Bangladesh shares 54 rivers with India. Any unilateral action by India on any of its international rivers will degrade its relations with its neighbours while also adversely affecting its ecology, economy and society. Bangladesh being a riverine and a lower riparian country remains sensitive to matters of water, whether inland or maritime.
The author has looked at issues of water between the two countries, particularly Teesta and Tipaimukh and attempted to see where the relationship is heading. The article examines the Indian Supreme Court verdict and has tried to see to what extent Bangladesh needs to be worried about. What is worrisome for Bangladesh, is not the internal displacement of people within India but the displacement of its own people as a result of the ecological imbalance that is bound to result from the construction of storage reservoirs and the linking of the Himalayan rivers.
In this context, India needs to be mindful of the fact that any displacement of people within Bangladesh has the potential of creating newer conflicts between Bangladesh and India, as well as that some of them could end up as environmental refugees across the border! Apart from Bangladesh, India will also have to consider the international impact of this river linking project on Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. As it is, India and Pakistan have seen many points of conflict over the existing river sharing pacts.
The author also discusses rivers’ rights. If the verdict of the Indian Court has ignored one thing completely and thoroughly, it is the right of the rivers, something to which Ashis Nandy, Ajaya Dixit and the author have jointly adhered to and advocated some 15 years back: Right of the rivers must be codified and guaranteed by the state and the people.
Such “rights” have already been codified for oceans and seas. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it is now the “general duty” of all coastal states to protect and preserve the resources and the riches of the oceans and seas, not simply for the consumption of future generations but for the reproduction of human life itself. River rights can be enacted with similar goals in mind.
The verdict according to the author otherwise is bereft of imagination, which, however, is required not only when it comes to managing the environment for future generations but also in channelising newer relationship between India and its riverine neighbours. Any extension of the river linking project beyond the peninsular rivers is bound to destroy whatever “goodwill” India has achieved so far. Neither India nor its neighbours can afford such a watering of conflicts.
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