Often at loggerheads over water resources, India and Nepal decided to bury the hatchet at the resumption of talks after four years, agreeing to focus on taming by March the raging Kosi river that has played havoc in both countries this monsoon, leaving nearly four million people homeless on both sides of the border.
“The most important and sensitive issue is the Kosi inundation,” Shankar Prasad Koirala, secretary at Nepal's water resources ministry, said after the end of the three-day bilateral talks by the Joint Committee on Water Resources (JCWR).
In December, when the water level of the river, known as the Sorrow of Bihar state in India, subsides, both countries will work in harness to repair the ravaged embankment of the Kosi by March 2009.
Already, teams from Nepal, India's central government and Bihar are working in southern Nepal, where the breach in the embankment occurred, to dig a channel, reduce the water flow and beat the river back to its original course westward so that further erosion and submergence is stopped.
The repair work will start from November-December, when both short-term and long-term disaster mitigation plans will be put into action.
Nepal, which blames the Kosi disaster on the negligence of the Bihar government that has the mandate of maintaining the Kosi barrage and accompanying structures, will however not press for compensation immediately, Koirala said.
“We are confident that after an assessment of the damage caused by the flood is made and we forward our claim to India, it will be a legitimate one,” the official said. “The talks focused on controlling the damage and not compensation.”
The talks ended with a 12-point agreement that has promised to expedite three hydropower projects. These are the giant Pancheswor multipurpose project and Saptakoshi multipurpose project, both of which require high dams and are to be constructed by the two governments, as well as the smaller, 240 MW Naumure hydropower project that India has agreed to build for power-starved Nepal.
Koirala said pre-feasibility study for Naumure would be completed in three months while the study on the Saptakoshi multipurpose project, earlier to have been completed in 33 months, has been given an extension of a year for completion.
The Naumure grant in aid hydropower project would now also include irrigation in southern Kapilavastu district of Nepal to give additional benefit.
Taking a conciliatory stand with the new Maoist government of Nepal, India has agreed to build a 12-km road connecting Tanakpur with Mahendranagar that had been its commitment as part of an old pact but never executed.
It has also agreed to stop unilateral constructions along the India-Nepal border. It means the erection of an embankment on Mohalisagar in Uttar Pradesh state of India would be halted.
India has also proposed to make amends over the controversial Laxmanpur barrage by building a structure that will allow free flow of the waters of the Gondeli and Satiya rivers.
India has also promised to stop extending the embankment on the Mechi river in Kakarbhitta and await Nepal's plans for a concerted structure.
The bigger neighbour, regarded in Nepal as a bully when it comes to water resources, has also agreed to study the inundation caused by the Gandak dam and embankment and agree to take precautionary measures.
However, after the Kosi issue, perhaps the most important decision taken at the water talks has been to hold parleys more frequently and at the highest level.
A Joint Ministerial Commission on Water Resources would be formed and it would hold its first meeting in six months.
A new Joint Standing Technical Committee would also be formed, chaired by the joint secretaries of both countries to address technical issues.
Also, the JCWR would meet again in India, probably in Varanasi, in February.
The 14-member Indian delegation was headed by secretary at the water resources ministry, Umesh Narayan Panjiar, while the 25-member Nepali delegation was led by Panjiar's counterpart Shankar Prasad Koirala