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Farakka -22Although India and Bangladesh share 57 trans-boundary rivers, the Ganges Treaty signed in 1996 is the only water sharing treaty between these two neighbouring countries. Proper implementation of the treaty is important for both Bangladesh and India. Water-flow and sediments carried by the Ganges River are essential for economic activities for more than 40 million people living in the southwestern coastal region in Bangladesh, and for environmental functioning of the Bengal delta, including the survival of the Sunderbans – a World Heritage site. The Ganges’s watershed encompasses Nepal, India and Bangladesh. From an integrated water resources management perspective, all stakeholders in co-riparian countries need to make plan for optimal uses of water resources while safeguarding the environment and ecosystems that the rivers support. However, watershed-scale planning and management schemes do not exist for any shared river in South Asia.


The Joint River Commission (JRC) is charged with implementation of the treaty and evaluation of the success and failure of the treaty every five years. As per the initial agreement, the treaty is subject to critical review every five years by the JRC based on field observations. It has been 15 years since two countries signed the treaty, but no review of the success and failure has been carried out by the JRC. If no further review is made then the agreement should remain unchanged until 2026. After the expiration of the treaty, its renewal will depend on mutual agreement between the two countries.

Since its inception during the lean season in 1996-97, the news media in Bangladesh has been reporting on the success and failure of the treaty as it pertains to the interest of Bangladesh. As per the print and electronic news media, Bangladesh did not receive its fair share of water during 12 of the last 15 years. However, in most cases, the media reports are not based on the actual data and critical analysis of the existing condition of the treaty. The proper implementation of the treaty has a bearing on Bangladesh-India bilateral relationship. Therefore, it is important that the success and failure of the treaty is evaluated based on field data.


Before going into the main discussion, let’s have a look at the existing water-sharing equation of the Ganges Treaty. The agreement remains active from January 1 to May 31 each year, and water sharing calculations are based on 10-day average flow. As per the treaty:

  • If the flow is greater than 75,000 cusec (cubic feet per second) at Farakka Barrage, then India will receive 40,000 cusec, and the remaining will be allocated for Bangladesh.
  • If the flow ranges between 70,000 and 75,000 cusec, the Bangladesh will receive 35,000 cusec and the remaining will be allocated for India
  • If the flow is less than 70,000 cusec, the share between Bangladesh and India will be at the rate of 50:50. However, India and Bangladesh each shall receive a guaranteed 35,000 cusecs of water in alternative three 10-day periods during the period March 1 to May 10.

It should be noted that, the water-sharing equation has been formulated based on the availability of the historic average flow of 10-day period during the past 40 years, spanning from 1949 to 1988 at Farakka Barrage (Annexure II of the Ganges Treaty).


We have used the last four years of flow data (2008-11) of Ganges both at Farakka Barrage in West Bengal and at Hardinge Bridge in Bangladesh that are available on the official website of JRC (http://www.jrcb.gov.bd/press_release.html). The Ganges Treaty is operational between January 1 and May 31 each year, and each lean season is divided into 15 time-intervals with 10-day in each interval.  In analyzing the flow data, we paid particular attention to the following two points:

a)     During how many of the 15 intervals Bangladesh received her fair share of the Ganges water as per the treaty.

b)    During how many of the 15 intervals Bangladesh received the right share of water as per the historical average flow as included in the treaty.

Bangladesh’s share of the Ganges has been verified at Hardinge Bridge. Hardinge Bridge  is located downstream of the Farakka Barrage, and there is no distributary channel between Farakka Barrage and Hardinge Bridge that diverts water from the main stem of the Ganges River.  A tributary named Mahanada channel is located between Farakka Barrage and Hardinge Bridge that augments the flow of Ganges River, which means that the amount of water measured at Hardinge Bridge should be more than the amount released at Farakka Barrage.  Also, the amount of water that India is allowed to withdraw between Farakka Barrage and India-Bangladesh Border is limited to 200 cusec (Article 3). Consequently, we assumed that the flow of the Ganges River must be greater at Hardinge Bridge as compared to the amount released at Farakka Barrage. The historical average flow recoded at Hardinge Bridge also supports this assumption.


