Political Power Dictates Transboundary Waters

August 21, 2009

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service, August 20, 2009

STOCKHOLM, (IPS) – A longstanding quote attributed, rightly or wrongly, to the legendary author and humourist Mark Twain has been reverberating in the conference rooms of the Swedish capital: “Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”

Since nearly half of the global available surface water is found in 263 international river basins, the countries sharing borders have one of two choices: either collaborate or go to war.

A primary focus at the international water conference, currently underway in Stockholm, is transboundary water management.

The sources of potential collaboration or conflicts include sharing waters in the Baltic Sea, the Jordan River, the Mekong River Basin, the Ganges River, the Indus River and the Nile Valley, among many others.

Gunilla Carlsson, the Swedish minister for international development cooperation, points out that over 60 percent of the world’s population live in river basins that are shared by two or more countries.

“This is something we cannot ignore,” she told delegates. “We have one such water in our very city of Stockholm, the Baltic Sea. Its waves of history are filled with war and conflict, as well as with peace and cooperation.”

Carlsson also said transboundary water issues not only concern rivers or river basins, which require political and technical solutions between bordering nations, but also coastal areas and oceans, where no bordering nations exists.

According to the United Nations, more than 880 million people worldwide still do not have access to safe drinking water.

But there are some water experts, mostly pessimists, who predict that future military conflicts will be fought over scarce water resources.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admits that even though there is concern over the possibility of “violent disputes” over sharing limited water resources, cooperation is the most common response by people facing competing demands.

He buttresses his argument by pointing out that there are at least 300 international water agreements worldwide, often among parties that are otherwise at odds.

“These agreements demonstrate the potential of shared water resources to foster trust and promote peace,” he says.

In South Asia alone, three transboundary river basins sustain about half of the region’s 1.5 billion people, including some of the world’s poorest.

The three river basins that cover eight countries in the region include: the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (which spans Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal); the Indus river basin (Afghanistan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan); and the Helmand river basin (which covers Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan).

Munqeth Mehyar, chairperson, Friends of the Earth Middle East, told reporters that of the 1.3 billion cubic metres that would flow to replenish the Dead Sea, 100 million cubic metres is all that is left.

The river has seen over 95 percent of its waters diverted. The governments of Israel, Palestine and Jordan have signed agreements to restore the river. But these statements have yet to be followed up by any action, he added.

Mehyar, a national of Jordan, said Palestinians must get direct access to the river and Palestine deserves a share of the water as an equal riparian.

The budget for sustaining conflict and supporting wars is very large. But peace and restoration activities will only require a very small percentage of that budget, he added.

Meanwhile, in a new study released here, the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) says the response of the international water community to the mounting challenges and pressure placed on shared waters has thus far been “inconsistent and inadequate”.

Generally, the international water community is split into three camps over how transboundary flows relate to livelihoods, development and human, state and regional security.

Some emphasise the causal relationships between water scarcity (or floods) and violent conflict or poverty.

Others contend that the evidence of cooperation that exists globally suggests a comforting trend towards stability and wealth.

The third camp is between the two, but stresses the existence of numerous water conflicts that fall short of violence, says the study jointly authored and edited by Dr Anders Jagerskog, programme director at SIWI, Dr. Mark Zeitoun, senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia in Britain, and Anders Berntell, executive director SIWI.

“It seems obvious. Transboundary waters are highly political. And politics are ruled by power,” the authors argue.

Yet, traditional and emerging forms of interaction in the Mekong, Jordan, Ganges, the Nile and in so many other transboundary waterways reveal that the international community turns a blind eye to the power plays over water.

At the same time, too many have silently submitted to the notion that more equitable, sustainable and efficient transboundary water cooperation is not possible, says the study titled “Getting Transboundary Water Right: Theory and Practice for Effective Cooperation”.

In many transboundary water contexts, political power is asymmetrically distributed.

The most powerful riparian state is often able to determine the outcome of the interactions – for unilateral or collective good.

China’s financial assistance to Cambodia in sectors unrelated to the Mekong has been credited for ensuring official Cambodian acquiescence to the building of potentially devastating upstream dams.

Such use of “carrots” to induce cooperation is more welcome than the use of the “stick”, the study says.

Under this unilateral paradigm, however, states can resort to threats and coerce their neighbours to submit to an agreement whose terms may return to haunt them.

