We have received some disturbing news that contrary to repeated assurances by Indian Policy makers of not doing anything at Tipai Mukh which may harm Bangladesh, India has taken unilateral actions to sign contract for setting up the controversial dam. India did not share information with Bangladesh. Bangladesh reacted immediately asking for providing detail information. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a strong statement in the Parliament mentioning that Bangladesh will not accept any unilateral action at Tipaimukh without being convinced that the planned works of Dam Construction and Hydro Power project would not trigger ecological Damage to Bangladesh. She asserted that Bangladesh will not agree on any construction of dam unilaterally by India at Tipaimukh. PM also informed that she is going to send a special envoy to find out details from Indian Government about the latest status of Tipaimukh Project. Madam Khaleda Zia, the leader of the opposition in Bangladesh Parliament has reportedly written letter to Indian Prime Minister requesting him to arrange joint survey of Tipaimukh project. She also assured all support to Bangladesh Government in its present strong stance on the issue. We naturally condemn India’s controversial action as no less than Indian Prime Minister categorically mentioned that nothing that harms Bangladesh would be done at Tipaimukh.
Bangladesh Government of Sheikh Hasina despite of strong anti Indian sentiment in the country for several reasons did everything possible to remove mutual distrust, disbelief with a view to establishing good neighborly relations. It has taken strong actions to arrest or push back Indian insurgents and demolished all hide outs and sealed all routes of arms ammunition transit through Bangladesh. It has also allowed transshipment/transit of construction materials for under construction power plant at Paltana, Tripura. The provision for regular use of Mongla and Chittagong port, road and Railway transit are under active consideration. India has so far failed to reciprocate good neighborly generous gestures of Bangladesh. Indian central government failed to conclude agreement for Teesta Water sharing and now showing utter disregard to international norms and breaking its own promises have proceeded to set up Tipai Mukh dam on Common River Barak which if built can have far reaching devastating impacts on North Eastern Region of Bangladesh. Bangladesh government must immediately register strong protest and prepare plan to take the matter to international forum.
It is really unfortunate that the historic friendly relations between Bangladesh and India established through the experience of Bangladesh war of independence in 1971 continue to struggle to be translated into deeds. Bangladeshis still bears the brunt of serious adverse impacts of the Farakka Barage. Initially when completed in 1970 around 18KM upstream of Monohorpoor it was told that it would not have major impacts on downstream. It was only being constructed to save Kolkata Port from silting. But over the last four decades entire south western region of Bangladesh had to embrace long term losses in agricultural, fisheries, forestry, industry, navigation and other sectors. The barrage also caused some fatal damages over the years through floods, droughts, excessive salinity and ground water depletion. New born Bangladesh Government tried to address the matters immediately after the formation of Indo-Bangla Joint River Commission in 1972. In a summit meeting in 1974 India assured that it would not put Farakka Barage into operation till an agreement is reached for sharing of the Ganges River water during the dry season. Bangladesh only allowed India testing of feeder canal of the barrage in 1975.
Showing utter disrespect of its own assurance India commissioned the barrage and continued unilateral diversion of Ganges flow well beyond the test period. Such situation continued till 1997 when Awami League Government of Sheikh Hasina could manage to make India concede. But in the meantime Impacts of Farakka caused huge damage to Bangladesh.
From the bitter lesson of Farakka major section of sensible Bangladeshis developed disbelief and mistrust about India. Enclaves, BSF killing on Innocent villagers, maritime and land boundary disputes, smuggling, subversive activities by intelligence wings, both countries habouring each others, “high profile criminals”, the river linking project were thorns on the side of the apparent friendly relation of the SAARC Neighbors.
Mahajote Government took various initiatives to identify and assess the reasons that caused these irritants continuing souring of relations. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India and Summit Meeting mapped the pathway of resolving issues for the greater interest of peace and stability and poverty alleviation of the region. Water sharing among others was identified as one of the major issues. India however was moving ahead silently with the implementation of Tipai Mukh Dam on the Barak River. But Indian Government was always assuring that it will do nothing at Tipai Mukh that may harm Bangladesh. Bangladesh sent an all party parliamentary delegation led by Mr. Abdur Razzak MP and senior Awami League Leader who in previous term of Awami League Government was Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation. During this visit also Indian Authority talked sensibly of not doing anything at Tipai Mukh without discussing with Bangladesh. Even the joint communiqué provided after Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s recent visit reiterated the promise and assurance that India would do nothing at Tipai Mukh that may harm Bangladesh.
In the meantime India managed to transship all heavy machinery and equipment required for construction of Power Plant at Paltana, Tripura using Ashuganj as port of call and using Ashuganj- Agartala road for carrying these. Ashuganj port and the same route were also used as trail operation of transit. All these happened despite of failure to reach agreement on sharing of Teesta River Water for alleged last minute turnaround of Chief Minister of West Bengal.
Now the news of signing agreement for construction of Tipai Mukh Dam keeping Bangladesh in complete darkness has triggered fresh controversy as North Eastern region is definitely going to have the same sufferings that South Eastern Part is experiencing from Farakka. Bangladesh must immediately register formal protest and prepare to take this to international forum and UNO if required. The Tipai Mukh Dam will also affect, while compounding losses caused by Farakka, the country’s fisheries, agriculture, environment and water supply.
