middle-path? adopted by Bhutan should guide the planners for sustainable development that is environment friendly and is not carried by supply-side approach of the big dam lobbies. south asian water concerns The lead paper in this issue, by an Indian water expert, Ramaswamy Iyer, outlines the national concerns and issues related to water among the upper and lower riparian countries of South Asia. Touching on major domestic and regional water issues faced by India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, the author sketches out common convergences and divergences regarding water in these countries. However, he deals with the Baglihar Hydroelectric Project controversy, which has put to test the Indus Water Treaty, more from political consideration than technical standpoints. PAKISTAN?S perspective: the baglihar project Shahid Husain, former Secretary for Water and Power, Pakistan, provides an empirical account of the dispute over the Baglihar Hydroelectric Project between India and Pakistan. The author looks at the latest developments regarding the Baglihar Dam Project and takes a partisan position commensurate with the official position. He, however, shows how this project can, if completed according to the current design, adversely affect Pakistan?s water interests. water: issues and politics with pakistan Dr Zaigham Habib, an expert on Pakistan?s water issues, advocates future water security while analysing the current local water scarcity, conservation threats, water management and ownership issues in Pakistan. Being the only researcher with a doctorate thesis on the Indus Basin System, she takes a critical view of the current water strategy, dominated by wapda, and analyses the political controversy over water distribution and the conflict among provinces. managing nepalese water On Nepal?s water situation, Dr Bishnu Hari Nepal, a former Nepalese diplomat, says that India needs to change its water policies regarding its neighbours for effective management of Nepal?s water. The author identifies ten areas of concern to Nepal. He feels that there is an absence of cooperation between the upper and lower riparian countries and cites the South Asian Regional Riparian Rights Statutes (SA-rrr-S) Model as a solution to the Indo-centric water conflicts of the region. bangladesh water issues Emaduddin Ahmad, Executive Director, Institute of Water Modelling (iwm), Bangladesh, looks at water development issues in Bangladesh. After assessing national water policies of the country and looking at water development issues such as flood mitigation, salinity, high proportion of arsenic contamination of water and institutional reforms, the author suggests coordinated efforts to reduce the effects of these ecological damages. He also critically evaluates India?s River Linking Project which will have adverse effects on Bangladesh?s water. The author proposes an apex body comprising representatives of all the co-riparian states to evolve a plan for development, conservation, sharing and utilisation of international waters while maintaining ecological balance. INDIA?S river linking plans The Indian government got judicial sanction from its Supreme Court in October, 2002 to be able to implement its scheme on linking major Indian rivers to ?overcome drought and floods?. The bjp government followed this up with pronouncements supportive of the scheme. The proposal was not received without dismay in the neighbouring countries, particularly Bangladesh, which organised a series of conferences to highlight the folly inherent in the scheme. The most recent of these conferences was a three-day international conference on Regional Cooperation on Trans-boundary Rivers in Dhaka (December, 2004) with a call to India to dispel mistrust and concerns over its river linking project and to follow a ?no harm policy? towards its neighbours. This is a phrase used in the Treaty between India and Bangladesh on Farakka. According to reports, the Indian Ambassador to Bangladesh assured the Bangladeshis that India would undertake a detailed consultative process with all concerned. She asserted that the project was still at a conceptual stage. This does not mean that the proposal has been shelved; hence, the continued concern for Bangladesh. This conference was a follow up, close on the heels of the August conference in 2004. Aware of the threat posed by this gigantic project and the challenges faced by the region on account of population growth, food scarcity, the Third South Asia Water Forum (sawaf-iii) was held in Dhaka in July, 2004. The Bangladesh People?s Initiative against River Linking (bpirl) in collaboration with the South Asian Solidarity for Rivers and Peoples (sarp) organised the South Asian consultation on River Linking Project (21-22 August 2004), so as to focus on the implications of the proposal on linking the two large rivers in the subcontinent. Concerned citizens from India, Pakistan and Nepal joined their Bangladeshi counterparts to voice their concern at the Indian proposal of changing the geomorphology of the subcontinent. Brahmaputra and Jamna Basins account for 65 per cent of surface water in Bangladesh. In all, 80 per cent of the surface water in Bangladesh comes through these two rivers (Brahmaputra and Jamna) originating in Himalayas and passing through Nepal, Bhutan and India. Bangladesh inter alia decided to endorse the principle of ?more crop for each drop? of water as an alternative to this mega project, so as to increase water efficiency, to decrease non-structural options, to evolve cost effective technologies including rain water harvesting as well as re-cycling of effluent and for action to use water as a source of peace and prosperity rather than a source of discord. The 21st century is marked with a growing need for global cooperation, in general, and regional cooperation, in particular. What could be more important for global understanding than on water, which is getting scarcer by the day and will get more so in the future? Days of profligacy are long gone and the mounting pressure of population has forced the issue of this precious commodity to the fore not only in this region but also in other parts of the world. The controversy is not confined to Bangladesh and India. The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin (gmb) represents a far bigger region comprising Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and some parts of Tibet. According to a recent report, India has nearly exhausted underground water reservoirs by pumping water for irrigation to achieve a mirage of food self-sufficiency. The proposed project is thought to be the only solution to overcome the problem. India has proposed to transfer water from the Brahmaputra through a gigantic 324-km long link canal, which will run from Assam across