India has planned to start working on five major projects to connect its rivers, raising concern here that any human intervention in the course of trans-boundary rivers will change the ecosystem and push Bangladesh into an acute water crisis.
“I have decided to start five big river connectivity projects costing Rs 50,000 crore within three months,” said Indian Union Minister Nitin Gadkari recently as quoted by Financial Express.
In the recent cabinet reshuffle, Gadkari, who holds the transport portfolio, was given additional charge of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
“The project of river connectivity was always close to my heart and I used to discuss it with Vajpayeeji [former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee]. There are different situations in India -- while some people are affected by the floods, at the same time, at another place people walk eight kilometers to fetch water.
“The project to take water from Ganga to Kaveri was deliberated about in the country.”
Gadkari also said the work on the development of inland waterways in the Ganga and the Brahmaputra rivers was going on.
“It will be completed by 2018 with 40 river ports…We are working on inland waterways running across 20,000 kilometres.”
While Gadkari expressed how far he wanted to go to address India's water situation, his projects worried the Bangladesh government.
The country conveyed its concern though the foreign ministry that the proposed river connectivity in India would put the river ecology in peril and cause a water crisis here.
Bangladeshi environmentalists condemned the initiative, saying this would create a desert like situation in Bangladesh.
India cannot do something like that for the common waterways without a joint impact assessment together with the downstream country Bangladesh, they said.
“I strongly condemn such derogatory and brutal thought that ignores millions of farmers here along with the Sundarbans,” said Sharif Jamil, joint secretary general of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa).
The withdrawal of water from the Ganges basin will create an acute water crisis in the Padma, and the Sundarbans will be the worst victim due to salinity, he said. If water is withdrawn from the Brahmaputra, Bangladesh will face a dire situation.
“Bangladesh needs more water in the Ganges basin but this proposed dam will sharply decrease the flow of water in the Padma,” Sharif said, adding that the government should take steps immediately to address the concern.
Zafar Ahmed Khan, senior secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, told The Daily Star that Bangladesh had already communicated the matter to the Indian government.
“The Ganges and Brahmaputra are trans-boundary rivers and so any sort of intervention [in their flow] will trouble Bangladesh as we are lower riparian country.”
There will be water crisis in Bangladesh if the proposed projects are implemented, Zafar said.
“River should be nurtured as river and one thing we have to keep in mind that no one is bigger scientist than nature,” he added.