Many Indian news outlets have reported that the Bhutan government has stopped the release of water for an irrigation channel along its border with Assam, affecting farmers in the Indian state. However, Bhutan has now denied these claims, calling it a ‘deliberate attempt to spread misinformation and cause misunderstanding between Bhutan and Assam.’
The Times of India carried a report by IANS, which claimed that Bhutan had also barred the entry of foreigners over the COVID-19 pandemic, including Indian farmers who would cross the border to divert parts of a river into Assam for the purposes of irrigation.
However, the report, dated 26 June, also carried one line saying that Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, had denied any such blocking of water by their government.
Outlook also carried a longer version of the IANS report, which stated that after “China, Pakistan and Nepal, now Bhutan has also started hassling India” and that Bhutan’s alleged decision to stop releasing channel water for irrigation purposes was affecting “thousands of farmers in 25 villages of the region”.
EastMojo, a media outlet based in northeast India also carried a full-fledged report which said that, “After aggression from China & Nepal, Bhutan stops irrigation canal which was active since 1953 ignoring interest of over 6,000 farmers on Indian side.”
The report also stated that many farmers of Assam’s Baksa district staged a demonstration on Monday and expressed their concern over the Bhutan government’s decision to stop the flow of water.
They have also urged the state government to address the issue with the Bhutan government, the report further said.
EastMojo also quoted Naroram Narzary, a farmer, as saying, “Like the previous years, this year too we have started our process in our respective paddy fields. But, surprisingly, we have realised that Bhutan has stopped releasing the water. This will be a disaster for all of us.”
‘Totally Baseless’: Bhutan Denies Reports
We found that the Chief Secretary of Assam, Kumar Sanjay Krishna, had taken to Twitter to call these reports false, claiming that the actual reason behind the water being stopped was the “natural blockage of informal irrigation channels into Indian fields”. He also added that the Bhutan government was actually helping to clear the blockage rather than causing it.
He also shared photos of people helping to clear the blockage.
Tenzing Lamsang, editor, The Bhutanese, and President of Media Association of Bhutan, also took to Twitter to clarify that the Bhutan border was shut to all foreigners amid COVID-19 and not specifically farmers. He also said that the local government in Bhutan had agreed to maintain the channel for irrigation.
Further, Bhutan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday, 26 June, issued a statement on their Facebook page, calling the reports baseless.
“This is a distressing allegation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to clarify that the news articles are totally baseless as there is no reason why the flow of water should be stopped at this time. It is a deliberate attempt by vested interests to spread misinformation and cause misunderstanding between the friendly people of Bhutan and Assam,” the statement said.
The statement also said that since the Assamese farmers are unable to enter Bhutan to maintain the irrigation channels at the moment, “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.”
Additionally, the Foreign Ministry said that, “Bhutanese authorities, including with heavy machinery, are on standby to clear any blockage and channel the water whenever there is a problem.”