The analysis of flow-data revealed that, in 2008, 2009 and 2011 Bangladesh received the right share of the Ganges water during 12 out of 15 intervals. In other words, during those three years, 20% of the times Bangladesh received less water at Hardinge Bridge than is prescribed in the treaty.  In 2010, the situation was worse, as Bangladesh received the fair share during 9 out of 15 intervals, indicating a clear violation of the treaty for 40% of the time.  Based on the analysis of the flow-data, we concluded that, on average, 25% of the time during the last 4 years, Bangladesh received less water at Hardinge Bridge than was presumably released at Farakka Barrage to enter Bangladesh.

While considering the data for historical average flow for the years 2008 and 2009, only during 2 out of 15 intervals the flow at Hardinge Bridge reached the historical average flow as recorded in the Annexure II of the treaty. In 2010, during none of the 15 intervals the measured flow reached the amount that was equal or exceeded the historical average flow for the respective time intervals; and in 2011, during 5 out of 15 intervals Bangladesh received the right share of water that was comparable to the historical average flow.  The analysis of flow data revealed that during the years 2008-11, 85% of the times, the flow at Farakka Barrage was below the respective historic average flow that was recoded for the period of 1948-88. The analysis of flow-data indicates that the lean season’s flow during the last four years (2008-11) has declined substantially declined when compared to the respective historic average flow at Farakka Barrage, which can be considered to be a violation of the treaty on the part of India, as the amount of water allocated in the treaty was based on the historic average flow during lean seasons.


The Ganges Treaty can serve as harbinger of water sharing among all co-riparian countries within the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin.  Proper implementation of the Ganges Treaty is important for bilateral relationship between India and Bangladesh.  The economic wellbeing and environmental functioning of riverine ecosystems both in Bangladesh and India depend on proper implementation of the treaty.   Currently, the treaty is not being implemented fully as was originally intended.  Despite of the treaty in action, 25% of the time during the last 4 years Bangladesh received less water at Hardinge Bridge than was presumably released at Farakka Barrage to enter Bangladesh.

The basis of the Ganges treaty is the historic average-flow in the Ganges River at Farakka Barrage.  However, since the implementation of the Ganges Treaty in 1996, the amount of water-flow at Farakka Barrage hardy ever reached the historic average flow.  Part of the reason can be attributed to upstream diversion of water from various tributaries of the Ganges River before they reach at Farakka Barrage.  It is expected that India will identify the factors that act as hindrance to proper implementation of the Ganges Treaty, and will take initiatives to formulate an integrated water resources management plan that protects the interests of all stakeholders and the ecosystems that are supported by all shared rivers in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin.

Zahidul Islam is a PhD Candidate at Water Resources Engineering, University of Alberta, Canada and Md. Khalequzzaman is a Professor of Geology at Lock Haven University, USA.

10 Responses to “Ganges water treaty: Dead or just dying?”

  1. Andaleeb

    This is a very informative write-up but will it eventually help bring any fruit whatsoever? Will India ever pay heed to our legitimate demand? I have my doubts.

    • Md. Khalequzzaman

      Dear Andaleeb,

      Thanks for your generous words about our piece. How India will react to our arguments is not in our hands. All we can do is portray the real picture that is based on logical arguments and science-based analysis. India’s response will also depend on the preparedness of Bangladesh team, and we hope that our government and negotiating team will be equipped with data and analyses. It to that end that academicians like us should continue making the arguments based on field-based observation and objective analysis of data. We would like to believe that Indian people will see that we are not asking for any favor from them; all we are asking for is a fair, equitable, and legitimate share of our water resources. The truth and science are on our side, our government need to make a good use of these resources in negotiating with India and other riparian nations.

  2. Ali

    Thanks for the write-up on this issue. But like the over-squeezed piece of lemon, it has LOST its charm, knowing well enough that we shall NEVER ever get our due share and the issue will collapse to the muscle of upper riparian country, India. The lime juice that we now are likely to get is already bitter!

