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Keywords:

  • environmental security;
  • Ganges River basin;
  • hydropolitics;
  • securitisation;
  • transboundary waters

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

This paper examines the ways in which environmental threats are socially constructed and the implications of such environmental securitisation. Specifically, the paper focuses on the issue of river development and water allocation between states of international transboundary river basins. Building on recent studies that attempt to refine securitisation theory of the Copenhagen School and applying hydropolitical power analysis, the paper takes a sociological understanding of the securitisation of shared waters. Using the case study of the Tanakpur Barrage project on the Mahakali River between Nepal and India in the Ganges River basin, it shows how securitisation discourse framed the shared river as a threat that posed detrimental flooding to both territories. It is argued that the Indian government effectively used its technical and institutional expertise to frame the discourse. Hydropolitical power analysis helps explain how compliance to the project agreement – a necessary measure to avert hydrological crisis, as argued by the Indian government – was gained from the Nepali government. The implications of securitising shared rivers on water resources management and basin-wide governance are discussed.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Recent debate on environment and security has progressed significantly from narrow discussions on the definition of security to one that explores the complex interface between the two. In particular, progress in analytical approaches to security and securitisation has assisted exploring the framing of threats to and from the environment. Securitisation theory developed through the work of the so-called Copenhagen School has been instrumental in identifying key characteristics of the process in which issues are securitised (e.g. Wæver 1995; Buzan and Wæver 1997; Buzan et al. 1998). Recent scholarship has challenged and refined the assumptions of the Copenhagen School to produce a more empirically oriented body of literature on securitisation (e.g. Floyd 2010; Balzacq 2011b; Barthwal-Datta 2012). These studies broaden the conditions in which securitisation can occur, thus providing better analysis on the ways in which environmental security is socially constructed. Securitisation theory considers not only the physical threats to and from the environment, but also the threats based on imagined and discursive constructions that relate to the environment. Environmental security incorporates questions of ‘who securitises what and how’ through an examination of narratives and discourses.

The paper builds upon this body of work on socially constructed understandings of environment security. The main interest of this paper is, how do socially constructed notions of environmental security impact environmental management? The paper uses the case of water resources, specifically international transboundary river basins. These rivers are shared bodies of water, forming borders or running through two or more sovereign states. International transboundary waters are useful for examining the implications of environmental security because of the discourses closely associated with it. On the one hand, these shared waters are often described in terms of scarcity, raising concerns of water wars (Starr 1991; Bulloch and Darwish 1993; Vidal 2010). On the other hand, shared waters are associated with narratives of cooperation, such as hydrosolidarity between various water users (Gerlak et al. 2009 2011). These dichotomised characterisations of either conflict or cooperation tend to simplify politics of water allocation and management, and provide little insight into power and agency (Zeitoun and Mirumachi 2008). The paper examines how river development provides a platform for discourses on who securitises shared waters with what kind of public policy measures. By doing so, analysis highlights the ways in which power is exerted by basin states and how both conflict and cooperation are exhibited in the process of river development. The paper contributes to the empirical discussion on the conditions of securitisation, following the ‘sociological approach’ to securitisation theory (Balzacq 2011a, 22).

The paper analyses the case study of the Tanakpur Barrage project, a hydraulic infrastructure project on the shared border river between Nepal and India. This project on one of the major tributaries of the Ganges River was designed and constructed by the Indian government in the early 1990s. During the negotiations of this project, the Indian government made a securitising move, claiming the shared river as a threat to the survival of both India and Nepal. This interaction between Nepal and India has received little in-depth analysis, despite it being a watershed moment for ensuing bilateral negotiations in the Ganges River basin. The existing literature describes the political sensitivity of the project to both Nepal-Indo relations and to Nepali domestic politics (Gyawali and Dixit 1999 2000; Iyer 1999; Verghese 1999; Subedi 2005; Dhungel 2009; Pun 2009b) but falls short of critically analysing the factors that facilitated the discursive framing of the Tanakpur Barrage. The paper analyses the process of securitisation and further adds empirical evidence to the ways in which securitisation changes institutional arrangements in the environmental sector, as argued by Trombetta (2011). In addition, the paper explains the implication of such securitisation to transboundary water management and water allocation through analysis of power asymmetry (Zeitoun and Warner 2006; Zeitoun et al. 2011).

