The Indo-Bangla relationship is historic. We are always grateful to India for its help in creating an independent Bangladesh. It would have been impossible for us to win the fight against Pakistani occupation forces if it weren’t for India’s help during our Liberation war.
I was born after many years of independence, but have heard from our freedom fighters and learned from books that the majority of the population in Bangladesh was pro-Indian. However, after almost 45 years since independence, the Indo-Bangla relationship has been through a lot of change. A good percentage of the population in Bangladesh does not see India like the way India was perceived by us in the old days.
Some policies of India have contributed to this shift in our perception of India. And obviously anti-Indian forces used these very policies to create an anti-India sentiment in this Muslim majority country.
The Farakka Barrage is one of those things that trigger anti-Indian sentiments in Bangladesh.
This barrage is a nightmare for the people of Bangladesh. It is affecting our economy, our agriculture, our fish production, our bio-diversity, and our water and land transportation among many other things. The barrage was built to divert 1,100 cubic metres per second of water from the Ganges to the Hoogly River for flushing out the sediment deposition from the Kolkata harbour without the need of regular mechanical dredging. Though it is a fortune for some parts of India, it has been leaving a trail of destruction for Bangladesh.
The recent decision of the Indian government to open all gates of Farakka Barrage due to flood in Assam and Bihar is an example of how the barrage is affecting Bangladesh. Districts adjacent to Padma Rivers are being heavily flooded due to opened gates of Farakka Barrage.
Thousands of people are marooned across the country. It is also reported that the flood protection embankment in Rajshahi has been affected due to rise in water level of Padma River. If the gates of Farakka remain open for some more days, the number of affected people will certainly increase.
People of Bangladesh could have accepted this grave situation, if the Indian government decided to do the same thing during the dry season. But, it does not take opening gates of Farakka Barrage then, and we suffer from scarcity of water in rivers. And as a result, our rivers are dying.
If rivers die, the country will gravely suffer and ultimately die too. Most importantly, the Farakka Barrage is affecting the ecological system of Bangladesh
Bangladeshi newspapers often publish photos where it can be seen that buses or trucks are being run on parts of Padma River that was once tidal. Many water experts believe if this continues, Bangladesh will soon turn into a desert area. This is not true only in case of Padma river, but the flow of water falls drastically in major rivers in Bangladesh.
Many fishermen have told me that they do not get the same volume of fish that they used to get a decade ago.
Bangladesh is not the lone sufferer. Farakka Barrage also affects Bihar and some other parts of India. Many experts blame the Farakka Barrage for flood-like situations in most parts of Bihar this year; and we have also observed the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar demanding removal of Farakka Barrage.
Nitish reportedly said: “The current flood-like situation in 12 districts including Patna has been a result of silt being deposited in Ganga, due to construction of Farakka dam in West Bengal. The only way to remove silt from the river is to remove the Farakka dam.”
Rivers are everything for a riverine country like Bangladesh. If rivers die, the country will gravely suffer and ultimately die too. Most importantly, the Farakka Barrage is affecting the ecological system of Bangladesh -- many experts fear that the negative impact of Farakka Barrage will be more severe in the coming years.
India is undoubtedly a big power in South Asia. It has full control in many ways. And it has no visible competitor in the near future. As a big country, it must acknowledge the hurdles faced by its neighbouring small nations.
India’s relationship with Bangladesh has been time tested. The big power should not allow the anti-Indian elements to take advantage of this situation using the issue of Farakka Barrage. As Bihar’s chief minister demands the removal of the Farakka Barrage, we do too -- and now it is high time for India to seriously consider our demands for the sake of a peaceful South Asia.
Mushfique Wadud is a journalist currently working in the development field.