08 Nov Shawahiq Siddiqui
Mr. Shawahiq Siddiqui is environment and development law practitioner and a legal consultant. He is the Founding Partner of Indian Environment Law Organization (IELO), a law firm based in New Delhi. Shawahiq specializes in water law and has worked extensively on improving policy, legal and institutional frameworks on water governance at the national and sub-national level in India. For nearly a decade, he has been deeply engaged with trans-boundary water governance in South Asia and has implemented community engagement projects across the Ganges and Brahmaputra Basins. He is solicited by governments, multilateral agencies, financial institutions for consulting and advisory services on legal aspects of trans-boundary water cooperation. Highlighting the cause of ‘Marginalized Rivers’ and Modernization of water agreements and treaties in South Asia is the main focus of his work. He has published extensively on these subjects. He teaches hydro-diplomacy at Foreign Service Institute, Ministry of External Affairs, GOI and is a trainer and guest faculty to the National Water Academy, Central Water Commission and Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy. Shawahiq was commissioned as the Global Lead for Aichi Biodiversity Target-14 by the CBD Secretariat Canada.
Marginalised River Basins of South Asia: A governance Challenge or the Need for Challenging the Un-Questioned Conventional Governance
Formal water cooperation in the Ganges Sub-Basins shared between Nepal, India and Bangladesh is governed by the terms of the bilateral treaties between them. The terms of the existing agreements/treaties that are understood to largely represent trans-boundary water cooperation aspirations of the Ganges Basin countries are unambiguously confined to construction, maintenance and upkeep of joint venture barrages, embankments, diversion of flows. Exchange of flood forecast data has also been established as a norm, not as the mandate under the agreements/treaties, but as a goodwill gesture. Six decades of the status quo on skewed water cooperation tied to the terms of the treaties underpinning ‘special relations’ between the riparian countries have had devastating and irreversible impacts on the large and dynamic river systems that support life and livelihood of millions of poor, vulnerable communities involved in subsistence farming and variety of river ecosystem based activities.
Accounting for the devastation caused due to ill-conceived barrage centric multi-purpose schemes is not possible as millions of acres of land have been silted and many more million have been rendered landless and homeless, causing perhaps world’s largest forced out-migration due to water resources development projects. The paper, based on extensive community consultations (Gram Shivirs) held during 2016-2018 examines the unquestioned virtues of conventional barrage centred water cooperation instruments over the Kosi, Gandak, Mahakali (Nepal-India) and lower Ganges (India-Bangladesh) rivers and builds on the community perspectives on inclusive water diplomacy that argue for addressing the current and anticipated hydrological, demographic and climatic challenges and for devising the strategies by mainstreaming community concerns into decision making processes. The paper also argues for the cause of thousands of ‘marginalized rivers’ that significantly enrich water endowments of the dynamic Ganges river system but are not covered by any form of understanding between the riparian countries and thus are witnessing violent conflicts during water scarcity and floods.