The next section of the paper outlines securitisation theory in further detail. It explains briefly the process of securitisation and the relevance to environmental issues. The third section highlights recent debates that have refined tenets of securitisation theory. A more nuanced approach to understanding the socio-political context of securitisation as proposed by Balzacq (2011a) is taken and the international transboundary river development context is understood through power analysis. The fourth section introduces the case study of the Tanakpur Barrage project and examines the securitising move by the Indian government. The fifth section analyses the security practice, or the solution proposed to avert environmental crisis between Nepal and India. The sixth section unpacks the capacity of the Indian government to securitise the project based on its track record of hydraulic development along the river. The seventh section discusses the long-term implications of securitisation to water resources allocation and to river basin governance more generally. The final section concludes, noting the relevance of hydropolitical analysis and insights to the role of threats and opportunities in the context of environmental securitisation.

Securitisation theory and the environment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Understanding who establishes threats related to the environment for whom is important when exploring the interface between the environment and security (Dalby 2009). This understanding of the ‘politics of security’ (Dalby 2009, 46) has been enabled by the development of securitisation theory, particularly by Buzan et al. (1998) and other work associated with the Copenhagen School. Securitisation theory argues that security is socially constructed (Buzan et al. 1998). In other words, threats from which protection is needed may not necessarily be physical and currently existing. The securitising actor may discursively establish that the survival of the referent object is in danger through speech acts. Thus, securitisation has the effect of framing an issue as needing special attention: it is the development of ‘a plot that includes existential threat, point of no return, and a possible way out’ (Buzan et al. 1998, 32–3). Speech acts galvanise extraordinary measures against the threat to the referent object (Wæver 1995). Consequently, securitising an issue shifts the focus from normal politics and its procedures to one of emergency politics or ‘panic politics’ (Bonacker et al. 2009) with extraordinary procedures (Buzan et al. 1998). The elements of emergency and urgency are important to the concept of securitisation:

the threat has a swiftness and drama high enough to make a point of no return credible – if not dealt with in time, it will be too late – and therefore this issue can not be left to ordinary practices.

Laustsen and Wæver (2000, 708)

The Copenhagen School argued that threats to the state from the environment cannot strictly be a security issue because ‘the environment’ is not an actor that purposely endangers the survival of the state (Floyd 2010; see also Buzan 1992; Wæver 1995). However, securitising the environment as ‘the other’ to state activity is a dominant and powerful political agenda. Schlosser (2006) highlighted how oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, USA was an issue that the government, oil companies and environmental groups constructed various threats in relation to its management. Floyd (2010) analysed the rise and fall of environmental security on the national agenda during different political regimes in the USA. In terms of water resources management, Davidsen (2010) gave a detailed account of securitisation of a hydropower project in the Okavango River basin and its desecuritisation, in which this issue was removed from the realm of securitised politics back to normal politics. Warner (2011) exemplified how aspects of flood policy were securitised in the Netherlands, the UK and Bangladesh, claiming nature as a threat. Transboundary water resources have also been securitised as a matter of state survival in the case of the Jordan River basin (Zeitoun 2007).

