Indian minister's 'assurance' on river linking projects
Indian water resources minister Pawan Kumar Bansal's reported assurance through a press conference in New Delhi that neighbours need not worry over river linking projects, earlier given a go-ahead by the Indian Supreme Court, is rhetorical rather than substantive. He has merely said that those have been 'backburnered' and therefore the co-riparian country's apprehensions are 'misplaced'. We hope these are, but given the realities on the ground, Bangladesh cannot feel relieved, let alone reassured on the issue vital to its national interest.
The minister elaborated his point adding it is 'a long-drawn process' involving sorting out of issues concerning environment, forests and the like, apart from preparing memorandums of understanding and development project reports. The statement is at best equivocal and at worst exclusionary.
However nuanced the words used by the minister may be, the palpable fact is that pushing a project on to the backburner is not the same thing as categorical retraction from an earlier stance nor is it indicative per se of an inclusive approach to a co-riparian country. India has every right to develop its own river water resources, but not certainly at expense of the co-riparian and in Bangladesh's case it is a life and death issue of a lower riparian country. What is at issue is the sharing of common river waters which are also international rivers by definition. The natural and historical flows of common rivers can only be interfered with to the ecological and environmental peril of the lower riparian country in particular.
Following recent media repots about the survey of the Brahmaputra as part of the Indian project and other reported studies fresh concerns have been raised in Bangladesh over the ongoing Indian process centered around river interlinking projects. Experts here point to a lack of transparency in the overall Indian approach. Bangladesh feels being kept in the dark about the planning and operational details of the massive interlinking project.
In this context, we suggest that India take four steps in a spirit of good neighbourliness reciprocating Bangladesh's recent positive gestures to New Delhi. To our mind, India needs to issue a detailed clarification on the river interlinking projects; involve co-riparian countries in surveys and studies undertaken on common river water resources and take into serious account Bangladesh's impact assessments as a co-riparian. Above all, New Delhi should embrace and work on basin-wise management of cross-border rivers, an agenda embodied in the joint communiqué signed between Indian and Bangladesh prime ministers, during the latter's New Delhi visit in 2010.