Vol. 4 Num 125 Sun. September 28, 2003  
Front Page

Water minister flies to Delhi today to talk river project
Meet with Vajpayee likely

Bangladesh's Water Resources Minister Hafizuddin Ahmed, who arrives here today for the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) meeting beginning on Monday, has sought an appointment with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to voice Dhaka's concern over India's plan of inter-linking major rivers.

The Bangladesh side has requested the meeting as a courtesy call, but is likely to utilise the opportunity of putting forth its views on the river inter-linking proposal, diplomatic sources said.

Hafizuddin, who will be leading an 11-member delegation to the two-day meeting of the JRC, will have one-to-one talks with his Indian counterpart Arjun Charan Sethi tomorrow. He will also meet West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya at Kolkata on October 3 to take up the issue of river inter-linking, the sources said.

But before the meeting with Bhattacharya, Hafizuddin, accompanied by Indian and Bangladeshi officials, will visit the Farakka barrage site and joint observation sites on the Ganges on October 1 and 2.

New Delhi has sought to assure that there is no need for Dhaka to jump to any conclusion and be apprehensive about the inter-linking of rivers, as the entire project is still at a conceptual stage.

India will also convey to the Bangladesh delegation that as and when the project is implemented, it will be done keeping in mind its international dimensions.

India is also understood to have made it clear to Bangladesh that the inter-linking project, that is estimated to cost Indian rupees 5,600 billion, does not include diversion of Ganges water and if water is diverted from some tributaries of the Brahmaputra, it will help both the countries in controlling the annual problem of flood.

The Bangladesh team at the 35th meeting of the JRC will have, besides the minister, water resources secretary, director general of Bangladesh Water Development Board, Bangladesh high commissioner to India and other senior officials of water resources and foreign ministries.

Arjun Charan Sethi, Indian water resources minister, will lead the Indian side which will also include the secretary and additional secretary of the ministry, chairman of the Central Water Commission, officials of the external affairs and water resources ministries and officials from West Bengal, Assam and Tripura states.

The agenda for the JRC meeting will be discussed in the first session on September 29.

Some water donor states in the inter-linking of rivers project have reservations about the surpluses worked out in various river basins. They feel that existing water tribunal awards will be disturbed, and thus no water can be taken out of the basin.

These states also argue that requirement of power to lift water as proposed in the inter-linking scheme may not be fulfilled and it may have adverse effects on existing irrigation and power generation.

Moreover, acquisition of land for the long and wide link canals connecting major rivers may create serious problems.

Since basin states expressed divergent views about the project, the Indian government set up a task force headed by former power minister Suresh Prabhu, to forge a consensus.

The pre-feasibility studies carried out by the National Water Development Authority (NWDA) for the project have taken into account the existing, under-construction, and proposed dams on the common river systems in Nepal, Bhutan and India. Preliminary studies have been carried out by the respective countries in this respect.

The links proposed on the Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems with international dimensions include Manas-Sankosh, Teesta-Ganges and Gandak-Ganges.

The Indian government has told the Supreme Court that the inter-linking project would be complete by the year 2016. The plan was placed before the court by Attorney General Soli Sorabjee in December last year.