Monday, August 29, 2022

Mahakali Treaty: After 27 years Oli admits 'weakness', these are the three main 'mistakes' made by Nepal

Mahakali Treaty: After 27 years Oli admits 'weakness', these are the three main 'mistakes' made by Nepal

About 27 years after the signing of the Mahakali Treaty, the Chairman of CPN-UML and former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, one of the people who played a role in getting the treaty approved by the Parliament, said that "there are some weaknesses" in the treaty.

Even though Oli has accepted it now, many water resources and foreign affairs experts have been saying that the long-term interests of Nepal have been affected due to the "weaknesses" in the treaty.

With Oli's confession, some have said that Nepal can still take initiative to correct some of the weaknesses of the treaty.

However, those who know about water resources say that leaders like Oli show a "dual character" of stating "weaknesses" when they are out of office, but not taking steps to correct them when they are in office.

Oli's statement

Earlier on Monday, Oli expressed his views on the integrated Mahakali Treaty while speaking at the program to release the book "Nepal's Water Resources in Chakravyuh" written by Water Resources Secretary Dwarikanath Dhungel.

Speaking at the event, Oli said that there were many errors in the Tanakpur agreement signed by the Girija Prasad Koirala-led government with India in 2048 and claimed that it had been corrected in the Integrated Mahakali Treaty.

However, he said the unified Mahakali treaty also had some "weaknesses".

He narrates the occasion of the time of the treaty and said, "Lower Sharada Canal was also running long ago. It was not discussed at that time. As a result, there was not much discussion about 'conjunctival water'."

"A few 'lapses' remain, half of which are watered down. Not graciously given. Rightfully taken."

However, Oli claims that the Tanakpur agreement was later amended during the transformation into a unified Mahakali treaty and that the treaty established that the water of the Mahakali is half.

After Oli admitted that there were weaknesses in the Mahakali Treaty, experts on Nepal's water resources who talked to the BBC also said that there are weaknesses in the treaty that will affect Nepal in the long term.

The main weaknesses of the treaty they saw were:

1. Not determining the origin of Mahakali

In the unified Mahakali treaty, there is no clear mention and explanation about the origin of the Mahakali river.

As a result, experts say that the border dispute between Nepal and India in that area still persists.

A former water resources secretary, Sheetalbabu Regmi, says, "At that time, leaders including Rajeshwar Devkota had said that a treaty should be made only by separating the source of the Mahakali. This has been happening for a long time."

"Now Oliji probably said the same thing but he said it in a different way."

According to him, since the origin of Mahakali was not determined at that time, the border dispute between Nepal and India is still ongoing and it is not easy to solve it.

The treaty states "recognizing that most of the Mahakali River is the boundary between the two countries".

On the one hand, it shows that the Mahakali River is not considered as the Nepal-India border river in all areas, and if the source is not mentioned, disputes regarding Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulek will continue to flare up, border experts say.

However, in a conversation with the BBC just a few weeks ago, Prakashchandra Lohani, the leader of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, who was the foreign minister at the time of the treaty, said that the Mahakali is mostly considered a border river for the benefit of Nepal.

According to him, Chandni and Dodhara areas are west of Mahakali and since they are part of Nepal, instead of considering Mahakali as the border in all areas, it is said in most of the areas.

Vikas Thapa, a journalist who writes on water resources issues, also considers the fact that the origin of the Mahakali river is not mentioned in the treaty as one of the major weaknesses of the treaty.

2. Provisions relating to consumptive use of water

The provision regarding water consumption mentioned in the third article of the Mahakali Treaty is considered by experts to be a very big drawback.

According to them, the water of Mahakali is theoretically divided between Nepal and India due to this article, but it is not being implemented.

It is written in that article, "As the Pancheshwar Multi-Purpose Project will be built on the part of the Mahakali River that forms the border between the two countries, both parties agree that the parties have equal rights to use the water of the Mahakali River without adversely affecting their existing consumptive use."

At a glance, it seems that the said arrangement would give both Nepal and India equal rights to the water of the Mahakali, but experts say that this is not the case.

To understand it, they say that one should look at the provisions of an agreement between Nepal and India regarding the Mahakali River, which was made during the British rule.

According to various documents, in 1920, Nepal allowed four thousand acres of Nepalese land to be used for the purpose of building a dam on the Mahakali River.

For that, the documents show that Nepal has agreed to get 460 to a maximum of 1,000 cusecs of water for irrigation in the rainy season and 150 cusecs in winter.

According to the agreement at that time, it is said that Nepal got the land of Sattavarna from Khiri, Bahraich and Gonda districts under Lucknow Faizabad Division of India.