northern Bangladesh to just above Farraka. The second part of the proposal envisages three large dams, which are potential hydropower-cum-flood control sites. The project consists of thirty river links, 14 on the Himalayan Rivers and 16 on the peninsular south. The project involves storage of flood and monsoon water. The important links are four, including Brahmaputra with Ganges, Subamarekaha and Mahanadi with Brahmaputra so as to irrigate Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. The proposal for interlinking of rivers is not new. Sir Arthur Cotton first mooted it in the 19th century primarily for promoting inland navigation. Dr K. L. Rao later revived the idea in 1972. After that the focus shifted from navigation to the issue of water scarcity in the south. In 1977 Captain Dastur, a pilot by profession, proposed construction of two canals named Garland Canal ? because it envisaged 4,200 km Himalayan Canal and the twice as long Southern Garland Canal, which were to be connected through pipelines passing through Patna and Delhi. Much before the Supreme Court decision in 2002, National Water Development Agency (nwda) was established in 1980, to carry out two separate studies, viz. Himalayan and Peninsula rivers. nwda has to survey and investigate possible storage size and interconnecting links. There are two action plans. Under action plan-I, the schedule for implementation is 10 years from the start. It is stipulated that work will start in 2007 and complete in 2016. Under action plan-II, two committees have been set up to go into the financial aspects of the project. Both the committees are to work concurrently. The nwda has conducted feasibility studies jointly with the Ministry of Water Resources on six of the thirty possible river links in the last few decades. It is reported to have completed water balance studies of 137 basins/sub-basins and prepared pre-feasibility studies of 30 links. A task force has also been set up by the Government of India on December 13, 2002, with Suresh Prabhu as the Chairperson with the following terms: 1. To provide guidance on norms of up-raising of individual projects in respect of economic liability, socio-economic impacts, environmental impacts and preparation of re-settlement plans; 2. Devise suitable mechanisms for brining about a speedy consensus among the stats; 3. Privatise different projects? components for preparation of detailed project reports and implementation; 4. Propose suitable organisational structures for implementing the projects; 5. Consider various funding, modalities; and 6. Consider international dimensions that may be involved in some components of the project. A full-fledged cost benefit analysis will follow the feasibility studies and detailed project reports. It is, however, claimed that phenomenal economic and socio cultural benefits will accrue, like: 1. Agricultural production will increase by 100 per cent in the next five years; 2. 35 million hectares will be added to the command area to the current 90 million hectares; 3. Loss of crops worth Rs.250b will be saved by preventing drought and floods; 4. Savings in foreign exchange of Rs.30b per annum will accrue because of cost effective alternative navigation and reduced import of oil; 5. The country will further be bound together. 6. Employment to one million people will be provided in next 10 years; and 7. Additional water line defence will be provided along the western and north-western borders. There are sceptics who doubt the viability of the scheme or even the seriousness on the part of India. They suspect that it was an election stunt and will not go beyond the laying of foundation stone. With the new government in place one has not heard of it so loudly. 24 years after the project emerged on the public scene, it is nowhere near completion. But there are those who are afraid of India?s seriousness. Once the government conducts studies, like it did on the Kalabagh Dam in Pakistan, without involving the stakeholders in a discussion, then a vested interest is created in going ahead with its execution. Narmada is another example of the same approach. Consequently, the dam is still incomplete. The question remains whether there is enough water to sustain the idea. Except for the Brahmaputra basin in the northeast, there is no surplus water anywhere. The scheme is predicated on the assumption that there is surplus water in the rivers that could be diverted to the deficit rivers. Dr Ainun Nishat, Country representative of iucn in Bangladesh, in his brilliant exposition at the August Conference in 2004, brought out ? with the help of data ? that dry deltas in Bangladesh bring forth (very poignantly) an affirmation of the claim by the critics of the proposal that not much water is left to flow into the sea. Those who are building a super-structure over a pipe dream either do not understand or have a sinister agenda hidden from public view. The receding snow lines of the Himalayas are another development which cannot be overlooked. The glacier mass showed a negative trend since the middle of the last century, signalling a sharp reduction in flow into the rivers in the next 30 years. Himalayan glaciers could disappear by the year 2035 according to some researchers. There is no scientific database on climate pattern and discharge pattern in the Himalayas. Pakistan is facing its gravest crisis with its existing dams almost empty and its present and future crops in jeopardy. In-depth studies of glacier hydrology is in order. The claim that water flows into the sea is no longer true. India has highly uneven water availability. In Pakistan and India diversions on the mighty Indus and its tributaries have reduced water outflows into the sea by 80 per cent; destroying deltaic mangroves that once stretched over 250,000 hectares and were spawning grounds for coastal fisheries. In Philippines, rights to environment have been included as fundamental rights. Engineering a geo-morphologic feature changes both the object and the process and thus triggers a chain of developments that persist long after the intervention is over. The system takes its own time to settle into a new equilibrium. This on a generational time scale is much longer than the executive decisions. The natural level of all water on earth being the sea, the river ? unlike a canal ? augments its flow along its path. Such a project will invite the Law of Unintended Consequences. Moreover the project will involve submergence of forestland, habitations and wild life. How good is the prevailing use of irrigation water? 