Abu Bakar Siddique | Dhaka Tribune | May 3, 2015

Nine Indian citizens move an environment court, seeking over Rs3,000 crore in annual compensation for the devastation caused by the barrage

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The Farraka barrage has caused devastation, not only in Bangladesh, but also in India, according to a writ petition filed at the end of last year.

The plight of Bangladeshi farmers, who lived in the basin areas and suffered dislocation by the drying up of the river, is well known.

But in late December 2014, nine Indian citizens – including fishermen and environmentalists – filed a writ petition with the National Green Tribunal of India against different government agencies, claiming annual compensation for the economic and geological damage caused inside India, including that caused by Farakka.

The tribunal heard and accepted the petition on January 16 this year, one of the petitioners told the Dhaka Tribune.

According to the petition, a copy of which is available with the Dhaka Tribune, the applicants are residents of Kakdwip, Kolkata, Uttarakhand, South Malda, Bihar, Murshidabad and Allahabad.

The petition says that, among other authorities, the Farakka barrage project is liable for environmental losses of Rs3,226 crore annually.

This is the first ever litigation of this magnitude on the Farakka barrage issue in either of the two countries.

The petition

The trans-boundary Ganges flows through India and Bangladesh. The 2,525km river rises in the western Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, and flows south and east through the Gangetic Plain of north India into Bangladesh.

The petition says that half a billion people – nearly one-tenth of the world’s population – live in the Ganges River basin and depend on the river directly and indirectly for their livelihood.

The applicants submit that the construction of hydro-engineering structures such as dams, barrages and embankments have greatly hampered the livelihoods of a large number of people including pilgrims, poor people living on the Ganges banks and fishing communities. 

Citing a February 2014 report of the Kolkata-based Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI), the petitioners say the fishing potential of the lower reaches of the river is estimated at almost 200kg per hectare per year, whereas the actual yield is 30kg.

This means that barely 15% of the production potential can now be harvested because the rivers are degraded.

The writ petition also says that dams have become a major impediment in ensuring continuous freshwater flow in rivers. As a result, the habitat requirements of fishes in the rivers for feeding, migration, spawning and growth have been irreparably altered.

The construction of the Farakka barrage in 1975 at the head of the Bhagirathi and Padma tributaries of the Ganges, some 470km from the mouth of the river, has not affected the fishing of Ilish, a popular fish in both Bangladesh and West Bengal, in the tidal stretch of the delta.

However, the barrage has nearly eliminated the riverine fishery upstream in the main stream of the Ganges.

Bangladesh’s woes

Experts on trans-boundary rivers say Bangladesh is caught on the wrong side of an “if” that appears in a bilateral water-sharing treaty.

A key point in the 1996 water-sharing agreement says that “if there is water,” then India and Bangladesh will alternatively receive 35,000 cubic litres of water per second (cusec) over 10-day periods from March 11 and May 10 every year.

However, data from the Joint River Commission (JRC) shows that Bangladesh, a lower riparian country, has often been deprived of the projected volume of water during lean periods.

For example, Bangladesh received the guaranteed volume in 2014, but the flows in 2008, 2009 and 2011 have been less.

Environmental lawyer and activist Syeda Rizwana Hasan said: “If India, an upper riparian of the Ganges, has faced difficulties, then the fate of Bangladesh as the lower riparian of Farakka, is easily understandable.”

Original Article posted in Dhaka Tribune

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