    Being in such an advantageous position, India can show some ‘respect’ to the needs of Bangladesh and work things out in a justifiable way, so as not to deprive us of our rightful claims and needs. But they are never ever ready to show that understanding.
    So, it is a futile exercise to know whether such (or ANY) treaty/ies are dead or dying. That we are still shown on the political map, is enough.

    • Md. Khalequzzaman

      Dear Ali,

      I can fully understand your frustration; however, we can’t stop making our arguments that are based on data and science-based study. There is a common adage in Bangla that “even mother does not provide milk to her child until (s)he cries (না কাঁদলে মা ও দুধ দেয় না।” We need to be prepared with logical arguments and field-based data. India also needs Bangladesh on her side as it will not be to their interest to have an unfriendly neighbor and a huge market to their disposal. It is partly up to our government to make our arguments in clear terms. We are not asking for anyone’s favor. We are asking for our legitimate right, and eventually India will have to come to terms with us. We are not an insignificant country. We need to demand in unison. Let’s not give up so easily. We paid a huge price for our independence and we can’t let it wither.

      • Ali

        Dear Prof. Khalequzzaman,
        Thanks for taking note of my frustration at India not paying heed and taking legitimate action on our ‘claims’ and needs, although they are definitely based on realistic and science based data.
        Well, as you have said, our case remains to be put forward MORE LOGICALLY and our point of view highlighted based on scientific data, by our real experts, and not politicians.
        As for Tipaimukh dam, our people (non-experts) simply make futile visits when they are not allowed to alight for on-site inspection. It has happened more than once! We have been toyed around with. Definitely sounding harsh, but true.
        However, yes we do need to persist with our genuine claims, even go to to ICJ bench on water resources. (If we can conquer the ocean, why can’t we also do same in the river front?).
        Our water resources ministry needs to be pro-active, sincere and argue on the basis of FACTS alone.
        Your suggestions and arguments and the resolve is appreciated; and we must have a fact-based, confident approach to get positive results.
        We do need experts like so many of you abroad to put forward our case on the basis of FACTS. How do Europe share so many rivers? Because there is the respect for live and let live policy.
        Please mobilise and carry on with your genuine efforts in this area of survival for Bangladesh.

    • Optimist

      The trust that had been on our greatest friend has already been LOST!
      But they behave differently with others who are not weak.
      Yet, we do look forward to good days and the self-realisation to have an upper hand rather than using the hegemonic policies towards BD.

      • Md. Khalequzzaman

        Hello Optimist,

        We don’t have any other option than being persistent and optimistic about the future. Thanks for reading the piece.

  3. Syed M.Hussain

    Dear Prof. Zaman and Mr. Islam,
    I find your article most interesting and informative. I have also been dealing with the Ganges, other major, trans-border rivers and the sharing of waters themes from a broader angle including the essential responsibility of ours to take up all the relevant issues with India.
    We have wilted from the impact of not only the physical size of India but more from their better knowledge, better grasp and much superior preparation and presentation. We always went by their diktat and we have never been able to call the shots despite ours being a hugely acceptable case.

    Several of my recent write-ups have been posted on bdnews24.com/blog/en, the last ones relates to Tipaimukh. A fuller version appears in today’s(12/06/12) The Financial Express online and in print version on OP-ED page. I shall be happy if you access these and if you have the time let me have some helpful feedback.

    I suggest to you both with enormous research and analytical experience to build up a BRIEF on our Strategies for Negotiations. This would not only have the supportive background analysis that your article sums up in relation to the Ganges, but also make strongly our case for the other common rivers in quest of our co- and lower riparian rights to equitable, fair and historically validated shares of the international flows.

    Perhaps such a paper would enable our authorities to gather enough steam to be effective in their efforts to obtain far better deals than they have done before.

    Look forward to seeing more contributions from you.