The paper argues that securitisation can – in certain circumstances – offer a ‘solution’ to environmental problems. This is opposed to the Copenhagen School which posits that environmental issues are best desecuritised because dealing with them through military action and emergency measures are problematic and counterproductive. The argument presented in this paper empirically builds on Trombetta's (2011) useful insights: in the environment sector, security can take the form of change and transformation, thereby shaping environmental securitisation in terms of human security or international cooperation. According to her, the establishment of international agreements and precautionary principles in issues of ozone depletion and environmental conflict are significant, which the classic understanding of securitisation cannot fully explain. The paper shows that in the environmental sector, international agreements are established to transform the situation, rather than developing a ‘threat/defense problem’ in some instances (Wæver 1995, 65).

Securitisation and power asymmetry

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The paper furthers the understanding of such ‘security cooperation’ by examining the hydropolitical context and power asymmetry that enable securitisation. In other words, what kinds of factors determine these ‘solutions’, and what are the long-term implications to environment management? Trombetta's argument reflects a new perspective, or a ‘sociological approach’ that provides explicit analysis of the context to unpack socio-culturally and politically embedded discourses of securitisation (Balzacq 2011a, 22; 2005). The sociological approach critiques the Copenhagen School for its rigid interpretation of speech acts and complete fulfilment of ‘felicity conditions’ or facilitating conditions of securitisation: the grammar of security that establishes the logic of threat; the authority or social capital the securitising actor has vis à vis the intended audience of the speech act; nature and history of the threat (Wæver 2000, see also Buzan et al 1998; Williams 2003; Stritzel 2007; Åtland and Ven Bruusgaard 2009). Importantly, many environmental issues are determined unsuccessful cases of securitisation according to these rules but in fact can produce results similar to that of securitisation empirically (Trombetta 2011). With the sociological approach, speech acts are understood as pragmatic acts that operate within a distinct relationship between the securitising actor and audience; there is focus on what is done as a result of the speech act involving both securitising actor and audience(s) (Balzacq 2011a). Empirical examples show how the context can be taken into consideration. Vogler (2002) claimed that protecting the member states from environmental threats in the European Union during the post-Cold War period was done when the European Union expanded its security function. In this context, the range of policy instruments including legislative measures made the protection from environmental threats credible (Vogler 2002). In the Nile River basin, diffusion of global norms such as sustainable and ecological management of waters is noteworthy. Stetter et al. (2011) argued that until the 1990s, Egypt, the downstream state, was able to securitise the shared waters in particular vis à vis Sudan based on arguments that ensuring sufficient downstream flow was necessary for its national survival. However, with the development of the Nile Basin Initiative, a regional initiative based on global norms of water resources management, the antagonistic security logic became less effective. The sociological approach ties together the illocutionary act or the speech act with its perlocutionary, consequential effects much more convincingly than analysis by the Copenhagen School (Balzacq 2011a).

Combined with Trombetta's (2011) understanding of solutions within the environmental sector, the sociological approach allows more analysis on the power asymmetries between the securitising actor and audience. Regarding issues of transboundary water interactions, the hydropolitical context offers some insights to the factors that make environmental agreements a suitable ‘way out’, particularly when transboundary water institutions do not always function as a regional public good. Transboundary water resources management that is ‘effective and balanced’ (emphasis in original) is a regional public good for states within the specific basin (Nicol et al. 2001, 4). In theory, establishing transboundary water institutions would benefit all basin states (i.e. be non-excludable) and the implementation of institutions by one basin state would not diminish the effects of such institutions for other basin states (i.e. be non-rivalrous). Indeed, there have been an increasing number of institutions dealing with transboundary water resources management (Varady et al. 2008 2009; Gerlak and Grant 2009). However, transboundary water resources management is often bound up in concerns over sovereignty. Limits to sovereignty are recognised in soft law principles, such as those embedded in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses adopted in 1997. Nonetheless, implementing such abstract global norms has proved to be difficult (Mirumachi et al. forthcoming). In general, putting in place property rights has been suggested as an effective way of governing shared resources (Ostrom et al. 1999). Contrary to such insights, in the case of transboundary water resources, property rights have been difficult to establish (Allan 2001).