And by limiting the exploration of options, the strong-arming can also prevent the creation of a more sustainable agreement based on meeting common interests.

Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Assam writes to Indian PM protesting Tipaimukh Dam

August 7, 2009


Mr. Manmohan Singh,

Prime Minister of India,

New Delhi.

(Through the Deputy Commissioner of Golaghat District, Assam)

Sub:  Protest against Big Dam and Ensure Social Justice During the time Drought

Dear Mr. Singh,

Greetings from Assam! We would like to bring to your notice the repeated and continuing subversion of downstream concerns in Assam during the rapid development of dams in Arunachal Pradesh.  As of June 2009, the Arunachal Pradesh government has already signed agreements (MoUs) for 103 hydroelectric projects for 30, 000 MW. Recent times have seen grave concern being expressed about the poorly studied downstream livelihood and ecological impacts of large dams in both Arunachal Pradesh and neighbouring Assam. The concerns include loss of fisheries, changes in beel (wetland) ecology in the flood plains, agricultural losses, increased flood vulnerability due to massive boulder extraction from river beds and sudden water releases from reservoirs in the monsoons.  But the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) continues to ask project authorities to restrict their studies to 10 km. downstream of a project. We would like you to personally intervene in this serious matter, both as the PM of the country, as well as a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam.  The issue was debated in the Assam Legislative Assembly recently and a House Panel has been set up to investigate the matter. But, the Central government is still ignoring these issues. The latest in this series of subversion of downstream concerns of Assam is the 1750 MW Demwe Lower project being built on the Lohit river.  Two public hearings are being scheduled for this project in Arunachal Pradesh on August 11th and 12th. But no downstream impact assessment has been done in the project, both in Arunachal Pradesh and neighbouring Assam.  We would like to urge you to immediately ask for cancellation of these public hearings and initiation of proper downstream impact assessment studies first.  Public consultation will have to be done both in Arunachal Pradesh and downstream Assam after detailed downstream studies have first been completed.

We would like to remind you that in spite of downstream concerns being brought to the notice of the MoEF and its Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley and Hydroelectric projects over the past few years, Terms of Reference (ToR) for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies for over 30 projects in Arunachal Pradesh granted over the last two years have all been restricted to 10 km. downstream of the project! This is a joke considering the huge conflicts in the downstream areas of mega projects such as the 2000.

MW Lower Subansiri and 405 MW Ranganadi Stage – I in recent times. Your office (PMO) did ask for downstream impact studies to be done in Lower Subansiri, but only after the construction work had begun and the project was a fait accompli. In the 1500 MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric project too, the MoEF only asked for downstream impact assessment studies as a post-clearance condition in its environmental clearance letter of October 2008: “Due to construction of the dam, downstream impacts of the project in the State of Assam should be studied.” What is the use of doing downstream impact studies as a formality after work has already begun? We believe that such actions of your government are seriously compromising the social and environmental security of Assam.  If these concerns are not taken seriously, the region will see major conflicts on this issue and your government will be responsible for pushing destructive development projects on the people of the Northeast.

At the same time we like to tell you that the Assam govt. has made a lot of statements on the dams issue and perhaps written letter to New Delhi, the situation has not changed on the ground. In fact it has only worsened. This clearly shows that the efforts of the Assam government are clearly inadequate.  Here are some examples of the rapid developments in recent times which are completely ignoring downstream issues:

In the last two years the Central Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) has given pre-construction clearance to at least 34 hydroelectric projects in Arunachal Pradesh. While giving pre-construction clearance, they have also prescribed ‘Terms of Reference’ for conduct of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies. For all projects, without exception, the downstream impact studies have been asked to be restricted to 10 km. only! Therefore the impact on Assam is totally ignored.

The 1500 MW Tipamukh project in Manipur was given final environmental clearance in October 2008 without studying downstream impacts on Southern Assam. One of the post-clearance condition states: ” Due to construction of the dam, downstream impacts of the project in the State of Assam should be studied.’ The same strategy is being employed as in 405 MW Ranganadi and 2000 MW Lower Subansiri. First start work and then ask for downstream study! This is complete nonsense.

On July 10th (2009) the Supreme Court of India lifted the restriction on construction of dams upstream of Lower Subansiri. Now 19 more large dams can be built upstream of Lower Subansiri on the main Subansiri river and its major tributary the Kamala.  So even before NHPC can settle all the serious conflicts in the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri project, it has already started planning for the 2000 MW Upper Subansiri and 1600 MW Middle Subansiri.