70 per cent of river water is wasted before its delivery into the fields. High intensity use for sugar cane and rice further compounds the problem. The region faces floods and droughts at the same time. Obtaining the consent of the states within the Union of India will prove an almost insurmountable hurdle. The states have full authority over water and yet the Centre can intervene by taking steps to interfere with their plans for use of the water. Ironically the states where the rivers are located are the most undeveloped parts of the country. East Punjab followed Kerala in opposing the project. Punjab and Haryana are still fighting over the Sutlej water. The annual discharge of the system is 1350 billion cubic meters with a total drainage area of 1.75 million sq. kms Brahmaputara contributes 700 bcm, Ganges 500 and Meghna 150. Tamil Nadu supports the project completely, whereas Andhra Pradesh supports it conditionally. Tamil Nadu has already completed the Mekkara Dam, which is to be used in the proposed link even though Kerala is opposed to the project. Kerala Legislative Assembly has passed a unanimous resolution against the link on August 6, 2003. Gujarat has objections because Daman Ganga-Pinjal River Linking Project, one of the 30 interstate projects, located in Gujarat will be adversely affected. There are two out of thirty proposals that fall in Gujarat. West Bengal is worried. It is demanding adequate funds from the centre to combat post Farakka problem causing floods and erosion. Assam is opposed to the project and is of the view that while remaining within the constitution, the Centre must evolve a consensus of the states. A board or an ordinary bill in parliament cannot supersede the constitutional provisions. One opinion suggests that Bihar should not oppose linking of Brahmaputra because there is sufficient water to meet the needs of the south. However, Nepal will have to be excluded from the plans. Bihar, after spending over Rs.19b on flood control in the flood prone area, is worse off with floods affecting almost three times the area (from 2.5m hectares to 6.9m). Bihar also fears that India will reap benefits at its cost. Bringing the countries of the region, particularly Bangladesh, on board may be far more difficult for India, especially after the India-Bangladesh Treaty of December 1996 on the sharing of the Ganges waters. Farakka Barrage, completed in 1975, has been a significant source of friction between India and Bangladesh, much before the latter?s creation. The Barrage allows India to divert the Ganges water into Hoogly River through a feeder canal. A decline of 51 per cent flow of water is claimed to have been experienced by Bangladesh after Farakka. Under an ad-hoc arrangement reached in 1983, pending scientific studies, 39 per cent of the dry season flow was to be allocated to India, 36 per cent to Bangladesh and the remaining to continue to be unallocated. The 1996 Treaty protects the flows at Farakka and any storage upstream of Farakka will be in breach of that Treaty. Ganges and Brahmapatra are international waters and their historic use cannot be overlooked. Para 3 of the Preamble of the Treaty requires the two countries to make optimum utilisation of the water resources of their region for the mutual benefits of the people of the two countries. Article IX of the Treaty enshrines the principle ? ?Guided by the principles of equity, fairness and no harm to either party both the Governments agreed to conclude water sharing Treaties/Agreements with regard to other common rivers?. According to Bangladesh, its share in Farakka is fixed at 35,000 cusecs, if availability of water is 75,000 cusecs. In case water exceeds, India will get 40,000 cusecs and Bangladesh the balance. The water sharing arrangement was to be reviewed by the two governments at five years interval or earlier, but so far no such review has taken place. Bangladesh took up the issue of the interlinking project at the Joint River Commission. According to Mr. Hafiz Uddin Ahmad, Bangladesh Minister for Water Resources, India was reluctant even to discuss it, calling it outside the scope of the Joint River Commission (jrc). Bangladesh persisted and the discussion continued for 13 hours, but at the end of the day it was not even minuted. The marathon discussion was dismissed in a single line signifying, nothing. However, there may be some meeting of minds with the new government in place in New Delhi. There are alternatives available to the proposed millennium folly such as decentralised water harvesting, non-conventional energy sources and conservation strategies. A former Indian Prime Minister, while addressing state irrigation ministers in 1986, had this to say: ?Since 1951, 246 big surface irrigation project(s) have been initiated. Only 66 out of these have been completed. 181 are still under construction. For 16 years, we have poured out money. The people have got nothing back, no irrigation, no water, no increase in production, no help in their daily life?. The river linking project is in fact a river privatisation project. Projects that have already been planned or executed are being shown as new projects under the scheme. India seems to be re-making its geography so that water flows where it previously never did. There is need for a regional treaty that forces each country to honour its ecological obligations towards the great oceans. The combined population of the region is about 600 million. If India thinks that it can exploit its upper riparian position and its size, China, which has reportedly drawn its own plans to divert rivers originating in Tibet ? including Brahmaputra, may follow suit. While India plans to complete the project by the year 2013, China plans to do so by 2009. An estimated 90 per cent of the Tibetan rivers flow downstream to India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Both India and Bangladesh are at the mercy of China which could for its own interest withhold water for irrigation and power during dry season and release water during the flood season. Bangladesh experts brought the issue to the attention of Indian journalists. All the rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal. All these countries have abiding interest in the sustainability of the system in order to ensure livelihood of people, who depend on agriculture as well as to protect ecology, environment and wild life for present or future collaboration necessary to evolve common goal of survival. Ganges is reported to be the most polluted river. The effort is not going to be easy but each country has to be prepared to make sacrifices and suffer the perceived loss involved in an agreement. Equity and understanding of the other?s point of view are crucial to any settlement, tentative or permanent. Another option is that a public interest petition is filed by any concerned citizen of India requesting review of Supreme Court order, which may possibly review its own order suo moto in the region?s interest. There are other hurdles that India must cross before establishing feasibility such as: 1. External financing in view of huge external debt may not be forthcoming. The private sector sees a distinct road for itself in the proposed mega project after having experienced the privatisation of Sheonath River in Chattisgarh. 