In these situations, one explanation why cooperation is sought in environmental securitisation, is the determining role of the hydro-hegemon or the more powerful basin state. Zeitoun and Mirumachi (2008) highlighted that ‘cooperative’ institutions may be limited in scope and exclude important issues such as equitable allocation of waters. While an environmental problem may be deemed ‘solved’ by securitising practices, power asymmetry between the basin states largely influences the content and extent of the agreements as regional public goods. Rather than using coercive power, discursive power is used to construct threats that enable agreements and initiatives with the effect of favouring water access or allocation to the basin state with comparative power (Zeitoun et al. 2011). These hydro-hegemons can use different tactics to ensure control of shared waters and to gain compliance to these measures (Zeitoun and Warner 2006). Securitisation, as a form of discourse, exercises the securitising actor's power to convince and persuade the audience of the speech act and to achieve specific actions or reactions (Balzacq 2011a). Consequently, securitisation presenting solutions in the form of institutions may not necessarily be ‘effective’ and ‘balanced’ to those with less power in the basin. The following empirical analysis of securitisation of shared waters between Nepal and India brings together these arguments on securitising practices and the context of securitisation.

The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The Ganges River is shared by Tibet, Nepal, India and Bangladesh, encompassing an area of 1 080 000 km2. This river is part of the larger Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna river system, which is the second largest of the world's rivers in terms of drainage area and is home to approximately 40% of the entire South Asian population (Babel and Wahid 2008). During the dry season, water flow is supplied by the tributaries of the river flowing from Nepal and Tibet, making these bodies of water particularly important for the basin as a whole. Approximately 71% of the dry season flow and 41% of the annual flow are from three main tributaries: Mahakali, Gandak and Kosi rivers (Adhikary et al. 2000, 9) (see Figure 1). Consequently, the downstream states, India and Bangladesh, are highly reliant on water from the upstream during the dry season between October and May. In contrast, during the wet season, the monsoon rainfall increases water flow in the Ganges River. The abundance of water triggers calamitous events of flooding, such as the Kosi floods of August 2008 in Nepal and India with 45 000 and 3.3 million people affected respectively (Government of Bihar et al. 2010; Shrestha et al. 2010). Thus, managing extreme water availability is a major concern for the basin states.

figure

Figure 1. Map showing main Ganges tributaries flowing from Nepal to India

Source: Zurich and Pacheco (2006) with images available from www.digitalhimalaya.com/collections/maps/iah/ [last accessed 18 June 2013]

Download figure to PowerPoint

In the early 1980s, the Indian government began planning hydraulic infrastructure to control the flow of the Mahakali River, along the Nepal–India border. In general, terms, regulating flow allows increased capacity for water provision throughout the year, especially in rivers that have high flow variability: regulated flow facilitates irrigation. The planned Tanakpur Barrage would regulate water to irrigate 1.61 million ha of land in India (Verghese 1999; Pun 2009b). In addition, a run-of-river hydropower component, one that does not involve storing large quantities of water behind dam walls, would be incorporated. The hydropower plant would generate 120 MW of electricity (Pun 2009a) (see Figure 2). For India, development of the Mahakali River, or Sarada River as it is known in its territory, was not a new endeavour. Further downstream, on its own soil, the Indian government had developed the Lower Sarada Canal with a reported 2 million ha irrigation capacity (Parajuli et al. 2003). In addition, in the 1920s during colonial rule, the Sarada Barrage was constructed on the border with Nepal to facilitate irrigation in Indian territory.

figure

Figure 2. Schematic map of the Tanakpur Barrage and the left afflux bund

Source: Adapted from Gyawali and Dixit (2000, 303). Original map provided with kind permission of the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation

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While there would be economic gain from developing the river basin, the Nepali government had reservations about the Tanakpur Barrage. It raised concerns in bilateral meetings between 1983 and 1987, arguing that the project would have to be defined as an international one, rather than a domestic Indian project, being developed on a shared, transboundary river. Consequently, an international arrangement defining shared benefits would be necessary. Moreover, the Nepali government warned that the infrastructure development should not jeopardise irrigation water allocation between the two states (Minutes April 1983; Record September 1984; Minutes December 1987, in Bhasin 2005). Ultimately, the government's concerns were about the issue of equal water allocation.

