Bhutan says flow of river waters to Assam disrupted by heavy rains

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Bhutan on Friday said the supply of river water to Assam has been disrupted because irrigation channels have been affected by heavy monsoon rains, dismissing reports that the flow of water had been deliberately stopped.

People familiar with developments in New Delhi said on condition of anonymity that the reports of Bhutan deliberately stopping the supply of water for irrigation in Assam were “not true”.

“In fact, the Bhutanese side has categorically denied this, saying they have been carrying out repairs of channels to ensure the smooth flow of water to Assam,” said one of the people cited above.

Some reports in the media, mainly in the northeastern states, had said Bhutan had stopped the flow of water through “dongs” or traditional irrigation channels. The reports had said thousands of farmers in Assam’s Baksa and Udalguri districts had been affected as they have been dependent on river water from Bhutan since the 1950s.

Reacting to these reports, Bhutan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that authorities, especially in Samdrup Jongkhar district that borders Assam, were working “to ensure that the disruptions caused by the monsoon rains to the irrigation channels are addressed without delay” and water is available for farmers on the Indian side.

“Bhutan would like to request for the understanding of the farmers in Assam as sometimes there could be few delays in the flow of water due to disruptions caused by the heavy monsoon rains and the operational difficulties arising from the restrictions put in place by both the countries due to Covid-19,” the statement added.

The people cited above said all works along the border had earlier been affected by Bhutan’s strict Covid-19-related restrictions.

Bhutan’s statement described allegations about the deliberate stopping of river water as “distressing” and the news reports “totally baseless”. It said there was “no reason why the flow of water should be stopped at this time”. It added that a deliberate attempt was made “by vested interests to spread misinformation and cause misunderstanding between the friendly people of Bhutan and Assam”.

Since the lockdown in India and the closure of Bhutan’s borders due to the pandemic, Assamese farmers have been unable to enter Bhutan to maintain irrigation channels as was done in the past, the statement said.

“However, understanding the difficulty that would be faced by the farmers in Assam, the Samdrup Jongkhar district officials and the general public have taken the initiative to repair the irrigation channels whenever there are problems to ensure the smooth flow of water to Assam,” it said.

Heavy monsoon rains and a sudden rise in water levels, however, are posing serious challenges and Bhutanese authorities, equipped with heavy machinery, are on standby to clear blockages. Authorities in Samdrup Jongkhar are also in close contact with their counterparts in Baksa and Udalguri.

“The people of Bhutan, especially those living along the borders of India, deeply value their age-old ties of friendship and cooperation with the people of India, particularly their close neighbours across the borders in Assam and West Bengal. The people of Bhutan feel that such ties of friendship, cooperation and support must continue and be reinforced during these difficult times,” the statement said.

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