2. As per the Constitution, water is a state subject, but no project can be undertaken without following the planning process, which means every proposal must go before the central government. 3. Whether or not there will be a political will to interlink rivers is an open question. A proposal was made to constitute a commission on the lines of the Finance Commission to examine the project. There is also the role of international law and treaties. United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, although not ratified, could provide a basis to proceed. The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1997. Watercourse has been defined as a system of surface waters and ground waters forming a unitary whole and normally flowing into a common terminus. The Convention was based on the principles and recommendations adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development of 1992 in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. It expressed the conviction that a framework Convention will ensure the utilisation, development, conservation, management and protection of international watercourses and the promotion of the optimal and sustainable utilisation thereof for present and future generations. Nothing in the Convention shall affect the rights or obligation of the Watercourse state arising from agreements in force on the date on which that State became a party to the Convention. There are 37 Articles to the Convention. The Articles in the Convention relate to subjects like watercourse agreements, equitable and reasonable utilisation participation, factors relevant to equitable and reasonable utilisation, obligation not to cause significant harm, general obligation to cooperate and settlement of disputes, etc. The Convention shall enter into force following ratification of 35th Instrument. So far the Convention has attracted perhaps no more than 16 signatures and 11 ratifications. 103 nations including Bangladesh had voted in favour. Surprisingly India and Pakistan were on the same side and were amongst 27 nations that had abstained from voting. Times have changed; the demand for water is growing. Dams and megaprojects are known to disrupt the existing pattern of water use. Where people depend on fish, flood plains or deltas for their livelihood, big dams can wreak great havoc. Watershed eco-systems suffer and fragmentation of aquatic and terrestrial eco systems cause growing threat to the ecological integrity is one of the many factors impacting on the change in climate. The growing rate of extraction of fresh water has put enormous pressure on aquifers. Sedimentation causes the dams to lose storage capacity at an estimated rate of 05-1 per cent per annum. In the next 25 to 50 years, 25 per cent of the existing storage will have been lost mostly in the developing countries. In three Asian countries ? China, India and Pakistan ? the water table is sinking at the alarming rate of 1 to 2 metres a year. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and Israel are the most water stressed countries. Pakistan is close to Germany in being less stressed. Today most of the countries are focusing their attention on management of existing water resources including the dams. The effort involves rehabilitation, renovation and optimisation. Demand side management and improvement of efficiency of the existing supply are receiving greater attention. There are bound to be difficulties for the countries of the region along the way. However, inaction is not an option. If the waters in the basin are sufficient to justify an equitable and just sharing of waters and the social, economic, political and environmental impact of such structural intervention on common river systems is manageable, then the project cannot be dismissed as being unfeasible. It will require cooler heads in the spirit of give and take for the stakeholders in all the countries of the region to grapple with hard choices. The outcome may yet produce a win-win situation for everybody. The growing population of all the countries of the region, which they have failed to control, imposes an obligation on their leaders to do something substantial to avert the looming disaster of famine and poverty. Forming a common front against India as being the largest country in the region will be a self-defeating strategy. After all Pakistan did the unthinkable of bartering away three of its six rivers for the sake of peace and amity in the largest part of the subcontinent. The important thing to note is that the intervention of the World Bank proved crucial to the culmination of the effort in the signing of the Treaty. pakistan: indus basin and water issues From Run of the River to a Regulated Basin The Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan in 1960, and the construction of two big reservoirs (Mangla 1967, Tarbela 1978) enhanced the inter-connectivity and inter-river water transfer potential to a very high level. It is unique that the major sub-basins of three big rivers having about 6 million hectare irrigated land had to rely on water transferred from other rivers. The net increase in diversions is about 60 per cent after 1960 ( bcm to bcm ? Habib 2004) . The Indus network is the same today as it was in1978. All main canal headworks are linked through rivers and link canals, reservoirs supporting whole system other than the 1st barrage of the Chenab river. Sharing the reservoir is a fully regulated system for release of water. Even to feed all canals with fair share from the direct river flows, each structure on the main network would need to be operated. This is a basic change in the designed run of the river supply based water delivery network. Water Allocation and Division Principles With the design of large-scale canal systems, the surface water availability changed from an ?access control? to an ?authorised allocation?. The concepts of ?riparian water rights? and ?prior water use rights? facilitated the access of ?old users? to a limited level, but became obsolete when all ?divertible water? got engaged with the ?authorised allocation?. With the extension of irrigation, the probability of having lower than the allocated water during low supply period of early and late Kharif (summer) increased. This shortage was distributed among the canals through operational priorities, which increasingly becomes tougher and an issue of disagreement among the provinces. All water allocation committees between 1937 and 1982 (Andersons, Sindh-Punjab draft, Haleem commission, etc.) had to address the