    Very best wishes

    Syed Muhammad Hussain
    Bangladesh Ambassador (Rtd.)
    e-mail: syedmhussain@yahoo.com
    12/06/12, London

    • Md. Khalequzzaman

      Honorable Ambassador Syed M. Hussain,

      I have read both of your opinion pieces on Tipaimukh Dam issue, and agree with most of what you have said. On behalf of both of us, I want to express our gratitude for your kind words about our piece. I agree that when it comes to negotiating with India, Bangladeshi negotiating team may not always be as prepared as their counterpart. However, I think most of these negotiations depend not only on scientific data, but also on political atmosphere. Our argument should be very clear. We want equitable and fair share of water/sediment resources. We are not asking for anyone’s favor, we are asking for our legitimate share. Unfortunately, as you have pointed it out, our negotiating team sometimes put their personal interest and goodwill relationship with their counterpart and let the country’s interest down. We will have to keep making the logical argument and I am sure that some day the truth will prevail. In your own words, if the good keeps quite then the evil will rise.”

      • Albelee Haque, CLP

        Heartfelt thanks to Dr. Zahid and Prof. Dr. Khalequzzaman for a timely article and also to honorable Ambassador of Bangladesh for his response. I humbly disagree with honorable Ambassador Syed Hussain about India’s having the “better knowledge” (despite the bigger geographic size of India versus small size of Bangladesh) or “better grasp” (hopefully there’s no superiority complex involved here that can definitely distort the process of science-based discussions/debates for the best-interest of both parties and in fact the future economic/geo-political stability of the entire south Asia. For example, there will be dire consequences because of India’s foolhardy Tipaimukh dam proposal/construction in a seismic zone depriving the Bengal delta from both environmental flow and natural sediment flow requirements (essential for delta formation; Ref. Cole’s Limnology book). Hopefully both Indian and Bangladeshi government officials and NGOs would consider my 20+ years professional and academic expertise in Water & Environment sector, and be kind enough perhaps just to take a deeper look at a 2012 new e-book (I am a new author and currently a doctoral student in Education, Math/Science option)with a foreword by AUST VC and Prof. Dr. AMM Safiullah (formerly BUET).

        title of my e-book: Science Literacy and Innovative Alternatives (Addendum section in the back of 206-page book has relevant Bengali articles from the Prothom Alo with comments from Dr. Ainun Nishat untranslated).

        The e-book has used the case of Tipaimukh dam as an example of how some old-paradigm engineers/scientists can miserably fail to take full advantage of societal consciuosness, by ignoring public views/comments, and by NOT taking the perspectives of scientifically literate people seriously into govt. decision-making (this does not happen as much in the state of Massachusetts, which fosters a better and democratic society in my personal and honest opinion).

        Just to be precise, I was at the 2012 UMass Amherst National Conf. on Engineering and Eco-hydrology for Fish Passage to give a presentation (June 5-7) based on my aforementioned e-book (soon to be published in Dhaka by UPL, very likely). If anyone interested can get a paperback copy from the University Publishers Ltd. in Dhaka in a month or two (or by emailing now a former Bangladesh diplomat AMSA Amin at amsaamin@yahoo.com for a free e-copy) -please see ~p. 202 of the e-book for an interesting Youtube link on a 1938 dam removed by NOAA and NJDEP in the US northeast (v. illuminating about the science-based/current trend in water resources and fisheries resources management globally not just in Delhi or Dhaka ).

        Calco dam removal, Raritan bay/NJ estuary

        here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuoc5c32v5E

        Courtesy: John Jengo, Professional Geologist and presenter at **UMass Amherst 2012 National Conference on Engineering and Eco-hydrology for Fish passage (an emerging field in the western countries in science/technology and engineering)…..

        **Fish Passage 2012 had 342 registrants (29 came from outside the U.S.) representing a total of 8 nations.

        Source: Kevin Mulligan, Research Assistant, Fish Passage – Water Res. Engineeing.

        Albelee Haque, CLP
        Ed.D. Candidate – UMass Lowell
        Graduate School of Education
        Subscribe to the MassDEP e-newsletter: mass.gov/dep/public/publications/enews.htm

        Follow MassDEP on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MassDEP

        web site: mass.gov/dep

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