The Indian government refuted such concerns by arguing that the project would not alter water availability for the two states because it is one of non-consumptive water use (Minutes December 1987, in Bhasin 2005). In other words, the construction of the infrastructure would not entail extracting large quantities of water out from the river system. Based on the argument that the project is not detrimental to Nepali water use and that adequate measures were taken to limit harm, the Indian government progressed construction in its own territory by the late 1980s (see Letter May 1991, in Bhasin 2005). It is said that the construction was executed between 1983 and 1989, in parallel with these bilateral talks (Dixit 1997).

However, by the 1990s, negotiations became protracted. Moreover, it became clear that some construction in Nepali territory was needed. To ensure that the hydraulic infrastructure would optimally regulate water, the Indian government claimed that parts of the project need to be in Nepali territory, which was higher in elevation. The left afflux bund, or the eastern wall to hold back water, would have to be stretched across the border and into Nepali territory (Letter May 1991, in Bhasin 2005). In May 1991, the Indian government took a strong position on the need for this hydraulic infrastructure and securitised the shared waters. The government claimed that this construction within Nepali territory was urgent and the Indian Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar, declared in an official letter to the Nepali head of state:

While the unresolved issue [concerning details of the Tanakpur project agreement] could be formally taken up in the [Nepal-India] Joint Commission meeting [on general water resources issues], in view of the approaching monsoon, the work of the left afflux bund has to be completed at the earliest. The areas at the border on the left side of the river at Tanakpur are subject to inundation and erosion, and tying the left afflux bund with high banks in the Nepalese territory, as proposed by us, will bring a permanent solution. A large area of Nepal will also become flood-free and usable for irrigation and development.

Letter May 1991, in Bhasin (2005, 1554–5).

This speech coming from the highest political level clearly emphasises that India and Nepal are both at the mercy of nature, with monsoon rains bringing about potential disaster. Human intervention in the form of engineering is seen as the rational approach that would reduce risk and provide long-term safety (i.e. a ‘permanent solution’). A temporary solution would not suffice; this large Ganges River basin is constantly faced with flow variability from seasonal rains and the prolonged negotiations since the 1980s had only procrastinated ‘effective’ management. For this reason, from the Indian perspective, Nepali territory is indispensable.

According to Balzacq (2011a), securitisation is not only limited to discourse but also represented in non-discursive means. Another securitising move by the Indian government was the physical construction of the left afflux bund. From records available, it seems that construction had been completed by 1993 (press release February 1993, in Bhasin 2005). Dhungel (2009, 42–3) stated that the Tanakpur Barrage was operational in 1990/1991 and the left afflux bund component fully constructed in Nepali territory before the monsoon season in 1992 (see also Salman and Uprety 2002, 102–3). This unilateral action is highly significant because it eliminates any alternative to the Tanakpur Barrage construction. This securitising move underscores the Indian claims that inaction in the face of potentially devastating rains and uncontrollable water flow would be costly.

‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The securitising move led to a decision in December 1991 on the transfer of land. First, in a note by the Nepali Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Indian Embassy in Nepal, it was made explicit that 2.9 ha of Nepali territory would be granted to India to construct the left afflux bund (note December 1991, in Bhasin 2005). Second, this decision was made concrete through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two states several days later. In this document, Nepal was entitled to 1000 cubic feet per second (cusec) of water from the Tanakpur Barrage and 25 MW of electricity.