priority-issue, but none of the draft agreement were fully accepted by the provincial irrigation departments. The flexibility provided by the reservoirs relaxed the priorities and decreased the shortage of the authorised allocation, and put a new challenge to share the stored water. The highest demand on this water was during the high stress period. This affected the doctrines of ?equitable distribution? and ?perennial and non-perennial? division. More water could be supplied in Rabi (winter) than officially allocated. An operational technique was to distribute this water through the scheduling of available excess or shortage. By virtue of the regulation process, scheduling has to be responsive to the water demand of different canal commands during the period of interest. Eventually, the non-perennial canals started getting water in Rabi (winter) without any command areas allocation or the distribution formula, regulated through the ?historical diversions?. The differences on the interpretation of waa (1991) started surfacing as early as 1994 and continue till today. waa weaknesses are as follows: 1. Conceptually, waa allocations are neither based on the design philosophy nor any new criterion. The provincial seasonal and annual allocations are neither equal nor proportional to the design allocations. The winter provincial share of water depends upon the actual diversions of 1978-82, which already had the impact of peak storage potential of both reservoirs. However, there was no change in the authorised seasonal discharge of the main canals. 2. The waa accepts that the management of surface water needs a more ?real time? distribution targets than the design discharge. And the originally planned systems can be intervened by replacing two seasonal target values for the year with 10-daily targets. But, adopts the schedule recommended to share the access or shortage of discharge, by modifying it and making actual supplies of 1978-82 a permanent reference. It changed the character of the regulatory water scheduling from a dynamic to a static reference. 3. The developed portion of river flows is divided for the existing irrigation uses with a small increase, ?other uses will be managed within this allocation (waa)?. The division of river water was made equivalent to the irrigation canal diversions. Punjab was already using all of the allocated water in irrigation in 1991. Hence, to satisfy other/new water uses, Punjab could exploit the groundwater, develop flood share or shift water from irrigation/old uses. About 70 per cent potential of groundwater was already utilised in 1991, which is quickly depleting now. Continuous provincial disagreement inside and outside irsa and high level administrative interference (at the ministers and even president?s level) in water stress situations indicate the insufficiency of the management arrangements. The reservoir operations are influenced by crop demand periods, especially for cotton and wheat. It is very hard to save water for the end of the year shortage while accepting an existing shortage. The influence of this shortage can be seen from the exceptionally low water levels in Tarbela during June, July and August 2004. Agriculture in the Basin3 A common measure of agriculture performance in the basin is given by the increase in cropping intensities, which are doubled from the planned level in the sweet zone (nwfp & Punjab) but, remains at the design level in the saline and waterlogged zones. The gap is wider at the main canal command level, 60% to 260% of the design (Habib 2004). The minimum cropping intensities are not in the canal commands having a water shortage, but having water and soil salinity and socio-economic factors (Strosser 1997). However, in the basin context, agriculture performance in terms of extension is much better than the planning and forecast by Water and Power Development Authority (wapda) consultant in 1967 and 1978. The first study forecast 23 million hectare (ha) (mh) cropped area after utilising full water potential with canal diversions of billion cubic metres or bcm (million acre feet or maf). This is the potential already achieved with about 5 million ha (sailaba and barani) cropped area outside the canal commands and 130 bcm average direct diversions. This 5 mh is not fully un-irrigated as the shallow wells are used wherever possible. The seasonal cropping intensities show that the agriculture is essentially perennial in the basin. The major cash crops (cotton, sugarcane) are grown in summer¸ while the food grains and fodder covers higher areas in winter. Hence, the Rabi irrigation is very important for the food security. With ha size 80 per cent farms are strongly at the subsistence level, practicing livelihood oriented agriculture. But, some of the comparative concepts must change, like protective versus productive and livelihood versus market oriented agriculture, as the markets and prices have influence on the farming decision of the small farms. 1 . The new water development projects must be highly feasible and sustainable over longer periods of time. The short-term solutions may have quick results but can be disastrous for the future options. A good example of this type of decision is Mangla raising, which has only 40 per cent probability to be filled under average water variables river network basin All values in billion cubic meters, Grey Italic is sub component already accounted far, provincial sub-basins does not include the areas outside Indus Basin +Adds -Subtracts indus basin nwfp punjab sindh and baluchistan Inflow River Rim Stations + 164.7 Gains un-gauged Tributaries + 8.2 Rainfall Basin + 74.57 7.4 60.9 6.21 Canal Diversions - 132.0 + 132.00 4.9 66 61.1 River & Link canal losses - 23.5 + 23.50 0.93 13.43 9.13 Evaporation from river, irrigation network 6.9 0.33 3.46 3.11 Gross Pumpage + 51.35 2.56 44.68 4.12 Crop Water Req. canal command areas 99.35 2.58 65.49 29.83 Crop Water Req. outside canal command (7.94 mha Sailaba & barani land) 35.50 5.5 22.64 8.23 Water Uses Indus Basin - 119.00 6.5 75.8 36.74 Crop uses in Canal Command Areas 91.10 3.07 56.8 31.25 Non ? Beneficial Evapotranspirati on from - 45.04 3.75 26.39 14.90 Evaporation from Water-Logged Areas - 21.78 0.41 3.56 18.8 Evapotranspiration outside considered water use processes Evaporation from rainfall - 17.0 .8 14.5 1.7 Available Recharge 78.29 3.9 48.67 25.72 Actual Recharge - 52.65 3.46 44.02 5.16 Drainage from the basin about 75% contributes to rivers + 19.0 - 24.60 0.86 15.96 7.76 Outflow to sea - 35.8 conditions of 1978-2000 and have a competition with the direct diversions to the command areas of the Ravi and Sutlej canals (Habib 2004). This probability will decrease as the eastern rivers inflow will decrease. The use of this raised capacity is very unlikely during relatively dry years. For any new storage on the Indus river, availability of sufficient flows and the efficiency of diversions must be considered. 