Transboundary politics and governance of Kosi

The research, supported by The Asia Foundation (TAF), engages with the challenge of inclusive and informed politics in transboundary river water governance. This examines the premise that better access of nonstate actors to information leads to more inclusive politics and transboundary river water governance. The study focused on the Kosi River basin shared by India and Nepal, and looks at the politics of transboundary river water governance for flood protection.

The qualitative research involved field research in both India and Nepal in the Kosi river basin, supported by historical and secondary sources research, key informant interviews and other interactions such as focus group discussions and workshops. The study concludes that access to information does ensure more inclusive politics and ensures effective participation of nonstate actors in transboundary governance of river waters. However, it is necessary that the information or knowledge is credible, legitimate and accountable. In the absence of this condition, the nonstate actors’ participation can be political and may produce suboptimal outcomes.

The research also addresses the larger question of what ails the transboundary governance between the two countries that fails the primary objective of the cooperation: to cope with the risk of floods in the Kosi basin. It also explores into the constructions of antagonistic politics in the respective public spheres of India and Nepal to explain the impasse over Kosi. The makes key the following conclusions and arguments. One, there is a need for revisiting the Kosi Treaty. The transborder cooperation – the institutional arrangements for transborder coordination - has reduced to preserving and managing flood protection works, and misses the larger objective of coping with the risk of disaster. The revisiting Kosi Treaty needs to be driven by this larger objective for improved flood risk management. Two, the political relations matter in ensuring effective working of the transborder cooperation arrangements. The study offers empirical evidence to support this argument by looking into the instances of 2008 floods and ‘no floods’ in 2014.