Three public hearings for mega dams will be held in Arunachal Pradesh in August 2009. One for the 3000 MW Dibang Multipurpose on August 6th. Two for the 1750 MW Lower Demwe project (on the Lohit) on August 11th and 12th.  Both projects have not studied downstream impacts on Assam as their studies were restricted to 10 km. downstream of the project.  This is a big threat to the Tinsukia district of Assam which government of Assam has completely ignored.  Important ecosystems such as the Dibru – Saikhowa National Park will be impacted by the dams on the Lohit too.

This issue is urgent and serious. As of June 2009, the Arunachal Pradesh government has already signed MoUs for 103 dams for 30,000 MW! They want to sign a total of 135 MoUs for 57, 000 MW.  We are facing a crisis. We ask GoI to put a moratorium on all dam clearances from New Delhi till the Assam Assembly panel investigates the issue. We ask Govt. should immediately make public the interim downstream impact study of the Lower Subansiri project.  Why is it being kept a ‘secret”?  Any future decision whether to start work or not can only be taken after the completion of full downstream study and detailed public consultation.

The people of the downstream will not tolerate the ignoring of downstream issues any more. We hope you will address these important concerns at the earliest.

We demand moratorium on the mega hydrel projects in North East India.

While we draw your attention to the serious issues of big dam we would like to highlight the drought in Assam. As you are aware the Assam government has declared several districts as drought affected areas. Mere declaration without taking into account the long term policy matters the state will continue to suffer. We strongly argue that the Assam government should be supported and be given clear direction to ensure social justice during this severe natural calamity we also argue that total irrigation be implemented in the state at the earliest.

Thanking you,


(Mulan Laskar)                                                                                             (Akhil Gogoi) General Secretary                                                                                              President

Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Assam

Copy to: Mr. Tarun Gogoi, Chief Minister, Assam.

Silchar Memo Submitted to the Bangladesh Parliamentary Committee visiting Tipaimukh

August 6, 2009

Society of Activists & Volunteers for Environment (SAVE)
‘PURBAPATH’, Malugram, Silchar-788 002, Assam

Date: 01-8-09

The Chairman
Parliamentary Team, Bangladesh
(Constituted to visit the proposed Tipaimukh Dam site. Through His Excellency, Hon’ble High Commissioner, Bangladesh, Kolkata).

Sub:- Memorandum opposing construction of Tipaimukh Dam in view of the devastating environmental impact on downstream of Barak basin in general and Barak Valley in particular.


At the very outset, we offer you and all your team members a warm and heartily welcome to our land and thank you for your deep concern about the impact on environment emanating from the construction of Tipaimukh Dam at the upstream of Barak river.

With deep anguish, we have observed that during recent days, lot of hue and cry are being registered, all opposing the construction of an ‘water bomb’ at Tipaimukh. A handful of protests have been witnessed in Manipur, Barak Valley of Assam, besides lot many from your native country, Bangladesh. We look at all these protests from the environmental and human point of view, sincerely believe that any force, that lacks in feeling for the environmental impact of the proposed dam should be dealt with severely. The words ‘Think globally – Act locally’ has been our guiding force and keeping these words in the back of mind, we sincerely like to draw your kind attention on the facts mentioned hereunder;

(I) That Sir, We sincerely believe that there should be an extensive downstream environmental impact study from the proposed dam site upto sea-mouth should be jointly conducted at the initiative of the Government of India and Bangladesh where experts from Non Government Organisations particularly from the environmental outfits, IITs and Universities must be included to asses the possible detrimental impact on the environment and life of inhabitants in the catchment areas at large, without downstream impact study, if a clean-cheat to the project is given it would be detrimental for both environment and people at large and struggling outfits of both in India and Bangladesh in particular.

(II) That Sir, the proposed dam falls at the confluence of Indo-Burma, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese Biodiversity hotspot zone. These areas are characterised by the presence of a large number plant and animal species, many of which are not seen or seldom witnessed in rest part of the world. A large number of them have been categorised as endangered and threatened as the IUCN Red Data book and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Once the dam is constructed, these innocent endangered and threatened species would have no other alternative, but to perish! Under such a situation, does the construction of a dam in the proposed site speak quite well in favour of Biodiversity conservation?

