BEN welcomes the demand by Indian political leaders and river experts to demolish the Farakka barrage. Among the politicians, Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Bihar, has been making this demand for quite some time now. Recently, he has raised this demand formally with the Indian central government.
Many prominent Indian river experts have now joined Nitish Kumar in demanding the demolition of Farakka. Among them is the Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh, also known as Waterman, who in the international seminar on "Incessant Ganga" organized by Bihar's water resources department in Patna in February, 2017, said, "Farakka is inauspicious (ashubh) for Bihar. It is a curse (abhishap) which needs to be removed. Because unless and until we remove it, we cannot move forward” (The Hindu, February 27, 2017).
In the same seminar, Himagshu Thakkar, the coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, River and People, New Delhi, urged for urgent review of the Farakka barrage, which, in his view, had failed to fulfill any of the purpose — irrigation, hydro-electric power, water supply — of the barrage for which it was built (The Hindu, February 27, 2017).
Of course, the Indian politicians and river experts are demanding demolition of Farakka not because of concerns for Bangladesh. They are motivated primarily by the damage it has done and is doing to India itself. In particular, Farakka has led to sedimentation of the riverbed, causing extensive flooding and riverbank erosion in BIhar.
Be that as may, BEN welcomes the current recognition by Indian politicians and experts that Farakka has failed to deliver on its professed goals (such as desiltation of the Kolkata port) and instead has become a major problem for India itself.
Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN), Bangladesh Poribesh ANdolon (BAPA) and many other organizations in Bangladesh have been calling for demolition of Farakka barrage for a long time now. In recent years, they made this demand very forcefully in presence of top Indian water experts and policymakers during the International Conference on Regional Cooperation on Transboundary Rivers (ICRCTR) held in Dhaka on 2004. Experience has vindicated their position, and it is now beyond doubt that Farakka is a menace to both the downstream country of Bangladesh and India itself.
BEN thinks that the government of Bangladesh should also raise formally with the Indian government the demand for demolition of Farakka, as well as Gajoldoba and other such river intervening and diversionary structures.
In this regard, BEN again urges the Bangladesh government to sign and ratify immediately the 1997 UN Convention on Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, which can provide a legal basis for Bangladesh's demand, because this Convention upholds the lower riparian countries' right to historical and customary use of the river flows and prohibits upper riparian countries from construction of river intervening structures without the consent of lower riparian countries.
BEN also urges Bangladesh government to take lessons from the Farakka experience in deciding about the proposed Ganges barrage to be built inside Bangladesh. Like Farakka, this barrage, if built, will also cause upstream riverbed aggradation leading to increased flooding and riverbank erosion. There is no doubt that flows of the rivers of southeast Bangladesh need to be increased. The true solution of this problem however lies in demolition of Farakkka and other diversionary barrages, so that the full natural flow of the Ganges can be restored. This will in turn restore the flows of the rivers of the southeast Bangladesh.
BEN hopes that the government of Bangladesh will take note of the changed context, take the principled position of Open approach to rivers, sign the 1997 UN convention, and ask the Indian government to remove the Farakka and other river diversionary barrages without further delay.