International water expert, the late B M Abbas A.T will no doubt have turned in his grave had he been around to hear Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar suggesting that the Farakka Barrage be decommissioned. Abbas had opposed the dam throughout with all the facts and figures available in those days. No one listened. It didn't matter. India had its way. The best that could be done was the negotiated agreement of guaranteed water, especially during the mean period.
Forty-six years later it would seem the dam isn't serving the goals it was designed for; Kolkata port is the silt reservoir it was , mainly due to the tonnes of garbage allowed to be released into the Ganges; and the flood situation, according to Mr. Kumar has worsened. Therefore, his appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for decommissioning.
Fast-forward to today and we have the usual disagreements amongst the experts. Dr. Ainun Nishat is quoted in the media as saying Bangladesh is getting its fair share of waters and that Bihar's floods had little to do with Farakka. Others, including Mr. Anu Mohammad disagree. In al, these years, floods and water shortage has been inextricably linked with the Farakka dam and as Mr. Mohammad points out, a study on the irreversible damage to the fertility in Northern Bangladesh really needs to be undertaken to assess the impact that had been forecast but never believed.
Water sharing of common rivers is one of the outstanding issues between Bangladesh and India. For all its protests, Bangladesh' worries over the proposed Teesta dam have not been truly listened to by its neighbours, even though there was Prime Ministerial assurances of 'not doing anything that would harm' this country. Ms Mamata Banerjee continues to stick to her stand on not agreeing in any such sharing, a stand that caused her not to be part of Mr. Modi's visit entourage. Instead, unfortunately, that has been added to the list of negotiable instruments in Ms. Banerjee's list of umbrage with the centre.
After all, water sharing isn't an Indian strong point in the unending battle between centre and the states. The famous tiff between the centre and Haryana over water sharing to generate the electricity requirements for Delhi is essentially unresolved. That's where nationalistic agenda can't be forced. Of greater concern has been the cold shouldering of Bangladesh's proposal of building a dam to counter the effect of Farakka, again vehemently opposed by Ms Banerjee.
In all probability, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's much delayed visit to India will now take place in April. It will require her diplomatic skills to impress on a India that the Bangabandhu Bridge over the Padma, envisioned by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman crosses more shoals than water even as it improves connectivity with the relatively lesser developed northern region. The essence of the once famous fertile region is its agriculture that Bangladesh sorely needs for multiple cropping. Without natural river water, life will dry up and if this is the precursor to common river water sharing, we are staring at an ecological disaster.