NewAge Extra, June 12-18, 2009
Dr Ainun Nishat country director of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), was also a JRC (honorary) member from 1981 to 1999
What will be the effect on Bangladesh if the Tipaimukh Dam project concentrates on hydroelectric power generation?
As we don’t know the details about the project, we can only make assumptions about the effects. But one thing is for certain that the risk of flood will increase. And the water bodies in Sylhet will be overflowing even during the winter season. Most importantly, the average sea water level will rise. Surface irrigation will be in danger and cultivation and livelihoods in the area will be adversely affected.
But to tell exactly how much it will affect us is very hard at this point. We will have to study the detailed data regarding this project and then reach a conclusion. Whatever we say now is a hypothetical understanding.
What will be the consequences if India makes the barrage at Fulertala?
If India makes a barrage at Fulertala (through which they will be able to manage water according to their need), and procure water from river Barak, the rivers Surma and Kushira will become virtually dry.
But we do not know whether India will withdraw water or not; if they do withdraw, how much water will be withdrawn is directly linked to how much we will be affected.
The dam has been resisted in India as well?
The general people of Manipur (an Indian state) are protesting against the project. But this is because of their own interests, I am sure none of them are concerned about Bangladesh.
They are protesting because they will be forced to leave their ancestral houses and their villages will go under water and so on. Moreover, in 1962, when the Kaptai Dam was being built, people of the Chittagang Hill Tracks also protested against the execution of the project. The people of Manipur will drown under water because of the Tipaimukh Dam project. And on the other hand, the people of Assam (another state in India) will be benefited.
The planning of the Tipaimukh Dam project has been going on for many decades. What role has Bangladesh played so far?
As far as I know, Bangladesh and India are still in the middle of a negotiation about the project, and till 1974, the foundation of the discussion was mutual understanding. After that, the discussion took a more confrontational turn, which has made things complicated. The people of our country are still not clear on what is going on due to the lack of information.
What is the role of the Joint River Commission (JRC) in all of this?
Look, JRC is a recommending body, they will recommend and the government will implement what they think best. Unfortunately, JRC is not functioning properly because of a lack of proper directives from the government. The decision has to come from the politicians. In the case of Tipaimukh Dam, the same thing is happening.
How can this problem be solved?
First of all, positive politics on the basis of mutual understanding will be the key to solving the problem. Discussions and negotiation at the ministerial level will not be enough. Prime Ministers, Sheikh Hasina and Manmohan Singh, have to solve this through discussions.