(III) We strongly believe and observe with deep concern that this rock filled 500 mts. long and 162.8 mt. high dam to be constructed at the earthquake zone-V, Wherein there will be constant pressure of water, if for any reason cracks, the entire civilization of the whole of downstream will be washed down in no time. The age old Barak-Surma culture will live in history only. Can any force or technology prevent
this and ensure against such catastrophic mishap?

(IV) Besides the above mentioned burning issues, other important impact like water scarcity, Crop cultivation, navigation, siltation, ecological imbalance, river pollution, extinction of aquatic life forms and the like are never the less important frontier areas that deserve careful and serious attention, before construction of the dam. Keep all these in view, we sincerely believe that your good office will consider all the matters seriously and looking the entire issues from the Pro-environment and Pro-human point of view, would strongly oppose the construction of the Tipaimuk dam, the life time curse for the inhabitants of Barak-Surma basin.

With warm regards,
Sincerely Yours

(Dr. Parthankar Choudhury)
President, SAVE

(Pijush Kanti Das)
Secretary, SAVE

NB: This memorandum was prepared to hand over to the visiting team but as they could not arrived at Silchar we could not submit to them. We therefore request you to hand over the same using your best source, we will remain grateful for that.

(Pijush Kanti Das)
Secretary, SAVE

Tipaimukh Dam: a real concern for Bangladesh

June 22, 2009

NewAge, June 23, 2009

The role of the Bangladesh government in this matter is quite confusing. Despite the rising protests from all corners, the government seems to be undermining the threats posed by the construction of this dam, writes Nadim Jahangir*

BY CONSTRUCTING the Tipaimukh Dam India is only looking into its own interest. India wants to control the water flow to facilitate irrigation of the Cacher plain. India is not at all concerned with its consequences on Bangladesh. Constructing this dam, the cubic metres of water which will be stopped is not clearly stated by the Indian government. The Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh is giving new information on a regular basis regarding the Tipaimukh Dam. According to the high commissioner, Bangladeshi journalists are making much ado about nothing. Bangladeshi journalists are writing from their nationalist point of view. The saddest part of the whole issue is that India never bothered to discuss the matter of the Tipaimukh Dam with Bangladesh. The water resources minister has recently disclosed in the parliament that Tipaimukh Dam is not like the Farraka barrage. By constructing this dam India will not divert water of the river Barak. It seems both the Indian high commissioner and our water resource minister are of the same opinion.

Bangladesh would have to face serious consequences if this dam is constructed. Even the people of Manipur and Nagaland would also have to suffer. The Barak-Surma-Kushiara is an international river. Therefore, Bangladesh, being a lower riparian country, has the right to an equitable share of the water from the river and also a right to examine the details of the construction of this dam. No detailed plan of the dam has seemingly been provided to Bangladesh to appraise its full impact on Bangladesh. India, being an upper riparian country, has an obligation under international law to discuss the construction of such a massive infrastructure on the common river with lower riparian Bangladesh.

rofessor Mustafizur Rahman Tarafdar, a water resources expert, in an article titled ‘Tipaimukh Dam: An alarming venture’, discussed the ill-effects of the Tipaimukh Dam. If this dam is eventually constructed as intended, Bangladesh would have to suffer the adverse effects. This dam would lead to hydrological drought and environmental degradation. The dam would cause the Surma and Kushiara to run dry during November to May which would eventually hamper agriculture, irrigation, navigation, shortage of supply of drinking water, etc. This shortage of water in these few months would decrease the boost of groundwater which over the years would lower the groundwater level, which in turn would affect all dug outs and shallow tube-wells. Agriculture, which is dependent on both surface as well as groundwater, would also be affected. Also, any interference in the normal flow of water in the Barak would have an adverse effect on the Surma in Bangladesh that, in turn, feeds the mighty Meghna that flows through Bangladesh. This dam would hamper the cultivation of early variety of boro in the northeast. Arable land will decrease and production of crops will fall, leading to an increase in poverty. Roughly 7 to 8 per cent of total water of Bangladesh is obtained from the Barak. Millions of people are dependent on hundreds of water bodies fed by the Barak in the Sylhet region for fishing and agricultural activities. A dam-break is a catastrophic failure of a dam which results in the sudden draining of the reservoir and a severe flood wave that causes destruction and in many cases death downstream. If the Tipaimukh Dam were to break, impounding ‘billions’ of cubic metres of water, it will cause catastrophic floods because of its colossal structure.

