Editorial, NewAge, May 21, 2009
WITH the Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka, Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, recently confirming that his government is going ahead with its controversial Tipaimukh dam project on the river Barak, the water resources minister’s reaction to Delhi’s plan appeared somewhat confusing. It was reported on Tuesday that Pinak had met the shipping minister Afsarul Amin and confirmed for the first time that the Tipaimukh project is underway. Upon emerging from the meeting, Pinak assured journalists that the dam would produce hydroelectricity and would not ‘harm’ Bangladesh in any way. Curiously, the water resources minister, Ramesh Chandra Sen, said Dhaka would not object to a project to produce electricity but would protest if a dam was constructed. What he has apparently overlooked is the fact that the dam is an integral part of the hydroelectricity projects and that there is hardly any scope for ifs and buts.
First and foremost, it is important for the incumbent government to clarify its position on the Tipaimukh dam, on the basis of scientific evidence and expert opinion in Bangladesh and from across the border, and not on the basis of spoken assurances of a foreign government. Secondly, it is clear to us that on issues of water-sharing, Delhi has been largely disinclined to fulfil its commitments in the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, in which Bangladesh in recent years has been receiving significantly less water than promised. In fact, repeated official protests by Bangladesh on the issue of water shortfalls have been greeted by silence in Delhi. Under the circumstances, the protection of national interests demands that the government re-examine the scientific evidence on the possible environmental fallout of the Tipaimukh dam before it signals its approval.
The Indian high commissioner’s suggestion that the opposition to the Tipaimukh dam project was viewed unduly from a political perspective is also objectionable. He should know better that any issue which requires state-to-state engagement is political and the issue of the Tipaimukh is, thus, as much a political issue as it is a scientific one. It is all the more so because it involves the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on the Mehgna river system for freshwater, for their livelihoods, and for the overall food security of the region. Besides, the Indian high commissioner’s statement, by itself, represents a political perspective. With Bangladesh already struggling with water shortages in the fallout of global warming and consequent climate change, the Tipaimukh dam will have a snowballing effect on the environmental catastrophe already predicted. Under the circumstances, Dhaka should not only take a firm stance against any dam project which reduces dry season water flow into the region, it should also seek to address this dispute at the United Nations level where there is widespread recognition that rising sea levels and erratic monsoons caused by global warming will extract a deadly toll on Bangladesh’s development.