The securitising practice following the securitising move established a clear institutional arrangement on land and water allocation, reflecting Trombetta's argument (2011) on the role of agreements in the environmental sector. Not only was specific volumetric water allocation decided, but also hydropower benefits from the construction of the barrage. It is worth exploring why this institutional arrangement was preferred by the Indian government to shed more light on power asymmetry in managing shared rivers. Here, Warner's (2004 2011) argument that risks associated with security are not only something to combat but also an opportunity to utilise is helpful: ‘a security risk is not just a “threat” (inspired by fear) but also an “opportunity” (inspired by desire)’ (Warner 2004, 10). In an attempt to seize the unusual opportunity through perceived risks, usual political protocols may be ignored, thereby bringing about a situation where actions are taken without public deliberation. Warner (2004) coined the term ‘opportunitization’ to describe such situations similar to securitisation from threats.

Considering the swiftness of construction, the Indian government likely perceived the Tanakpur Barrage issue as an opportunity to secure additional irrigation and hydropower benefits from river development. The construction in Nepali territory closes down discursive space, bringing about a situation of ‘Don't talk, act’ (Warner 2004, 12). Bandyopadhyay and Ghosh (2009, 54) argue that the Ganges River basin has been a stage for ‘human intrusion into nature [that] happens purely for satisfying economic needs’. For India, ensuring benefits of increasing irrigation and hydropower generation capacity through regulated flow is of great economic importance. The Ganges River does indeed cause devastating floods, and risks of high water flow are prevalent in the basin. The common phrase ‘Bihar's sorrow’ indicates the repeated disasters the eastern Indian state where the Kosi tributary flows across the Nepal–India border. There is an element of threat to coexist with a river. However, regulating flow not only prevents flooding during the wet season, but also enables stable access to water during the dry season. Water flow during the dry season is crucial to improving irrigation and hydropower generation capacity. By the time the Tanakpur Barrage had been constructed, the Sarada Barrage was an old instalment in the river, with potential limitations on its capacity to regulate flow (Hearns 2007, 145). The Sarada Barrage was originally constructed as part of an enterprise to develop irrigation in the region but maintaining and improving the irrigation capacity of the region required additional infrastructure. While there is a level of scientific uncertainty on the effectiveness of large infrastructure projects for flood protection (Dixit 2003), controlling water flow through dams and embankments has been the norm in this region. From the Indian perspective, the Tanakpur Barrage issue provided advantages in enhancing the existing capacity of the Sarada Barrage and the Sarada Irrigation Scheme within its territory.

Hydropolitical context of securitisation

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

Hydrocracy and resources for securitisation

Securitisation of the Tanakpur Barrage brought about public policy measures to establish a river basin development institution. As stated earlier, the paper is concerned with the reasons behind the selection of specific measures by the securitising actor. Even if the discursive power of the securitising move may be effective, certain ‘capabilities’ are required to establish security practices (Floyd 2007 2010). In the context of transboundary waters, resources of the hydrocracy need to be considered. The hydrocracy is a group of actors such as ministries or governmental organisations mandated to plan, design and implement various features of water resources management. The determining feature of the hydrocracy is its approach to managing and controlling nature through science and technology (Wester 2008). Consequently, the hydrocracy has much technical and institutional expertise to engineer water flows, whether it be through dams or irrigation canals. This technical expertise is critical to securitising practices in the case of the Tanakpur Barrage.

The Indian hydrocracy had comparatively more expertise and experience in hydraulic infrastructure development than its Nepali counterpart. First, the Indian hydrocracy had experience of developing the Mahakali River along the border and within its own territory further downstream for irrigation and hydropower generation purposes; the Sarada Barrage and the Lower Sarada project are indicative. Second, the Indian government had initiated major projects on other shared tributaries of the Ganges River in the 1950s. For example, the two governments signed an agreement in 1959 for the construction of a barrage for irrigation and hydropower purposes on the international border where the Gandak River flowed from Nepal to India. Similarly, the Kosi agreement (Agreement Between His Majesty's Government of Nepal and the Government of India Concerning the Kosi Project), signed in Kathmandu on 25 April 1954, specified water allocation and distribution of hydropower, in addition to flood control and river system maintenance through the development of a barrage in Nepali territory. The ownership of these projects remained with the Indian government, though both treaties were amended in the 1960s for a more explicit and fairer distribution of benefits after much political pressure from the Nepali government.