According to an article published by Dr. Soibam Ibotombi, teacher of earth sciences at Manipur University, the northeastern part of India is one of the highest earthquake-prone areas in the world due to its tectonic setting, i.e. subduction, as well as collision plate convergence. Analysis has revealed that hundreds of earthquakes have taken place in this region in the last 100-200 years. Study on the trends of earthquakes reveals that earthquakes mostly take place in regions which have experienced earthquakes in the past. The Tipaimukh Dam site has been chosen at the highest risk seismically hazardous zone. Inhabitants of Manipur also believe that this dam would prove to be a grave threat to the flora and fauna and endangered species like pythons, gibbons, herbal and medicinal plants, and for tribal land rights. They also fear that the dam would submerge as many as 90 villages within a 311 square-kilometre radius.

Renowned water expert Dr Ainun Nishat has recently observed that construction of Tipaimukh Dam will not bring any benefits to Bangladesh. Similar concern is also being raised by another water expert SI Khan. Both of them suggested that government should have a serious discussion with the Indian government. Till the end of the discussion, Bangladesh must request India to refrain from any sort of construction of the dam in the proposed site. According to these two experts, if the dam is constructed, 16 districts of greater Sylhet will be affected. The immense natural disaster that will take place would be irreversible. Even though the Indian government is saying once the dam is constructed, electricity will be generated and Bangladesh will benefit by importing the electricity. It does not make sense to make a certain part of Bangladesh a desert area solely for the purpose of importing electricity [Dainik Destiny, May 31].

The ever-increasing demand for freshwater has propelled the construction of dams and barrages on international rivers, and it is reported that 60 per cent of the world’s largest rivers have been interrupted by artificial structures. Many of them were built in agreement with riparian countries, and about 200 treaties are now in force for the management of common water resources.

According to a UNESCO study, freshwater is getting scarce. The study reveals that the average supply of water is expected to fall by one-third within 20 years. Nearly seven billion people could face water shortages by 2020, and global warming may cause severe water shortages in 50 countries. South Asia is one of the regions to be adversely affected, partly because of melting of the Himalayan glaciers due to global warming.

In 1896, the then US attorney general Judson Harmon propounded the ‘Harmon Doctrine’ which stated that Mexico was not entitled to the water from an international river, the Rio Grande. The doctrine emphasised territorial sovereignty over an international river. It means that, within its territory, a state can do whatever it wishes with the water of an international river, and does not need to bother about the consequences of its withdrawal on a lower riparian nation. But the US discarded and discredited it in 1906 when it concluded a treaty with Mexico relating to sharing of water of the Rio Grande. India also argued in favour of this doctrine in the mid-1970s with Bangladesh. India also made a treaty with Pakistan in 1960 called the Indus Water Treaty, which gives India exclusive use of all of the waters of the Eastern Rivers and their tributaries before the point where the rivers enter Pakistan.

A river flows as an indivisible unit, without knowing any political boundaries. If it is interfered with at the upper stream, the lower riparian country will be affected. That is why international law recognises the right of each riparian country to benefit from all the advantages deriving from river waters for the welfare and economic prosperity of its people. According to international law, it is illegal to construct any dam on an international river without consent from the other side. But India has violated it by starting the construction of Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak. News of this construction has been formally confirmed in a recent statement by Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, the high commissioner of India to Bangladesh. He admitted that the Indian government has resumed the process of construction once again from the end of 2008. According to Chaktavarty, the dam would produce hydroelectricity and would not ‘harm’ Bangladesh in any way. It would only regulate the river’s flow. As it is a project aimed at producing hydroelectricity, no water would be withheld from Bangladesh. To produce electricity the water flow would have to be obstructed which means that there will be less flow of water to the riparian neighbouring country. Furthermore, he is stating that the water will not be used for irrigation purposes. But, once the water is obstructed the water flow will automatically decrease. Sadly, such assurances were given at the time of the construction of the Farakka Dam also but till date, Bangladesh is suffering the consequences.

Unilateral water diversion, or withdrawal of water from international or common rivers, has been the long-standing policy of India. India has seldom bothered to think about the impact of such policies on a lower riparian country, such as Bangladesh, in diverting water from common rivers.

