The hungry children of Mother Ganges

Special Investigation


Mother Ganges cleanses the body and purifies the soul. But more than that it feeds our lands and provides drinking water to tens of millions from the Himalayan foothills to the fertile deltas.

Dhaka Tribune set out to investigate why it is that the mighty Ganges seems a shadow of its former self by the time it reaches Bangladesh in the form of the Padma.

The investigation began at the heart of the matter -- the Ganges itself.

We tracked the holy river, that used to be part of the fabled Silk Route, from close to its origin at Uttarakhand down to the Farakka Barrage in West Bengal through Srinagar, Kanpur, Allahabad, Patna, and Varanasi, to name but a few points on our journey.

During his month-long trip, Abu Siddique saw an extensive network of dams and barrages diverting water all along the way, and spoke to the Indian locals who had seen their livelihoods dwindle as a result, and the activists who have stood in opposition to this.

Official data show that these structures have a capacity to divert about 300,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of water from the Ganges. This before the river even reaches Bangladesh.

Official data on the Ganges flow is classified for strategic reasons, so we had to piece together a picture based on whatever official information we could find disclosed in other forms.

Even a conservative estimate finds that the holy water of the Ganges still irrigates almost 80,000 square kilometres in India -- more than half of the entire area of Bangladesh.

But Indian farmers and villagers had the same complaints and activists had the same reservations as those expressed here in Bangladesh. Many were being deprived of the fruits of the Ganges.

In the end, the story we found was that the diversion of the Ganges was more than the simple India versus Bangladesh issue it is often perceived to be.

Indeed, far more water is diverted from the Ganges by dams and barrages upriver than at Farraka.

It is clear therefore that the issue is not one of differing nationalities and national interests, but one of differing perspectives on how the waters should be used.

The question of the diversion of the Ganges waters is a question that transcends national boundaries, and is one in which the Indians and Bangladeshis who live and toil along its banks face a commonality of issues, share a commonality of outlook, and can find a commonality of purpose and action.

Read more