Pinaky Roy, The Daily Star, June 11, 2009
Ignoring its promise, India in the last four years has refrained from sharing technical information with Bangladesh about building the Tipaimukh Dam in the bordering Manipur state, triggering public uncertainty and outcry over its possible negative impact on the neighbouring country.
While India has not started construction of Tipaimukh dam on the Barak river near Manipur-Mizoram border, it had floated international tender in 2005 and opened the bid in 2006 during the era of former BNP-Jamaat alliance rule.
In 2005, India promised to share with Bangladesh the project design, which is pending till date. Besides, the country also did not share any study report on the dam’s impact on downstream regions.
Experts told The Daily Star the construction of Tipaimukh dam would impose a great environmental threat to Bangladesh as four major rivers in the Meghna basin — the Meghna, Kalini, Surma and Kushiyara — lie downstream the Barak, locally known as ‘Ahu’.
Amid such concerns, the prime minister has recently said an all-party parliamentary committee will visit India to know about the issue. The schedule of this visit has not yet been set.
Indian response to Bangladesh’s worries has so far been remained confined within officially informing the government that they have not started any construction yet.
“They also informed us that they would not construct the Phulertal barrage under the project,” said Mir Sazzad Hossain, member of the Joint River Commission.
At a Joint River Commission (JRC) meeting in September 2005 held in Dhaka India formally assured Bangladesh that they would not divert any water for their irrigation project, he said.
Hiding any information by the upper riparian countries about the use of common rivers is considered as violation of the international water management convention.
The expert warn of an increase in salinity in the Meghna-Surma basin, unusual floods in haor region, reduce in water flow in the Surma, Kushiyara and Meghna rivers in certain period, damage to the country’s ecosystem and agriculture patterns in Sylhet region, among other impacts of the dam.
A chain of severe impacts is very likely as Bangladesh gets 7-8 percent of its river waters through the Barak.
Negative impacts of any large dam are very widely known around the globe. A detailed study by the World Dam Commission published in 2000 says adverse impacts of any large dams are irreversible for the lower riparian region.
The study after reviewing 1,000 dams from 79 countries concludes in its report: “The environmental impacts of dams are more negative than positive ones and in many cases dams have led to irreversible loss of species and ecosystems.”
Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarti at a meeting with Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain recently said though his country will have sole control over water flow at the proposed dam site, it would not make any barrage.
He also said Bangladesh would not be ‘affected’ by the dam.
However, experts fear once the dam is set up, it may reduce the natural monsoon flood patterns in the Sylhet region, adversely affecting cultivation and livelihoods on a vast scale.
“It will increase the risk of floods at the end of monsoon and hamper the agriculture patterns during winter,” said Ainun Nishat, eminent river expert of the country.
Rainfall patterns are changing due to climate change and a lot of rainfall takes place at the end of monsoon, said Ainun Nishat. If it rains at the end of monsoon, it will open the spillway gates of the dam and unusual floods will occur here, he added.
They would preserve the water during monsoon after building the dam and release it in winter, which will increase the water flow downstream.
“The land downstream the Barak in Sylhet region is wetland, where people grow crops during winter when it gets dry. If they release water during winter the wetland will be inundated and it will be a great impact on our agriculture,” Nishat warned.
An increase in water level in the winter will cause a major impact on the ecosystem if the wetland gets inundated, he added.
He however said without checking every piece of information it is not possible to measure the total impact of Tipaimukh dam.
The experts fear India may hold up water flow during dry season and divert water at the proposed Phulertal Barrage 100 kilometres downstream Tipaimukh and 100 km upstream Amalshid in Sylhet.
The Phulertal barrage would have a direct bearing on the Surma, Kushiyara and Meghna rivers due to diversion of water for irrigation purposes in northeastern India. On hydropower component and rock fill dam, India claims no damage would occur to Bangladesh, but Bangladesh fears upstream water flow regulation.
Director General of Water Resources Planning Organisation (WARPO) Jalaluddin Md Abdul Hye said, “We don’t have enough information to talk about the issue.”
INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION AND GANGES WATER SHARING TREATY, 1996
According to the International Convention on Joint River Water, without the consent of the downstream river nation no single country alone can control the multi-nation rivers.
But India does not care for these international laws despite being a signatory of this convention.
If India constructs the dam without the consent of Bangladesh, it will also violate the article 9 of Bangladesh-India Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, 1996.
Asked about a possible solution, Ainun Nishat said the solution has to be political. He added in the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty both the countries agreed to manage all the joint rivers on bilateral basis.
“So under the Gages Water Sharing Treaty, both the country can resolve by sharing information and a joint team can study the adverse impacts on both the countries,” Nishat added.
India handed over a number of primary project proposals to Bangladesh in 1979 and 1983. Later they conducted detailed studies about the project and completed the final design and environment impact assessment but did not share those with Bangladesh.
According to the primary project proposals, the height of the Tipaimukh damn was fixed at 161.8 metres and length 390 metres to contain at lest 15.9 million cubic metres of water.
ROLE OF THE FORMER GOVERNMENT
India completed the design and detailed studies and floated an international tender during the BNP-Jamaat rule, but the then government did not take up the issue properly.
At the 36th JRC meet held in Dhaka in September 2005, Bangladeshi delegates did not raise the Tipaimukh issue properly and failed to collect any information from their counterparts.
Just after two months India floated the international tender for the dam in November 2005, meaning they had nearly completed all the preparations during the JRC meet.
The then Indian water resources minister and JRC Co-chairman Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi at that meet said, “We’ll present Tipaimukh’s planned design to Bangladesh when it is prepared.”
The Indian minister also committed to Bangladesh that they would not construct any barrage at Phulertal point as per their initial plan.
But just in next year, in July 2006, the pre-bid qualification of the tender for the first phase was opened. But the then BNP government did not conduct any technical study about the impacts of Tipaimukh or send any team to negotiate or visit the site.
Asked, Maj (retd) Hafizuddin, former water resources minister of the alliance government, said, “We repeatedly asked them to inform us about the Tipaimukh dam. But they didn’t inform us anything, not even how much electricity they are going to produce.”
“The Bangladesh governments are always in the dark about the issue,” he observed.
About the JRC meet in 2005, he said the Indian minister assured that they would not build any barrage at Phulertal and they would inform later if they decide to build any barrage at any other point.
He added BNP will soon arrange a press conference on the issue.
INDIAN CITIZENS ALSO PROTESTING THE DAM
Information surfaced in different websites says several Indian organisations and civil society bodies are protesting the dam considering its negative impacts.
The websites also say the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of India has found the design of the dam contains many errors, omissions, gaps, lacks in scientific rigour and falls far short of compliance of normative standards set by the scientific and academic community in India and the world.
The Action Committee Against Tipaimukh Dam (ACTIP), a platform protesting the dam, along with some other local committees from Manipur and Mizoram submitted a memorandum on March 14, 2007 to the president and prime minister of India in protest against the project.
They mentioned in their memorandum that once the project is implemented, an area of 286.20 square kilometres land will go under water forever.
Eight villages situated in the Barak valley will be completely inundated leaving over 40,000 people landless and more than 90 villages, mostly in Tamenglong district, adversely affected. Besides, about 27,242 hectares of cultivable land will be lost.
The Barak waterfalls and Zeilad Lake, which are connected with the history of the Zeliangrong people, an indigenous community in India, will go forever underwater. All folklores and legends will have no monuments’ proof and it will become a makeup story for the next generation.
In the memorandum they said the mega-dam proposed in Tipaimukh will smother this river, change its age-old knowable and reliable nature, and drown them all in sorrow forever.
The project is not for the common people, they said, appealing to the government to let the Ahu run free.
How far they have advanced could not be confirmed, but the project is scheduled to be completed by 2012, different websites mentioned.
Recently, the Indian high commissioner said most of the Bangladeshi experts are making comments without having adequate information.
In response to the envoy’s remarks, this correspondent tried to reach him in Dhaka, but he was not available.
None of the other high officials at the Indian High Commission in Dhaka could be contacted for comments despite repeated attempts in the last three days.