Bitter realities

Bitter realities

Every war has its casualties but mostly those who die and suffer have little or no say in the matters. Decisions that change the face of earth are not made in the battlefield but behind protected walls. History has also witnessed that the worst of atrocities ever imaginable to human mind are often committed in wars, where man has demonstrated the extreme lengths to which he can go when it comes to cruelty. But there are always those side by side the innocent victims who benefit from these wars.

Every war is orchestrated for a larger but hardly conspicuous game of interests. The 1971 secession of East/West Pakistan is also an example of such a surreptitious underplay by the Indian government. Where both Bangladesh and Pakistan has numerously accused each other of committing crimes against humanity, there is hardly any mention of the benefits that India is still capitalising as a result of the secession.

Where it is true that inciting the "who was actually responsible for the secession debate" is nothing short of waking up a sleeping dragon, the Bengalis have been portrayed as nothing but victims whereas the evidence suggests otherwise. It is also no secret that the political turmoil of East Pakistan was exploited by India to further its own ulterior motives. Had it not been for Indian propaganda, the political tension might not have sprung so violently in the form of civil war in 1971. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh have paid dearly for the 1971 fall, but there is only one player that has benefited -- India.

It has been argued by political analysts that the separation of erstwhile East Pakistan would have been impossible without the instigation of "Operation Jackpot" by Indian army. Operation Jackpot was the code assigned to the secret operation of Indian army to assist and support the Mukti Bahini group. This operation was aimed to achieve the diversion of Gages River through Farakka Barrage which had already been completed by 1968; three years before the separation. But the Farakka barrage was not operational at that time because the diversion was not sanctioned by the Pakistani government of that time.

It is worth mentioning here that the Bengalis fought for their freedom in 1971 but they also fought for Indian interests whether inadvertently or not. And there are callous truths to support this claim.

In 1963, India used to export just 2.34 thousand tons of rice whereas erstwhile East Pakistan’s exports of rice amounted to 430 thousand tons. Erstwhile East Pakistan’s jute exports at that time were around 1043 thousand tons while India imported 29 thousand tons of jute that same year from Pakistan. However, the picture after 38 years has totally changed. Now, Indian exports of rice and jute are around 2777 million dollars and 250 dollars respectively.

Pakistan saw a booming economic growth in the 1960s, a fact which India could never tolerate let alone accept. India had prompted many plans to divert the water of Ganges River to West Bengal to irrigate the jute crops in the 60s. Jute is also called the ‘golden fiber’ in the subcontinent both because of its golden brown colour and its extensive utilisation in making sacks, handicrafts, bags, furnishing, and carpets amongst other profitable products.

Farakka barrage is one of the largest barrages in the world but the detrimental impact of the diversion is also the worst example of tempering with environment.

Due to its jute exports, India has been able to tremendously increase its trade in the international market. Jute has been the ladder through which India has gained a strong foothold in the world market. And, this has been possible only due to the diverted water of the Ganges River. India is now second in world’s top exporters of rice and tops the list in jute exports. India now supplies more than half of world’s raw jute and 40 per cent of the processed jute products. Jute cultivation has provided livelihood for forty million farmers and 0.2 million industry workers in India. There are around 73 mills in Indian, 59 out of which are located in West Bengal -- the largest jute producing state in the country.

Farakka barrage diverts the water of Ganges River into Hoogly River in the West Bengal during dry spells. Farakka barrage is one of the largest barrages in the world but the severe and detrimental impact of the diversion is also the worst example of huge impact of tempering with environment. Cautious estimates state that the barrage is responsible for damages amounting to two billion US dollars alone in the agriculture sector. The diversion of water through the Farakka barrage has had a large part in causing the rise in sea-level and unusual flooding in the area. Thirty million lives are affected by this diversion.

Yet, the worst is the case of Arsenic contamination in Bangladesh after the Farakka barrage went into operation in 1975. Before that various attempts by the Pakistani side to negotiate a plan for sharing the water of Ganges water were hampered by the unwillingness of Indian government to cooperate and provide information about its projects for diverting waters. Particularly in 1968 when the Indian experts argued in favour of the Farakka barrage on the grounds that the River Ganges has plentiful water and India only wanted to draw 20,000 cusec of water from the river whereas the river has an accumulative flow of 86,000 cusecs during the dry season. Thus, Farakka barrage was championed by the Indian government as having no serious impact on the water flow in Pakistani territory (then East Pakistan).

However, the picture usually presented for the general public shows only one side of the story. Many researches and studies on the Pakistani side claimed that the operation of Farakka barrage will be injurious for groundwater.

One of the reports titled "Gain and losses in the Ganges River between Farakka and Harding Bridge" by East Pakistan WAPDA, available with the author, gives an elaborate detail of the technical specification of the barrage and the subsequent impact of the diversion of water on the ecology, river flow etc. This was presented in the same year as the Indian feasibility report for the Farakka barrage. Yet, the impacts of the Farakka barrage construction anticipated in the report by the Pakistani analysts has proved to be true whereas it is evident that India has been also proven right. It should also be taken into account that the figures quoted in the Indian feasibility report for the Farakka barrage were from the period 1955-61. Whereas, Pakistani analysts used the data from the period 1948-1966 which gave a more holistic pattern picture of the river flow and variations.

Regardless of the Indian claims, the diversion of the Ganges River water is the major cause of arsenic contamination in the Bangladeshi waters. In the report presented in 1968, WAPDA claimed that as opposed to the Indian assertion Ganges River was not affluent but influent. The boreholes made by the Pakistani scientists in the northeastern districts where the river flows demonstrated that being an influent river, the water is expelled into the groundwater system from its bed. However, India went ahead with the project, poisoning the Bangladeshi part of the river.

The diversion of the river water caused a lowering of the water table due to which the zone of aeration was exposed to air resulting in the oxidation of arsenic minerals that were present at a lower level in the water table of Bengali sediments before the diversion.

The completion of the Farakka barrage in the 1969 was a serious violation of the Helsinki Rule singed in 1966 and the international river laws. India would not have been able to go ahead with the completion of Farakka barrage if East Pakistan had not been separated from West Pakistan.

Bitter realities