India’s ambitious project to irrigate its land by diverting water from the Koshi River to the Mechi River has gone a step further.
The long-discussed project is the Koshi-Mechi River Interlinear Project. Accordingly, the water collected in Koshi during the rainy season will be discharged into the Mechi River in India in winter and will be used for irrigation in the dry fields of India.
The Mechi River, which flows from the Nepal-India border, falls under the Mahananda Basin of India. The 14th meeting of the Investment Clearance Committee of India has decided to recommend investment in the Indian plan to increase the water capacity of Koshi Barrage so that sufficient water can be supplied to the basin even in the dry season.
The committee consists of water resources related agencies and agencies including the Department of Water Resources under the Union Ministry of Water Power of India. Last year, the central government of India had allocated a budget for this.
Experts say that if this plan of India goes ahead as per its wish, the flood of Koshi will increase in Nepal. Even now, various parts of Nepal have been inundated year after year due to the untimely opening of the Koshi barrage. Experts say that stopping the flow of water by expanding the capacity of the barrage could create more risks in the territory towards Nepal. But it is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
During the monsoon season, Koshi causes severe floods in northern Bihar, India. India is trying to move forward with a plan to control the river. India aims to complete the project within five years.
The Bihar government has also been pushing for speedy implementation of the project to alleviate the effects of floods in Bihar.
Experts in Nepal have long opposed the proposed high dam and river linking program, which would only benefit India.
India is planning to divert water from the eastern Koshi canal to Mechi by constructing a high dam towards Nepal.
What is the Indian Plan?
In August 2019, the central government of India had decided to move the project forward. India has been saying that this will be the second-largest river connection project after the Ken-Betwa river connection project connecting Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
The proposed Koshi-Mechi river linking project is estimated to cost Rs 49 billion. Now the Government of India is ready to spend this amount. It is said that the project will provide irrigation facilities to Araria, Purnia, Kisanganj, Katihar, and other districts of India.
India plans to increase the capacity of the Koshi Dam to 573 cusecs and divert the Koshi water to Mechi by constructing a 76 km long canal.
Fig: Proposed canal with red line above
As per the plan, rainwater will be collected in Koshi from June to October. India plans to divert the accumulated water to the Mechi River by extending an additional 41.30 km of canal to the existing East Koshi canal.
The project has also been approved by the Central Water Commission and the National Water Development Agency. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has repeatedly urged the central government to make it a national project. He had reiterated this demand in a conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 11.
India has also been expecting a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the project, and the World Bank is currently investing in India’s Koshi Basin development project.
In 2004, the Union Ministry of Water Resources of India decided to study the project. The Bihar government had in May 2008 sent a proposal to the central government to expedite the project.
A study by the National Water Development Agency that same year found that the canal would not cause any damage to India as it would not have to cover any large forest area.
The Indian plan is to release the water stored in the Koshi dam towards the Mechi river only in the dry season. The project will irrigate 210,516 hectares of land in India in winter. Araria and Purnia districts of India will be the biggest beneficiaries.
These districts will be irrigated in 59 thousand 642 hectares and 59 thousand 970 hectares respectively. The remaining 39,548 hectares of land in Kisanganj district and 35,637 hectares of land in Katihar district will be irrigated.
Nepal does not know yet!
India has discussed the project in the Koshi Gandak Joint Committee, according to a letter from the Indian Ministry of Water Resources to the lower body. However, the Director-General of the Irrigation Department of Nepal Madhukar Rajbhandari said that there was no discussion in the committee. “It may be a project they are trying to advance within their own territory,” he said. “India has not had any formal discussions with Nepal on this.”
Without discussing with Nepal, the 14th meeting of the Investment Clearance Committee of India has decided to make necessary plans for the drainage of the rising water level during the construction of the dam under this river linking project. In this way, Nepal has been informed about the expansion of the dam and the water flowing in the canal.
India’s emphasis on high dams, Nepal still unclear
According to Raj Bhandari, Director General of the Department of Irrigation, India is currently preparing the DPR of the Saptakoshi High Dam Multipurpose Project towards Nepal. The work of this DPR has the approval of the Government of Nepal.
India is also proposing to generate reservoir-based hydropower, including a dam, to be built on the Saptakoshi River. It is proposed to build this dam in the border areas of Udaipur, Saptari, Dhankuta, and Sunsari districts.
India also plans to operate an irrigation project on its territory by constructing a 269 meter high and one-kilometer long dam. Despite the study of the High Koshi Dam project, some local stakeholders have been protesting saying that the project is being built only to save India and submerge Nepal. Party leaders have sometimes spoken in favor of the high dam and sometimes in opposition.
The Indian government, on the other hand, is under pressure to build the Upper Koshi Dam. As the Koshi Barrage in Bhimnagar is coming to an end, India has concluded that a high dam should be built at the foot of the hill for flood control and irrigation in Bihar. That is why in every government, India has been pressuring Nepal for a higher Koshi dam.
An official of the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation says that the pressure of the Indian side on the Government of Nepal is increasing now that the Government of India has allocated budget to complete the incomplete DPR of the Upper Koshi Dam and build a canal in its area.
During the visit of the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to India, it was agreed in 1991 to form a joint technical expert committee on Koshi High Dam between Nepal and India under a multi-purpose project. During Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to Delhi in 1997, a joint team was assigned to study the Sunkoshi-Kamala diversion.
A joint meeting of the Water Resources Secretaries in 2004 decided to open an office at the Upper Koshi Dam to prepare the DPR. The office also began a geological study. However, even after 16 years, its DPR has not been ready.