Rishiraj Lumsali, who has been active in the Mahakali campaign for a long time, has mentioned in his book that a new border pillar was established between Nepal and India in 1924 and it is clear from the map verified by Nepal and India in 1935.

According to the agreement between Nepal and India, India built Sarada Dam on the Mahakali River.

The dam was completed in 1928 and India started using its water.

But according to the agreement, Nepal got the water only much later.

According to journalist Thapa, the word "consumable use" mentioned in the third article of the Mahakali Treaty has led to the situation of halving the water of Mahakali only so that the water that India gets from the old Sharda Dam does not decrease.

"According to the old provisions, India was getting 97.7 per cent of water from Sharda Dam. Now we have got to use only half of the 2.3 per cent water," he says.

Former Water Resources Secretary Regmi also shared the experience that India has maintained the same stand in all the meetings on the Integrated Mahakali Treaty.

He said, "In the treaty between the two countries, neither they get what they are looking for, nor do we get it. At that time, the slogan was that 'Mahakali is common, water is half.'"

"But there is a problem in the distribution of water. It is called 'consumable use'. It is not written down how much it is, so it is still unknown."

"We are not accepting what they call consumptive use."

2. Legality to Tanakpur but the uncertainty of benefits and other projects

Officials involved in the agreement at the time said that before the unified Mahakali treaty went ahead, India's desire was mainly to decide on Tanakpur.

According to the former officials of the Nepal government, when the Sharda Dam reached the end of its life as per the agreement between the British in India and the Rana rule in Nepal, India started the Tanakpur Dam project on the upper land of that dam during the Panchayat period.

But the facts show that Nepal was not informed at the beginning and India unilaterally went ahead with the dam project.

Suryanath Upadhyay, one of the former chief commissioners of the Abuse of Authority Investigation Commission, who is also the former Water Resources Secretary, has written that Nepal raised the issue with India during the Panchayat period when it was known.

According to Upadhyay in his book 'International Watercourses Law and a Perspective on Nepal-India Cooperation', Nepal came to know about it after India started a survey of Tanakpur Dam for the purpose of generating electricity.

According to his claim, since the Mahakali is a border, India unilaterally started the construction of the dam with the agreement of Nepal and India.

Upadhyay wrote, "...Nepal raised the matter in a secretary-level meeting in 1983."

At that time, Nepal raised issues such as the possibility of submergence of its territory due to the said dam.

In that meeting, Upadhyay wrote that India assured to investigate the Tanakpur project and "discuss with Nepal before starting work".

Upadhyay also mentioned that in the secretary-level talks held on September 19 and 20, 1984, Nepal raised the issue of Tanakpur Dam with the Indian side.

At that time, Nepal reminded that the land given to India for one purpose in 1920 cannot be used for another purpose.

But India claimed in the talks that "since they are planning to build on Indian soil, there is no need to discuss it with Nepal," it is mentioned in his book.

Bhuvnesh Kumar Pradhan, another former resource secretary, who participated in several talks during the Panchayat period, told BBC a few weeks ago that after India continued to build in the area, Nepali territory started getting flooded.

As quoted by Upadhyay in his book, between 1983 and 1991, about 50 letters related to the dam were exchanged.

Meanwhile, the Panchayat system was abolished in Nepal and multi-party democracy was restored.

After that, it is mentioned in some books written by the officials of Nepal and India that India tried to legitimize the Tanakpur Dam by putting the democratic government of Nepal under various "influences and pressures".

"India was trying to legitimize unilaterally built Tanakpur. The integration treaty provided that legitimacy. India had no intention of implementing what it said," says Thapa.

Regmi also seems to agree with his opinion.

He says, "When the issue of Tanakpur went ahead, instability arose in Nepal. The majority government had to go to the mid-term elections. But after the elections, the minority government advanced the unified treaty."

"India had to legitimize Tanakpur by any means. It was legitimized by the Mahakali Treaty. After that, nothing else was given much attention."

He says that while many people know that India is only trying to legitimize Tanakpur, another major weakness is that the treaty was made without ensuring the half-use of the electricity coming out of Tanakpur and without guaranteeing the implementation of Pancheswar.

In Thapa's understanding, even though Nepal achieved something more during the Mahakali Treaty than during the Koshi and Gandak Agreements, the long-term impact on Nepal has not been taken into account.

He says, "Nepal has not been able to benefit from Mahakali and I think that India has shown a lollipop to Nepal only to legitimize what it has done unilaterally. Therefore, I do not believe that the Pancheshwar project will be made."

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