India has been denying Bangladesh the right to the water of shared rivers, said Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, yesterday.
“The interesting question is that a day before 1947, the lower riparian was part of the British empire and had claim under the same law. But the conclusion passed by India [recently] denied that right to the lower riparian and appropriated an international river as its own river,” said Mashiur at the inaugural session of a two-day international conference on rethinking development in South Asia at Chattogram University.
Social Science Research Institute of the university organised the event in association with the Manusher Jonno Foundation. Scholars, academics, and development practitioners from around a dozen countries attended the event.
He said a 1919 act and a 1935 act recognised the right of the states and provinces in British India to trans-state rivers. A commission was formed during the British rule to solve the water-sharing dispute between Punjab and Sindh. But they could not resolve the dispute in years and the partition of the subcontinent happened.
Mashiur said India has recently abolished the provision for forming separate commission for solving water-sharing issues and set up one commission. India picked provisions of the 1935 act and it provided more rights to the federative states.
“If India accepts the right to water as a universal human right then you have a different perspective in law and politics.”
And if that happens there would be negotiations and renegotiations on how the water would be shared among the states in which the rivers flow, he said.
He said Pakistan and part of Northern India were irrigated by water from Indus basin and most of the canals were in Indian territories. But the two countries had the Indus basin water sharing agreement in 1950 when tension between the two countries were at the peak.
This agreement restored the pre-1947 rights to water, he commented.
Mashiur said Bangladesh and India shared 54 rivers and two – the Ganges and the Brahmaputra – are major rivers. Bangladesh has water sharing agreement with only one – the Ganges.
The adviser also criticised India for not allowing Bangladesh build a barrage to preserve water and use the water when needed. “ … the issue has been pending for quite some time,” he said.
He said India recognises the right of lower riparian's within India, but beyond India they ignore the fact that other lower riparian states could have claim.
A commission set up to resolve disputes between states that share the Godagari and the Kaberi rivers gave a decision that if the upper riparian states affected the lives of the lower riparian people, the upper riparian states need to repair and restore the normal flow of water.
“That, in principle, recognises the right of people along the banks to the river water on which their lives depend. If India accepts it as universal right, that should extend beyond the boundary of the nation,” said Mashiur.
He also talked about engagement of Bhutan and Nepal to boost cooperation in the management of shared rivers.
Mashiur said Nepal, Bhutan, and North East India have huge potential to generate hydropower. Bangladesh is importing electricity from India and has plans to import more.
“As hydropower is cheaper and clean, Bangladesh signed agreements with Bhutan and Nepal for investment there. India is also a party but it hasn't signed the memorandum for implementation of this project,” he lamented.