SAGARMATHA-SAGAR waterway providing Nepal access to sea utilizing the Kosi route was one of the two main highlights of our Prime-minister’s recent official visit to India. A fully-fledged economically attractive waterway adequate in capacity for operation of very large river barges comparable to those plying in Rheine, Danube and the US rivers would be extremely important to provide our landlocked country direct access to sea. Needless to say that the proposed waterway would have equally great political significance to our landlocked country.
It would not be practical to use the channel of our main rivers for the development of large scale navigation because of steep gradient and heavy withdrawal of water for irrigation throughout the lengthy non-monsoon season rendering a long stretch of the river downstream already built barrages virtually dry. However, we can follow the example of the Switzerland, where a multi-purpose canal has been built to develop inland navigation in upper reach of the Rheine river, which is not suitable for the development of commercially viable large scale navigation.
Kosi Canal Waterway
According to 1997 Kosi Study Agreement signed between Nepal and Indian Government represented by the Chairman, Water Commission, and the Secretary Bihar Government, a detailed study of the Kosi high dam would be carried out along with the detailed study of a navigation canal linking Chatra with the Ganges that would provide our country direct waterway access to sea. The proposed canal would be used as main irrigation canal as well as for generation of electricity. As stated above, a very similar example is the use of the multipurpose canal drawing water from the Upper Rheine River for hydropower generation along with navigation to provide the Switzerland direct deep waterway access to sea.
Switzerland’s Access to Sea
The Rhine between Basle in Switzerland and Iffezheim is almost entirely canalized. On a stretch of 180 kilometers, there are 10 dams, provided with hydropower stations and locks. Between Basle and Breisach, the old river bed carries hardly any water; almost all water is diverted through the Grand Canal d’Alsace on the French side, to ensure safe shipping and hydropower generation around the clock. Only when there is a large supply of water, then the old river bed will receive more water than the canal. France gained the right to do this in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles; the right applies to the segment between Basle and Neuburgweier / Lauterbourg, where the Rhine forms the border between France and Germany.
Kosi High Dam Project
As echoed by many of our countrymen, the Kosi high dam and other dams like the Burhigandaki, Karnali high dams would be extremely harmful to the economy and environment of our mid hill region where these dams impounding vast reservoirs are proposed to be built. Despite serious negative impact of the Kosi high dam on our hill economy and environment, this is the most suitable project to provide our landlocked country direct deep waterway access to sea if implemented based on 1997 Kosi study agreement signed between Nepal and India. Needless to say this dam project would have enormous economic as well as political significance for our landlocked country.
Significance of Access to Sea
Access to sea has always been regarded to have great economic as well as political significance even for those countries that are not landlocked unlike our country Nepal. The most recent glaring example is the Israel's struggle to get access to the Red Sea.
Egypt's denial of access to the Strait of Tiran which controls Israel's entrance to Red Sea featured prominently in the events which led to two major Arab-Israel Conflicts that could have ended up into World War. This happened in 1956 and again in 1967. It should be noted that the Israel had gone into all out war against the combined forces of Arab countries even risking its existence despite the fact that the ship traffic destined for Israel at Eilat passing through Strait of Tirana was relatively low compared to Israel's two large seaports on the Mediterranean.
Most Awful Hydropower Policy
On one hand a detailed study of the Kosi High Dam project is being carried out by our Government following the decision of the 1997 Kosi study agreement, surprisingly on the other hand our Government has recently announced its decision to implement the Dudh-Kosi and Lower Arun hydropower projects despite the fact that both the hydropower stations of these two projects would be completely submerged if a viable Kosi High Dam Project is implemented. Furthermore, the implementation of Dudh-Kosi project would lead to substantial decrease in dry season Sun-Kosi river flow at Kurule intake of the Sun-Kosi-Kamla diversion project resulting in considerable reduction in power generation and irrigable area irrespective of the fact whether the Kosi High Dam Project is implemented or not.