2 .The ground water depletion is a more serious threat than the surface water depletion. In addition to a direct threat to small farmers, it is like the breakdown of natural recycling process. A persistent decline in water level is expensive to be reversed and need difficult artificial recharge processes. The lining of channels is another wrong technical intervention in the areas having groundwater depletion. These areas need to enhance the recharge, not to curtail it. The network losses are in fact much lower than the values advertised to promote the lining projects (isrip 1994, iwasri , Habib 2004) and considered in the design allocations. The seepage in sweet water zone is only a recycling process allowing farmers and other users to use this water with a high reliability and efficiency. These areas need good canal supply during summer (when the internal & provincial competition is low), better field efficiency and changes in cropping patterns decreasing the water demand in Rabi (like sugarcane can by be replaced by fodder or wheat) to minimise the net water stress. A good assessment of resources for each canal command area is required to select a proper measure for the water conservation. 3 . The saline areas need a serious water saving plan. The drainage as recharge control measure has failed here because of its low technical feasibility due to flat natural slope and high water uses in summer. The canals in these areas are designed for high diversion during a couple of months. The existing agriculture is much different from the summer flood irrigation and winter non-irrigated agriculture. Not the lining, but a thorough remodeling of the secondary and tertiary system with better water saving devices should be considered, even if it could be a slow and gradual process. interlinking rivers The disturbing aspect of the interlinking of river proposals is the unseemly haste with which the government is proceeding, drawing up even a timetable for implementation without any consensus on this from the concerned states. For a government that is unable to solve a water dispute between two states, to proceed with a predetermined timetable for river water sharing scheme not only between all the states in the country, but also involving Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan is either foolhardy or an eyewash. The attempt may be to try and win support from water deficit states for a limited electoral purpose with the full knowledge that such a scheme is unworkable and will only remain on paper. In the process, a host of issues involving water resources such as principles of sharing water, cost benefits of inter basin transfers, ecological impact, etc, are all being swept under the carpet. legal and political implications ======== Before we look into the mechanics of linking rivers, let us examine the legal and political implications of such linking. Linking of rivers means transferring water from one river system (or river basin) to another. It presupposes that there is surplus water in this river basin that can therefore be transferred. However, while the principles on the basis of which riparian states can share water have been established over time internationally and in the various agreements between states, the transfer of river water from a surplus basin to a deficit one has no such agreed principles. The states that are not riparian are assumed to have no claims to the water of the rivers. Therefore a transfer of water from one basin to another can be done only by mutual consent and a commercial agreement by which the state (or country) that receives water pays the donor state a certain amount. Any other basis is bound to be unacceptable as no state is likely to transfer water to another foregoing possible future use of such water. The second politico-legal part of the problem is that water is a state subject and the massive water grid that is being proposed will immediately throw up the question who will control this water. In this context the dangerous proposition that is being floated is that the rivers should be nationalised and the control of the water grid should rest with the centre. Apart from encroaching on power of the states and the consequent centralization of the Indian state, it also has other dangerous implications. It would imply that the rivers do not belong to the communities that live on its shores but belongs to a centralised Indian state to do with it as it deems fit. At one stroke, all the riparian states and other riverside communities would lose all their rights to the rivers. With privatisation of water being advocated around the world, the rights to water could then pass from the communities to water multinationals via the Indian state. This is not far-fetched proposition as rivers and lakes are being privatised around the world: the process is already on. brahmaputra ganga-link ====== The interlinking of rivers have two components: the Himalayan component and a Peninsular one. The Himalayan component envisages construction of reservoirs on the principal tributaries of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra in India and Nepal, along with transfer of water from the eastern tributaries of the Ganga to the west, apart from linking the Brahmaputra to the Ganga and the Ganga to the Mahanadi. The Peninsular component consists of inter linking of the Mahanadi-Godavari-Krishna-Penna-Cauvery, diversion of the west flowing rivers of Kerala and Karnataka to the east, interlinking the west flowing rivers north of Mumbai and south of Tapi and interlinking river Ken with Chambal. All interlinking schemes obviously are for the purpose of transferring water from one river system to another, aided by either gravity flows (tunnelling through mountains) or by lifting across natural barriers. The above links are meant to carry water from surplus areas to deficit ones. There are two areas where we have a surplus of water ? the Bramhaputra-Meghna system and the Western Ghats where the rivers carry much of the annual precipitation into the Arabian Sea. The proposal to divert west flowing rivers in Kerala and Karnataka is meant to use the water that would otherwise flow into the Arabian Sea. The Brahmaputra valley is certainly surplus in water and floods annually creating a perennial problem. The proposal is to connect the Brahmaputra to the Ganga upstream of Farakka to meet the needs of Bangladesh and West Bengal. Unless the Ganga flow can be augmented, India is bound by its agreement with Bangladesh not to disturb the flow into Bangladesh of the Ganga. The Brahmaputra-Ganga link has two possible alignments, one of which is through Bangladesh and the other passing