Indo-Bhutan groups for managing cross-border rivers

Lack of a mechanism between India and Bhutan to address the downstream impact of cross-border rivers prompted several community-based organisations from the two countries issue “a call for action” to work together for effective management of the river risks.

The declaration, named Kokrajhar Call for Action on Bhutan-India Civil Society Organisations’ Partnership for Inclusive Water Governance was signed here on Friday by at least 12 organisations, following a two-day-long consultation.

As per the “call for action,” civil society organisations such as NGOs and citizens bodies in both the countries will enhance co-operation to jointly address the concerns and protect rights of the riparian communities living in the upstream and downstream areas.

The consultation was organised by Oxfam and its partner organisations implementing its Trans-Boundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) project. North East Research and Social Work Networking (NERSWN), Aaryanak, Oxfam India and Bhutan Transparency Initiative (BTI) are some of the partners of the project.

Former Bhutan Prime Minister Dr Kinzang Dorji, who heads BTI, attended the consultation and signed the joint declaration.

According to the NGOs, at least 56 rivers flow down through Bhutan to western Assam districts including Kokrajhar. People living in the downstream areas often express apprehension that release of excess water from the dams in Bhutan without proper warning resulted in floods and “unscientific mining” impacted their farming.

The efforts to unite the community level organisations to mutually address the concerns gained momentum in 2016 after flash floods in Bhutan's Sarpang district had literally wreaked havoc in downstream areas in Assam's Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. While floods left many homeless, excessive silt had turned large tracts of farmland ineligible for paddy cultivation.

“Already villagers in Saralpara area close to the border are jointly managing the water of Saralbhanga river flowing down from Bhutan for both irrigation and drinking water purposes. This call seeks to make it a little more systematic and inclusive. Our effort is to extend this co-operation to manage waters of other cross border rivers,” executive director of NERSWN, Raju Kumar Narzary told DH, here.

Stating that managing the flood risks was a challenging task, particularly in the Himalayan region due to the serious climate change impacts, Dorji hoped the joint initiative would strengthen the old friendship between people living in both sides of the border.

“We will try to engage with various stakeholders—be it government, NGOs, civil society organisations or media for effective management of the cross border water resources. Our effort is to strengthen trans-boundary co-operation for early warning system and action for water-induced risks such as pollution affecting lives and livelihoods of the riparian communities,” Animesh Prakash of Oxfam India said.

 

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