Ever since India began constructing the Farakka Barrage on the India-Bangladesh border in 1972, 17 rivers in Bangladesh have already ‘died’ and another eight are on the verge of drying up due to reduced water flows. The navigable length of the river in south-eastern Bangladesh has also reduced due to low water volume. A number of tributaries have either dried up or have become too shallow for vessels to use. The low river flow has increased salinity which in turn has caused loss of vegetation. Industries in south-western Bangladesh face the problem of getting usable, saline-free water. The cost of Bangladesh’s direct losses due to Farakka is estimated at half a billion dollars a year. According to studies conducted by Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, about 80 rivers in Bangladesh have dried up within three decades after the Farakka Dam was built.

India is withdrawing waters of almost all the common rivers by building dams on the upstream, which will eventually cause Bangladesh to turn into a desert. The Padma River is drying up in Rajshahi after construction of Farakka Barrage. Twenty tributaries of the river have turned into streamlets.

The Tipaimukh Dam is not just a political issue but also a scientific one. The livelihoods of millions of people, who rely on the Meghna for freshwater, for their livelihoods, and for the overall food security of the region, are at stake. Bangladesh is already battling with water shortages due to global warming and consequent climate change. The Tipaimukh Dam would add to the environmental cataclysm already predicted by environmentalists.

The role of the Bangladesh government in this matter is quite confusing. Despite the rising protests from all corners, the government seems to be undermining the threats posed by the construction of this dam. Only recently the prime minister of Bangladesh has said the government intends to form a committee to evaluate all aspects regarding construction of the dam before making any decisions on this controversial project. It might be that the government is envisaging some benefits from the construction of this controversial dam, namely import of electricity. In April 2009, the Indian government had invited a Bangladeshi delegation to see the construction of the planned Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak.

The Bangladesh government must take a stand to clarify its position on the Tipaimukh Dam, on the basis of scientific evidence and expert opinion and not on the basis of mere assurances of the Indian government. There is evidence of the reluctance of the Indian government to fulfil its commitments in the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, in which Bangladesh in recent years has been receiving significantly less water than promised. The Indian government has not made any response even after repeated official protests by Bangladesh on the issue of water shortfalls. Therefore, it is imperative that the Bangladesh government re-examine the scientific evidence on the possible ill effects of the Tipaimukh Dam before it signals its approval.

*Dr Nadim Jahangir is associate professor, Independent University, Bangladesh

Farakka to Tipaimukh

June 14, 2009

Habib Siddiqui*, NewAge, June 14, 2009

IN RECENT days, Bangladesh seems to have woken up to the danger posed by construction of the Tipaimukh Dam in the neighbouring Manipur state of India. There are some in Bangladesh who have a habit of translating national issues of this kind into deplorable partisanship thereby fostering disunity when national unity is needed. In so doing they commit acts of treason.

Before delving into the Tipaimukh project, I would like to share some facts surrounding the Farakka Barrage. Although the construction of the Farakka Barrage was completed during the Mujib rule in 1974-5, the decision to build this dam can be traced back to 1951. In those days, hydroelectric dams were popular methods to generating electric power. India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan planned on building hundreds of hydropower dams from rivers that flowed down from the Himalayas. The Farakka dam was built to divert water from the Ganges River into the Hooghly River during the dry season (January to June), in order to flush out the accumulating silt which in the 1950s and 1960s was a problem at the major port of Kolkata on the Hooghly River. A series of negotiations between the Pakistani and Indian governments failed to persuade India into abandoning the Farakka project.

After Bangladesh’s independence, the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission met over 90 times to discuss the Farakka Barrage issue, but without any results. The Bangladesh team was headed by BM Abbas. In April 1975, Bangladesh agreed to a trial operation of the Farakka Barrage for a period of 41 days from April 21 to May 31, 1975 to divert 11,000-16,000cfs (cusecs) with the understanding that India will not operate feeder canal until a final agreement was reached between India and Bangladesh on the sharing of Ganges water. Bangladesh was assured of getting 40,000 cusecs during the dry season. 

