Editorial, NewAge, May 28, 2009
THE Awami League-led government, it increasingly seems, has somehow been convinced by its New Delhi counterparts that there is benefit for Bangladesh to be had from the construction of the Tipaimukh Dam/s on the river Barak. Ever since the Indian high commissioner disclosed late last week India’s plan to go ahead with the construction of the dam, at least three members of the cabinet said Dhaka would not oppose the project if it benefits Bangladesh. The commerce minister, Faruk Khan, as usual, came up with by far the strongest hint that the government may have been already convinced that dam could after all benefit, and not harm, Bangladesh, when he told journalists on Tuesday that ‘those who are talking too much against construction of the dam are talking without knowing anything…’ He did say the government ‘will soon send a delegation comprising experts and parliamentarians to see what is going on there and how it will benefit Bangladesh.’ That is, however, hardly reassuring.
It would indeed be interesting to know who the commerce minister was accusing of ‘talking too much… without knowing anything’; after all, the individuals who have been at the forefront of the ever-intensifying wave of opposition to the Tipaimukh project are mostly experts with years of experience under their belts. Interestingly still, many of them are Indians. They are unanimous in their conclusion that the Tipaimukh Dam/s would wreak an environmental disaster of an unimaginable magnitude and adversely affect millions of people on either side of the Bangladesh-India border who rely on the Meghna river system for their livelihood. Needless to say, their conclusions are based on an ever-growing pile of scientific evidence.
The benefit that the government may be envisaging, i.e. import of electricity generated from the dam, could turn out to be a chimera. In an article published in New Age on May 21, Dr Solbam Ibotombi, who teaches earth sciences at Manipur University and is a staunch critic of the Tipaimukh project, writes that ‘the dam was originally conceived to contain the floodwater in the Cachar plain of Assam but, later on, emphasis has been placed on hydroelectric power generation, having an installation capacity of 1,500MW but only firm generation capacity of 412MW.’ If so is the case, what percentage of the 412MW of electricity the government expects to import from India, which is no less electricity-starved than Bangladesh, and at what cost? As argued by Ibotombi and other Indian experts, the cost involved here is not just the cost of electricity but the irreparable economic and environmental damage that the project is likely to cause.
When there is a growing body of scientific evidence as well as strong opposition within India against the Tipaimukh project, the argument put forth by the commerce minister and some of his colleagues, i.e. there may be benefit in the project for Bangladesh, can hardly be construed as being a product of naivety and inadequate knowledge. In fact, given the Indian government’s perceived predilection for the Awami League, it could very well be construed as the government’s willingness to submit to Delhi’s plans. Here, the credibility of the government is not at stake alone, the livelihood of millions of people in India and Bangladesh is as well. The ministers in question would surely have done a great service to the country and to themselves if they took the pains to gather the details of the dam project and also go through the scientific evidences that point at the potential economic and environmental damage that the Tipaimukh project would cause. If they had, they might have thought twice before suggesting that Bangladesh is likely to benefit from the project and that the critics of the project are ‘talking too much… without knowing anything’.