What Is Tipaimukh Dam?
It is an embankment dam on the River Barak in Manipoor state of India. The dam will be 390 m long and 162.8 m high, across Barak River. The dam’s crest elevation will be at an altitude of about 180m above mean sea level with a maximum reservoir level of 178 m. The dam was originally designed to contain flood waters in the lower Barak valley but hydropower generation was later incorporated into the project. The project will have an installation capacity of 1500MW, supplied by six 250MW Francis turbine generators.
The environmental clearance approval had been received on the 24th October, 2008. The construction work for road access to the site has progressed. There are reports that contract for construction of the dam has been just concluded. The dam will be built on the international River crossing into Bangladesh from India at the confluence of the river Barak and Tuvai in the Indian State of Manipur. Total affected area of the project will be locally 319Square km and will require immediate relocation of 50,000-60,000 indigenous tribal people. However, the real social, environmental and economic repercussions of the dam will be experienced in the lower riparian country located only 150KM downstream, Bangladesh. The project has future plan to erect an irrigation barrage at Fuelertol near Lakhipur in the state of Assam, 95 km downstream of the dam, and only 50 km from Bangladesh border. It is anticipated that the disastrous environmental impact on Bangladesh will be Irreversible. Borak River divulges into Surma and Kushiara just before crossing the international border. These two rivers in Bangladesh mainly carry water to create the third largest river system as they merge to form the river Meghna. Hence any impact on the Borak River will have deadly effect on Meghna River system. Borak River also supplies water to wetlands [haors] in Sylhet region. These mainly serve as water reservoir in the monsoon season. These are also major source of fisheries in Bangladesh and in dry season farming. As of today India has not provided any official data on water sharing in post dam period. Preliminary estimates evidence that direct impact of the dam will be reduced water flow in monsoon season and higher flow in dry season. Lower flow in monsoon will cause shrinking of wetlands and higher flow in dry season will cause flooding in farmable lands. As signatory to the Ganges Treaty in 1996, India has agreed, as laid out in Article 1X of that treaty, to negotiate and share water in other common rivers. By taking unilateral actions on building dam at Tiapimukh without consulting Bangladesh, India is in violation of the treaty that it has agreed to abide by for thirty years. The negative impacts of the dam will outweigh any benefit of 1500MW of Power Generation in India, Bangladesh cannot accept India’s development at the cost of environmental, and economic disaster of Bangladesh. Tipaimukh dam is going to be a catastrophic disaster in the making for Bangladesh.
The above findings are also supported by a study, “Hydrological Impact Study of Tipaimukh Dam Project” of the Institute of Water Modelling [IWM] Bangladesh in 2005. The report summarized the overall nature of impact in six categories, including hydrological impact, impact on flooding patterns and on river flood plain – wetland ecosystem, impact on morphology, impact on water quality, dam-break and overall in general. The study predicts the dam will change the hydrological pattern of the River Barak, the second largest drainage system in northeast India, and reduces the navigability of the Surma and Kushiyara downstream.
According to the study Bangladesh needs water in the drier monsoon for fish and cultivation; the dam authorities will hold 27 percent more water in June, 16 percent in July and 14 percent in August and 4 percent in September than an average monsoon year. The pre-monsoon water flow will increase up to 25 and 15 percent in April and May respectably due to release of water from the dam just ahead of the monsoon. These will cause moderate to severe floods in some parts of the Sylhet Region in April and May and inundate boro fields at harvest time.
The impacts on the flood plain – wetlands will destroy the natural integrity of the ecosystem and the consequences of this will induce loss of habitat for many species and even cause extinctions in the North – eastern region of Bangladesh.
The study report was shared with India but unfortunately India never came back with comments.
Common Bangladeshis are unaware of the technical details or actual impacts of Tiapimukh Dam and hydroelectric project. But the adverse Impacts of Farakka is live to all. We also know how Kaptai Hydro Electric project created miseries to our tribal community in Chittagong Hill Tracts. Bangladesh cannot afford to let India build another Farakka like death trap for Bangladesh. There must not be any politics here. PM Hasina sounded tough on the issue in the parliament. We like to see actions. We want to have all information about what is going on there and how Indian actions will keep Bangladesh harmless? Leader of the opposition must not blame Government here and for the greater interest stand by government actions. It is not time to discuss who did what in the past. It is time for strong national unity on a very important national issue. It is a time to demonstrate that Bangladeshis as proud nation always unites for common national cause. We like to see that two leading ladies refrain from exchanging vollies to each other on the issue. Other minor parties must not show adventurism as well. Nonresident Bangladeshis especially strong Sylhettis must raise concern and register strong voice of disapproval on the project.
International norms also cannot allow upper riparian country divert and control flow through common rivers causing extensive damage to lower riparian country. India must listen to united voice of Bangladesh and immediately share all relevant information with Bangladesh. We all would like to be convinced that Indian actions do not really cause any damage to Bangladesh. Till such time India must put on hold of all actions on Tipaimukh Dam Construction.