Unfortunately, soon after Sheikh Mujib’s assassination in August 15, 1975, taking advantage of the political change in Bangladesh, India violated the agreement (MoU) by cheating and diverting the full capacity of 40,000 cusecs unilaterally. The matter was brought to the attention of UN General Assembly, which on November 26, 1976 adopted a consensus statement directing the parties to arrive at a fair and expeditious settlement. On November 5, 1977 the Ganges Waters Agreement was signed, assuring 34,500 cusecs for Bangladesh. The five-year treaty expired in 1982 and after several shorter extensions lapsed entirely in 1989. The JRC statistics shows very clearly that Bangladesh did not get its due share during all those years (1977-91). There was no improvement of the situation during the first Khaleda Zia administration (1991-96) with average water share reduced to 10,000 to 12,000 cusecs, with one extreme event of only 9,000 cusecs, during the dry season.

After Sheikh Hasina was elected prime minister, she visited India and signed a treaty with her counterpart Deve Gowda on December 12, 1996. The treaty addressed the heart of the conflict: water allocation (35,000 cusecs) during the five months of the dry season (January-May). During the rest of the year, there is sufficient water that India can operate the Farakka diversion without creating problems for Bangladesh. The treaty stipulated that below a certain flow rate, India and Bangladesh will each share half of the water. Above a certain limit, Bangladesh will be guaranteed a certain minimum level, and if the water flow exceeds a given limit, India will withdraw a given amount, and the balance will be received by Bangladesh (which will be more than 50 per cent).

The statement of IK Gujral, external affairs minister, in Rajya Sabha on December 12, 1996 on the visit of prime minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to India and the signing of the treaty on the sharing of Ganges water at Farakka reads: ‘[D]uring the critical period within the lean season, i.e. from March 1 to May 10, India and Bangladesh each shall receive a guaranteed flow of 35,000 cusecs of water in an alternating sequence of three 10-day periods each. This is aimed at meeting the fundamental requirements of both our countries through a just and reasonable sharing of the burden of shortage. The Treaty also has the merit of being a long-term arrangement combined with scope for reviews at shorter intervals to study the impact of the sharing formula and to make needed adjustments. While the Treaty will be for 30 years and renewable on mutual consent, there is a provision of mandatory reviews at the end of 5 years and even earlier after 2 years with provisions for adjustments as required. Pending a fresh understanding after the review stage, Bangladesh would continue to receive 90 per cent of its share in accordance with the new formula. We would thus avoid a situation where there is no agreement on the sharing of the Ganga waters between India and Bangladesh… As the House would recall, we have already taken initiatives in the commercial sphere by extending tariff concessions to Bangladesh on a range of products of export interest to them. We propose to extend commercial credits of Rs. 1 billion to enhance trade relations further.’

In the light of the above facts, it is difficult to sustain accusations that the 1996 Treaty went against the interest of Bangladesh, becoming a fait accompli. I have never heard an intelligent person say that a treaty signed with the aim of getting fair and equitable share is worse than not having one. Was the 1977-treaty silly, too? More outrageous is the implied assertion by some that the AL government that had ruled only five years in the post-Mujib era of 34 years is solely to be blamed for all the maladies facing Bangladesh today, including the Tipaimukh Dam, soon to be constructed by India.

It is true though that India had not kept its side of the bargain since signing of the treaty. The Joint River Commission statistics, as quoted by Syful Islam in the New Nation, March 9, shows that in 1999 Bangladesh got 1,033 cusecs of water at Teesta barrage point against its normal requirements of 10,000 cusecs of water. After JRC meeting in 2000 the water flow rose to 4,530 cusecs, in January 2001 it reduced to 1,406 cusecs, in January 2002 to 1,000 cusecs, in January 2003 to 1,100 cusecs, in November 2006 to 950 cusecs, in January 2007 to 525 cusecs and in January 2008 to 1,500 cusecs.

India’s behaviour mimics those of Israel in dishonouring every treaty that the rogue state had signed with the Palestinian Authority. Should not it be ashamed of its iniquity?

Let’s now look at the disastrous effect of the Farakka Barrage on Bangladesh. The immediate effects have been (1) reduction in agricultural products due to insufficient water for irrigation; (2) reduction in aquatic population; (3) river transportation problems during dry season; (4) increased salinity threatening crops, animal life drinking water, and industrial activities in southwest Bangladesh. The long-term effects, which are already being felt, include: (a) one fourth of the fertile agricultural land will become wasteland due to a shortage of water; (b) 30 million lives are affected through environmental and economical ruin; (c) an estimated annual economic loss of over half a billion dollars in agricultural, fisheries, navigation and industries; (d) frequent flooding due to environmental imbalance and changes in the natural flow of the Ganges. A BSS report of 2004 stated that over 80 rivers of the country dried up during last three decades due to the construction of the Farakka barrage on the Indian side of the river Ganges.

