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Ganges Barrage project goes slow : Feasibility study not completed in a decade due to inaction of successive governments

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Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pinaki Roy



The dried up Gorai river under the Gorai bridge at Kamarkhali in Magura. The construction of Ganges barrage in Rajbari is crucial to revive the water flow of this river during the lean period. The photo was taken in April. Photo: Amanur Aman


The Water Development Board even in a decade could not complete the feasibility study and structural design of the Ganges barrage, a project crucial to check rising salinity in the country’s southwest region.

When implemented, the barrage in Rajbari will retain water of the trans-boundary river Ganges, known as the Padma in Bangladesh, during the rainy season for use over the rest of the year.And, the flow of fresh water would reduce salinity by leaching out salt from soil and thus improve agriculture and livelihoods in the region.The WDB conducted a pre-feasibility study for the barrage in 2002.

But the then BNP government shelved the board’s proposal to go for a feasibility study. The Fakhruddin-led caretaker administration also did nothing in this regard.The board finally got the go-ahead in 2009. It has completed one part of the study and is set to complete the rest by December.

WDB officials say building the barrage would take seven years. “For the work, the government will float international tender next year,” said one of the officials, requesting anonymity.Implementation of the 2,100-metre barrage would cost around Tk 31,414 crore. It would also have two small hydropower plants of 76 megawatt and 36MW.According to the partial feasibility study, after the barrage is built, the saline-hit area would annually produce another 25 lakh tonnes of rice and 2.4 lakh tonnes of fish.

And, about 52 lakh hectares of land can be brought under cultivation in different agricultural projects, including GK and Pabna Irrigation.Discussions on the barrage construction began in the 1960s when India moved with their Farakka barrage plan.Tippetts Abbett McCarthy Stratton, a consultancy firm from New York, proposed the Pakistan government in 1963 to construct a counter barrage to hold water in the monsoon and supply it to the Gorai and other rivers in the lean period.
As the operation of Farakka barrage started in 1975 and India started to hold back the Ganges water after the end of every monsoon, the flow of the river suddenly declined.

The average discharge, which was 64,340 cusec, came down to around 23,000 cusecs at the Hardinge bridge point in Bangladesh.This sudden fall in water caused massive siltation at the mouth of the Gorai, one of the distributaries of the Ganges, and the Padma near Kushtia.

Some distributaries of the Gorai including the Kumar, the Kalindi and the Dakua also took a terrible shape over the years.
Salinity started to intrude into the southwestern region.After signing the Ganges treaty with India in 1996, Bangladesh started receiving water during the extreme dry season, from January to May, but the damage was already extensive. The Gorai could not be revived.

Due to increasing soil salinity in the southwestern region, farmers cannot produce high-yielding variety of rice in over one lakh hectares of coastal land. Instead, they produce just one variety of traditional rice once a year during the rainy season.
In this salinity-affected region, farmers can grow only local variety of rice and get a yield of 1.5 tonnes per hectare which is usually five tonnes elsewhere.

“The farmers cultivating one lakh hectares are getting 3.5 tonnes less crop per hectare,” said agriculture expert Z Karim.
In many areas, experts say, the farmers are not able to grow even the local variety or any saline tolerant variety due to high level of salinity. This is having a negative impact on the region’s food security and economic condition of farmers.
The farmers can grow vegetables if the salinity level is very slight. But the production of vegetables fell to six to 19 percent, according to a study of Soil Research Development Institute (SRDI).

If the salinity continues to rise, they would not be able to cultivate most of the conventional crops in future.
“The Ganges barrage would improve the situation in the entire southwest region,” said Prof Ainun Nishat, vice-chancellor of Brac University.The SRDI through studies found that between 1973 and 2009, around 223,000 hectares of land in that region became salinity-hit. Of this, 3,55,100 hectares got affected between 2000 and 2009.


Source: thedailystar


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