Sunday, February 26, 2012

Indian experts start Farakka water probe

A team of Indian government experts yesterday visited the Farakka Barrage to take stock of its two broken sluice gates.

The team, headed by RC Jha, chairman of Central Water Commission (CWC), inspected broken gates 13 and 16, three days after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the fault which she claimed allowed excess water flow to Bangladesh.

Jha later told reporters at the barrage site that the repair of gate no 16 would be completed in the next few days, while gate no 13 would take some more time. 

The visit by Jha and his team came in the wake of Mamata's raising the issue at a meeting with Manmohan in New Delhi on February 23 and demanding a high-level probe into the breakdown of the sluice gates.

The very next day, the Indian central government ordered an investigation.

Jha will look into the reasons behind the collapse of gates 13 and 16 and suggest corrective measures. He is set to submit his report within the next 15 days to the Indian Water Resources Ministry.

Until the gates are put in place, a member of the CWC will remain at the barrage site on the river Ganges.

The probe will also ascertain whether the collapse could have been anticipated. It is learnt that Jha will also probe whether the collapse was an accident or done "intentionally”.
The barrage has 108 gates.

Mamata on February 23 said that in June last year, the West Bengal state government had noticed the leakage from the sluice gates but no move had been taken for the last eight months to plug it. 

She said that under the 1996 Indo-Bangladesh agreement on the sharing of the Ganges water, Bangladesh will get 33 percent water and rest will be for India. “But we found that because of the leakage, Bangladesh is getting 88 percent of water and as a result West Bengal's rivers, including the Bhagirathi, are suffering from lack of water.” 

Besides drying up the rivers, Mamata said it was affecting power plants and water supply in the state. "Thermal power plant is being closed down due to the water crisis."

She had also warned there would be severe water and power crises in the state.

"A disaster is waiting to happen because of the crisis. Many ships are not being able to move from the ports. It is scandalous. I demand a high-level inquiry into it," Mamata added.