If the Indian government did not have the financial and technical means for water resources development, then it would have been difficult to construct the Tanakpur Barrage. The construction of the left afflux bund exemplifies ‘resource capture’ or material, physical measures to gain access to and control the resource (Zeitoun and Warner 2006). The establishment of a bilateral agreement is another way to control water resources in which compliance is gained, in this case from the Nepali government. This ‘integration strategy’ is facilitated through power asymmetry (Zeitoun and Warner 2006). In particular, power asymmetry between India and Nepal is evident when examining the hydropolitical context of bilateral agreements in further detail, as explained below.

Compliance to bilateral agreement

Compliance to the bilateral agreement was gained and maintained, despite the project causing much political turmoil in Nepal. The MOU of the Tanakpur Barrage project caused major controversy in the domestic politics of Nepal. The ruling party was heavily criticised for letting India gain land for mere compensation (Dixit 1997). It was highly problematic that no equal area of land was provided by India in exchange: allocation of irrigation water and hydropower was not sufficient in place of territorial loss (Salman and Uprety 2002). On the Mahakali River, the Nepali government had previously made concessions to the colonial British government of India in 1920 for the Sarada Barrage. To construct the barrage, approximately 1600 ha of Nepali territory was required. The agreement established that land would be exchanged between India and Nepal. Nepal would also have access to water from the Sarada Canal at a minimum of 400, maximum 1000 cusec. However, subsequent Nepali governments found the provision of water too minimal, attempting to renegotiate water allocation (Salman and Uprety 2002). It should be noted that water allocation from the Sarada Canal had not been revised at the time of negotiations of the Tanakpur Barrage. The Kosi project is another example where India has the right to the land and water of the project site and has caused much criticism by the Nepali public, with accusations of the government making a poor deal that weakens Nepali sovereignty (Untawale 1974, 717). While the Nepali government did recognise the economic benefit of river development just like its Indian counterpart, it is against this historical background that the Nepali government took a cautious approach to projects requiring the exchange of land and claimed equal benefits of developing the Mahakali River.

When the MOU was exchanged, the ruling Nepali government treated the document as an expression of mutual understanding of the Tanakpur Barrage project. Consequently, the document would not classify as an international agreement requiring ratification of two-thirds parliamentary majority under the clauses of the constitution. Opposing political parties argued the contrary, staging political demonstrations and calling for the Prime Minister to resign (Xinhua General News Service 1992 1993a 1993b). The legal status of the MOU was even brought to the Supreme Court in Nepal for expert decision. In late 1992, it was decided that the MOU was indeed an international agreement. However, this outcome was still problematic because it did not state whether the Tanakpur Barrage issue was ‘pervasive, serious, and long-term’ as specified in Article 126, Clause 2 of the constitution requiring a two-thirds majority; if not, a simple majority would be required. Debates continued, though falling short of concrete decisions. In the end, the Nepali government never fundamentally challenged the bilateral agreement concerning the Tanakpur Barrage, thereby providing compliance to Indian securitising practices.

Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The securitising practice of establishing the Tanakpur project agreement had a long-term effect on transboundary water resources management and governance of the Mahakali River. As the following analysis will show, while the Nepali government attempted to ensure a better deal on the benefits from developing the river, the securitisation practice only became more embedded into mechanisms to manage shared waters.

