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Low water level in Gandak Canal adds to Nepali farmers misery

Low water level in Gandak Canal adds to Nepali farmers misery

Mangal Sah (74) says this is the longest stretch of drought he has seen in his life so far. “I have never seen such a long dry spell,” Sah said. “There is no water in the canal, nor in the bore wells. Cracks are starting to appear in paddy fields. Only God knows how the harvest will be.”

Farmers, who are dependent on monsoon rains for farming, are suffering from the protracted drought. The low volume of water in the Gandak Canal has only compounded their woes.

Mangal’s neighbor, Bigu Yadav of Telkuwa in Mahagadhimai-7 of Bara, said bore wells have dried up in his neighborhood. “We would have used a pumpset to irrigate fields, but even the Gandak canal doesn’t have water,” he added.

Hridaya Yadav, another farmer from Telkuwa, has a similar story to share. “Although there is Gandak Canal nearby, it is of no use for us because the water flow is always very low. We cannot even pump water to the field using a pumpset,” he added.

Farmers in the command area of the canal in Parsa, Bara, and Rautahat have been suffering since India stopped releasing water in the canal as per the agreement about a decade ago. The long spell of drought this year has made things difficult for them. 

According to the Gandak Agreement signed by Nepal and India, India must release 850 cusecs of water in the canal meant for Nepal. However, India has been releasing half of the agreed-upon volume since 2013/14, according to Suresh Sah, the information officer of the Narayani Irrigation Management Office, Birgunj.

This year, India started releasing water into the canal about two months later. Even then, it was only 200 cusecs. After repeated requests, India is currently releasing 500 cusecs.

“We have repeatedly met with Indian officials at the Dona-based office of the Gandak Canal and requested them to release water as per the agreement. But our requests are falling on deaf ears,” Sah said. “Since India is not releasing sufficient water in the canal, we are providing water to Parsa and Bara every three days.”

According to Sah, the canal can supply water to only 12 blocks in Bara. “We have been failing to supply water to the canal in Rautahat ever since the canal was built,” he added.

The plan was to irrigate 37,400 hectares in Parsa, Bara, and Rautahat from the Gandak canal. But since India is not supplying the agreed-upon volume, the officials have been unable to send water to Rautahat.

Although India is supplying 1,500 cusecs of water in the canal coming toward Nepal from the barrage, only 500 cusecs remain in the canal when it enters Nepali territory.

“Indian officials tell us that they cannot send a high volume of water into the canal, stating that the canal’s structure is weakening,” Sah said. “But the structure is comparatively better on the Nepali side compared to India because we are doing periodic maintenance.” He added that India should release water to Nepal as per the agreement by repairing the canal on their side, if need be.

Since the Gandak Canal is already five decades old, Sah said there is a need to revisit the agreement now.

As per the agreement, India must release water into the canal in Nepal twice a year: from May to September for paddy plantation and from January to March for wheat plantation.

The Indian government built the 81-kilometer Gandak Canal in 1975 to irrigate 37,400 hectares in the Bara, Parsa, and Rautahat districts. India releases water into the canal from the Gandak Barrage built on the Nepal-India border at Bhaisalotan. The canal enters Nepal from Janaki Tol in Jagarnathpur Rural Municipality of Parsa after covering a distance of 92 kilometers in India.