Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

Flood management that cannot be watered down


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rivers mentioned

Mains level : Floods in Bihar

Over the years, many of Bihar’s districts have been facing serious challenges with recurrent and massive flooding.  It is the right time to look at some of the key aspects of India-Nepal flood management.

Simultaneous floods in Bihar and Nepal

  • Some of Nepal’s biggest river systems originate in the Himalayan glaciers which then flow into India through Bihar.
  • During the monsoons, these river systems flood causing many problems for Bihar.
  • It is a necessity that there is process-driven coordination between the Centre and the Government of Bihar to handle the flooding in Nepal’s Terai and North Bihar (largely the Mithilanchal region).

Which are those flooding rivers?

  • Nepal’s three biggest river systems—Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali—originate in the high mountain glaciers, flow through the country and then enter India through the state of Bihar.
  • During the monsoon season, these river systems often get flooded due to heavy rains/landslides in Nepal which create floods in India’s most flood prone state—Bihar.

Bihar’s vulnerability

  • The history of floods in Bihar from 1998 to 2012 reveals how strong discharges of water due to heavy rains in the catchment areas of Nepal have created a strong pressure on the river embankments in India.
  • About 76 per cent of the population living in northern Bihar live under threat of floods due to these river systems and a total of 73.06 per cent of the total geographical area of Bihar is flood affected (mostly during the monsoon).

Measures: Joint flood management program

  • As part of the long-term measures to address the problem of massive and recurrent floods in Bihar, the Joint Project Office (JPO), Biratnagar, was established in Nepal in August 2004.
  • It aimed to prepare a detailed project report to construct a high dam on the Nepal side (on the Kosi, Kamla and Bagmati rivers).

Flaws: Yet to get effect

  • Despite the best efforts made by the Government of Bihar, the task remains unaccomplished even after 17 years.
  • The Government of Bihar has raised the matter at regular intervals for this.

Who is the obstructionist? : Fault lies with Nepal

  • The Central Water Commission (CWC) has convened several meetings with Nepali Authorities.
  • However, what is evident is Nepal’s lack of prompt reciprocation.
  • India has long-standing water sharing issues with Nepal.

What has been done so far?

  • As in the figures shared by Bihar, a total of four new flood protection works in the Gandak basin area were proposed before the floods of 2020.
  • There were proposed Barrage structures located in the border districts.

Nepal’s reluctance

  • However, Nepal argues that many of the bund area falls into no man’s land along the open international border.
  • This is notwithstanding the fact that the embankment was built by India 30 years ago and there has not been any dispute regarding its maintenance all these years.

What does this signify?

  • There is a need for India-Nepal collaboration for an efficiently operated barrage.
  • It is evident that Nepal’s attitude towards mutual issues (water sharing, flood control, etc.) has been short of collaboration, unlike in the past.

Way forward

  • In the best spirit of friendship, Nepal and India should restart the water dialogue and come up with policies to safeguard the interests of all those who have been affected on both sides of the border.
  • It is time the two friendly countries come together and assess the factors that are causing unimaginable losses through flooding every year.
  • Optimisation of the infrastructure will be decisive in finding an alternative paradigm of flood management.
  • By controlling the flooding and using the water resources for common developmental uses such as hydroelectricity, irrigation and waterways, India-Nepal relations can be strengthened even further.
  • Moreover, it is also linked to how the Himalayan glaciers and the green cover are managed.


  • Water resources are priceless assets.
  • Water cooperation should drive the next big India-Nepal dialogue, and despite the challenges, wisdom should prevail to turn the crisis into an opportunity, for the sake of development and environmental protection.


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