In Nepal, the party that signed the MOU lost power after general elections in 1994, faced with fierce opposition to the Tanakpur project. The party that next came into power proposed a draft agreement to India. Rather than renegotiating the agreement on the Tanakpur Barrage, the new Nepali government suggested an agreement concerning the development of the Mahakali River as a whole. The idea was to govern existing and new projects under a new framework agreement. This way, the agreement on the Sarada Barrage from 1920 would also be incorporated and water allocation and hydropower benefits from the Tanakpur Barrage could be revised (Gyawali and Dixit 2000). Bilateral negotiations were held during 1995 and on 12 February 1996, an agreement governing multiple projects was signed in New Delhi: Treaty between His Majesty's Government of Nepal and the Government of India concerning the Integrated Development of the Mahakali River including Sarada Barrage, Tanakpur Barrage and Pancheshwar Project (hereinafter Mahakali Treaty).

The Mahakali Treaty specified volumetric allocation from water regulated by the Tanakpur Barrage. Rather than a general clause on allocation, it was agreed that Nepal would receive 1000 cusec during the wet season and 300 cusec during the dry season (Mahakali Treaty 1996, Article 2). Hydropower would also be provided free of charge for 70 GWh. The volumetric allocation from the water regulated by the Sarada Barrage was also clarified according to flow variability, with Nepal entitled to 1000 and 150 cusec during the wet and dry season respectively from the Sarada Barrage (Mahakali Treaty 1996, Article 1). In short, the Mahakali Treaty did improve Nepal's share of benefits from the Tanakpur Barrage. However, while this treaty clarifies Nepal's water allocation from the Tanakpur and Sarada barrages, existing water use of India is not specified, making it difficult to assess the degree of equity between the two states on water allocation. The treaty had the effect of further legitimising India's unilateral development of the Tanakpur Barrage, based on an argument about supposed threats to national survival.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References

The paper set out to analyse ‘who securitises shared waters and how’, and to analyse the implications of such securitisation on water resources management and governance. In the case of the Tanakpur Barrage project, securitisation did indeed establish an international agreement, rather than trigger a water war, just as Trombetta (2011) claimed about the emergence of institutions rather than conflict over environmental issues. Environmental issues, such as problems of river flow management and water resources use, are addressed with securitisation, and not only through desecuritisation as the Copenhagen School argued. The paper highlighted that environmental cooperation could be realised through securitisation in the form of institutions, but the quality of environmental cooperation should not be overlooked. To this extent, the analysis of the hydropolitical context in which this securitisation occurred is necessary and important. The Tanakpur agreement was a ‘possible way out’ (Buzan et al. 1998, 33) of the emergency, partially because in the Ganges River basin, the river poses potential devastating threats to the landscape and communities in times of flooding. By constructing the project component in Nepali territory, the Indian government could provide flood protection to both states. However, the Indian government could also improve its allocation and control over water resources through this infrastructure development. An important theoretical insight to the process of securitisation is on the significance of both threats and opportunities. During the securitising process, the Indian government seized the opportunity to construct unilaterally a part of the Tanakpur Barrage in Nepali territory when the legal status of the agreement was still being debated in Nepal. Securitisation was possible because of the material resources and institutional experience of the Indian hydrocracy, which underpin the power asymmetry between India and Nepal. Successful securitisation in fact produced a situation where India's unilateral barrage development could not be reversed, as it was now officially recognised in the legally binding Mahakali Treaty. Moreover, this basin-wide agreement was limited in promoting equitable water allocation despite clarifying many governance aspects of the river, including the Tanakpur Barrage. Unpacking the hydropolitical context helps explain the vested interests that exist between various actors. While the environmental sector may bring about change and transformation through securitisation, critical inquiry to the quality of environmental securitisation or on the interests and outcomes of transformative environmental agreements is needed.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Securitisation theory and the environment
  5. Securitisation and power asymmetry
  6. The Tanakpur Barrage project and securitisation of the Mahakali River
  7. ‘Solutions’ to the Tanakpur Barrage problem
  8. Hydropolitical context of securitisation
  9. Implications of securitisation on river basin management and governance
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. References
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