entirely through Indian territory (the Siliguri chicken neck). Bangladesh has already rejected the proposal for linking Brahmaputra through Bangladesh. The other alignment through Siliguri involves large-scale lifting of water and does not appear to be economically viable. Thus both the proposed links have serious problems without addressing which the interlinking of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra is not possible. Let us then look at the picture of inter river basin transfers without the Brahmaputra-Ganga link. There is little doubt that states in the Gangetic basin are unlikely to agree that they have surplus water. Bihar has always argued that its water needs have not been met from the Ganga system. Punjab has already objected to the interlinking of rivers and had earlier objected to Rajasthan as a non-riparian state being given water from the Indus river system. Thus the entire north Indian component of the river interlinking, which envisages transfer of water from the eastern rivers to the western ones would fall through unless we are able to transfer water from the Brahmaputra. This is not surprising as the only basin that is really surplus of water is the Brahmaputra. need for cost-benefit analysis We have not dealt with ecological and other implications of such large-scale transfer of waters between different river basins. However, there can be no universal position against or in favour of such transfer. Every hydrological system is unique and so are all transfers between them. Unless details are available of the nature and amount of transfers and its costs, a blanket opposition (or support) would neither be scientific nor rational. As natural barriers separate basins, transfers involve either tunnelling through mountains or high lifts, both of which are expensive. However, there are cases where this has been done with beneficial results. The key question here would be the costs of such a scheme against the projected benefits as also the long-term impact on the environment. Before we surrender to the grand vision of interlinking all the rivers in the country, we need therefore a detailed examination of such schemes. Only after a detailed examination identifies potential benefits to be large enough for such investments, should we move forward. Any such move would need agreements between India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan for water sharing, as also between various states in the country. Unless these steps are taken, we will open the country to many more disputes on river water sharing. The best way to ?solve? the Cauvery water dispute is not to bring all states into this dispute. The interlinking of rivers without addressing such issues has the potential to create precisely such a situation: the cure will then become worse than the disease. south asia: sharing the giants Three of the world?s mightiest rivers flow through countries of the Indian subcontinent. Despite strife and war, several landmark agreements have been reached, but fresh disputes are looming Regional cooperation appears difficult to come by in South Asia. There have been four conflicts between India and Pakistan since 1947, clashes on the Indo-Bangladesh border and accusations about India?s overwhelming influence. When the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (saarc) was established in the 1980s to provide a forum for discussion primarily on trade, contentious topics like water resource negotiations were totally excluded from its brief. Yet, South Asia has a commendable record in the realm of water-sharing, developed through a combination of civil society presure, political sagacity and technical co-operation. Countries had one precedent in the field. The Indus Waters treaty, signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, is a landmark as far as water-dispute resolutions go. The dispute can be traced back to the Partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. The Indus river begins in the Himalayan mountains of Kashmir on the Indian side, flows through the arid states of Punjab and Sindh, before converging in Pakistan and joining the Arabian Sea south of Karachi. The source rivers of the Indus basin remained in India, leaving Pakistan concerned by the prospect of Indian control over the main supply of water for its farmlands. The newly formed states could not agree on how to share and manage the cohesive network of irrigation, which was impossible to partition. Brokered by the World Bank, the treaty, which covers the largest irrigated area (26 million acres) of any one river system in the world, has survived two wars and provides an ongoing mechanism for consultation and conflict resolution through inspections, exchange of data and visits. The treaty demonstrates how functional cooperation on both sides is not impossible to achieve, though most other contentious issues remain deadlocked. New breakthroughs were made in the 1990s over water-sharing in the region. In December 1996, recently elected governments in both India and Bangladesh decided to resolve decades of acrimony over the sharing of the waters from the Ganges, one of the most culturally and economically significant rivers on earth. The breakthrough came after years of political stalemate and bitter rhetoric at the public level, alongside quiet work behind the scenes by water specialists, politicians and scholars on both sides at the non-governmental level. The result was the 30-year India-Bangladesh water-sharing agreement, signed in 1996. Bangladesh, being in the downstream and delta portion of a huge watershed, has been most vulnerable to the water quality and quantity that flows from upstream. The way rivers are used in one country can indeed have far-reaching effects on nations downstream. When India built the Farakka Barrage in the 1960s, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan until its independence in 1971), watched helplessly as it wreaked havoc. In the dry season, the barrage blocked the natural flow of water into the country, causing drastic water shortages. And in the rainy season, sudden water releases caused floods and extensive damage, including the loss of property and human lives. Early warning systems The principal objective of the 30-year treaty is to determine the amount of water released by India to Bangladesh at the Farakka Barrage. The water-sharing arrangements, primarily for the dry season, are specified to the last drop and depend on the river?s flow. It aims to make ?optimum utilization? of the waters of the region, and relies on the principles of ?equity, fair play and no harm to either party,? with a clause for the sharing arrangements to be reviewed every five years. Spurred on by the success of this treaty, India resolved yet another riverine dispute, this time with Nepal, in 1997. The Mahakali River treaty settles Nepal?s entitlement to water flows and electricity from the Indian side, improving on a 1992 agreement. The treaty, however, has run into opposition from various Nepali groups, who claim it is still unfair to the country?s interests. Although these various agreements point to steady regional cooperation on water-sharing, another dispute may be looming on the horizon. This time, it centers on the Brahmaputra, the other great river of this region, which flows through Tibet (China), India and Bangladesh over a distance of nearly 3,000 kilometres. Although no dispute has broken into the open, the issue of information sharing has strained relations between the three countries. The problem is that even the most basic data is not disclosed. The results have been tragic. In the summer of 2000, a landslide in Tibet caused a dam to collapse, unleashing a 26-metre wall of water that destroyed every bridge on the Siang, as the Brahmaputra is known in the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh. The water then rushed through the Indian state of Assam and, within a week, devastated parts of Bangladesh. Human casualties were light but damage to property was extensive. An effective early-warning flood system is a goal that all three governments must therefore work towards. Tapping the potential According to Indian officials, the Chinese had not shared any information on the build up of water pressure and the heavy rains in the upstream catchment area of the river, known as the Tsang-po in Tibet. Concern is also being voiced about purported Chinese plans to divert the waters of the Tsang-po with the help of nuclear tunnelling. This appears to be a Chinese move to assess international reaction to the possibility of a dam on the river to tap its huge hydro-energy potential. Cooperation on river waters could significantly improve the lives of millions of people. In the case of the Brahmaputra, it is not so much a question of sharing the waters as of tapping the waterway profitably for mutual benefit, primarily for transport, commerce and industry. One example: through cooperation, Assam?s famed tea could be shipped downstream to Bangladesh and sent to other parts of the world. Oil from the Numaligarh refinery, also in Assam, can be exported in river barges to meet Bangladesh?s energy needs. These simple but effective measures would generate employment and revive the economies of marginalized communities. INDIA?S water disputes A recently completed ten-year collaborative project between institutions in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal on the eastern rivers of the subcontinent has the same generic title. Water is the pre-condition of life that it sustains and nourishes. In the jungle, as in the desert, water holes were sacrosanct in South Asia, and even in today?s cities drinking water is given away to passers-by as an act of merit in summer; only under the stress of ?modernity? and the greed of commerce have these ancient habits been forgotten and water is sold. Were water to become a cause of conflict of the same order as the root causes of conflict in the tradition of my part of the subcontinent there would be no more hope left for us. Disputes over sharing water can be and are being settled at different levels; the unresolved issues tend to be those of availability, equity, and efficiency, which combine with other, often political, factors to create obstacles to resolution of water disputes. Therefore, a combination of technology, resources and, above all, political will among the parties to disputes, should be (and often have been) able to overcome such obstacles. Before glancing at some of India?s water disputes I would like to pose the following five questions:
Why do we hear so much about unresolved disputes and so little
about the
many that have been sorted out under agreements that are
Why is the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 scrupulously upheld by
India and
Pakistan though Pakistan has reneged on almost all other
agreements signed
with India since that date?
Why do the Mahakali Agreement of February 1996 between India and
and the Ganges Water Agreement of December 1996 between India and
remain contentious despite detailed preparations and consensus
signature? And why do India?s water agreements with Bhutan proceed
and to mutual advantage?
Why do some inter-state river water disputes, such as over the
fester while others, including over the Narmada, have been
What does it mean for the future developmental trajectory of
India, if
actual and potential water disputes at the local level where
presses most heavily tend to polarise positions between
rural/urban, agricultural/industrial, and rich/poor? Can we draw
any generalisations at all from the incredibly variegated tapestry
of India?s experience with water in the last 50 years? Four
generalisations I would draw are also supported by what has been
said here
Politics is the determinant of settlement or non-settlement, not
per se.
Delays in making and implementing decisions, and in every case
there have
been inordinate delays, make settlement more difficult and matters
partly because conditions on the ground change. Water management,
therefore, is a matter of good governance-that is itself in short
Water disputes are largely the product of change: territorial
changes as
resulting from Partition, demographic changes from population
changes of usage resulting from increased irrigation or new
industrialisation, changes of demand as for guaranteed access to
water. The process of change being inexorable the number of
disputes is
likely to increase, which is why using all processes of resolution
increasingly important.
Water disputes within India have become interlinked with other
debates at
the domestic and international level, over big dams, ?sustainable
development?, community participation, ?water markets? and the
further complicating the resolution of water disputes.
In short, water issues in South Asia can be examined at every level of analysis-international, inter-state, and local-and from many different disciplines, as here at this conference. The Indian subcontinent is home to nearly 20 per cent of the world?s population but has only four percent of the world?s fresh water flowing through several river basins. The Indus River basin is shared between India and Pakistan. The Ganges River basin with many major tributaries from the north, east and south, accounts for 60 per cent of India?s water resources and is shared with Nepal, the upper riparian state, and Bangladesh, the lower riparian state, but is so central to India?s historical narrative and contemporary self-image that is widely considered to be an "Indian river".

Water Issues in South Asia 8.2 of 10 on the basis of 776 Review.