Bridge and Husain, researchers in Kansas, USA, have identified Farakka as the root cause behind arsenic poisoning with groundwater in Bangladesh and West Bengal State of India.

As to its impact in India, the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People report (November 1999) to the World Commission on Dams is quite revealing. It says, ‘Farakka Barrage Project taken up for the resuscitation of the navigational status of the Port of Calcutta has resulted in massive devastation in Malda on its upstream and Murshidabad on its downstream in West Bengal. Huge sedimentation, increasing flood intensity and increasing tendency of bank failure are some of its impacts. Erosion has swept away large areas of these two districts causing large scale population displacement, border disputes with Bihar and Bangladesh, pauperisation and marginalisation of the rural communities living by the river and creation of neo-refugees on the chars.’ 

So, it is clear that even the supposed beneficiary – the state of West Bengal – did not benefit from the project. Farakka Barrage has rightly been termed by some environmentalists as the greatest man-made eco-disaster of our time. If we had imagined Farakka was the last of such criminal calamities imposed on Bangladesh, we are wrong.
   Syful Islam mentions a study conducted by the ‘International Rivers’, a US-based NGO that protects rivers and defends the rights of communities, which revealed that India had already built 74 dams, Nepal 15, Pakistan 6 and Bhutan 5 in the Himalayan region in the recent years. It also found that 37 Indian, 7 Pakistani and 2 Nepalese dams were under construction in that area. The study also identified that India had planned to build 318 dams, Nepal 37, Pakistan 35 and Bhutan 16 to add over 1,50,000MW of additional electricity capacity in the next 20 years. With 4,300 large dams already constructed and many more in the pipeline, India is one of the world’s most prolific dam-builders. India is committed to building more than 100 dams in eight states of the north-east corner alone. 

If these numbers are true, it is important that the current government issues a white paper disclosing actions taken, if any, by past and present governments to stop India from such projects that are going to be built on international rivers harming Bangladesh.

Let’s now look at Tipaimukh. Manipur needs about 140MW of power to fulfil the unrestricted demand at the peak hours (1700 hrs to 2200 hrs). The total availability of power from all the central sector plants located in Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura comes to around 105MW. The Tipaimukh Dam plan, built on the river Barak, which bifurcates into two streams as it enters Bangladesh as the rivers Surma and Kushiara, has been on the drawing board for nearly 40 years. According to the implementing agency, North Eastern Electric Power Corporation, this 390-metre-long, 163-metre-high dam would have an installed capacity of 1,500MW. As a multipurpose project, the dam also aims at flood moderation, improving navigation, irrigation and aquaculture in the region. Efforts were made in the past to get the World Bank or JBIC (a Japanese development bank) to back the project, but their involvement is still elusive. It is costing India Rs 6,800 crore — an escalation from the earlier estimated expenditure of Rs 5,163 crore. The foundation stone of the Tipaimukh project was laid by India’s union minister for industries and Cachar’s representative in the Lok Sabha, Sontosh Mohan Dev, along with other central ministers, on December 16, 2006. According to a NEEPCO source there, the work in January of 2007 mainly dealt with underground drilling at the reservoir site of the project. The Brahmaputra Board, a wing of the union water resources ministry, drilled those sites in 1997. 

The proposed dam is unpopular in the Manipur state where it is being constructed. Experts there have rightly termed it a geo-tectonic blunder of international dimensions. The Indian government’s decision to construct the Tipaimukh Dam in north-east India is not only arrogant but also criminal to the core. It will have lasting devastating impact in the entire region. It will adversely affect millions of Bangladeshis living down south in the north-east corner of the country, weakening their means of livelihood, forcing them to become internally displaced and thereby worsening Bangladesh’s overall economy. It will harm bilateral relationship between the two neighbouring countries. Bangladeshi people have already suffered miserably from the Farakka Barrage and cannot afford to see another one built to threaten them.

Our experience in the past 50 years has also taught us that humanity has brought more harm than good by challenging the natural course of rivers. Manmade systems like hydroelectric dams have failed to wipe out famine and hunger. More people have become poor than rich, which often time is concentrated amongst the very few that are involved with construction project. As Arundhati Roy has once said about dams, ‘They’re a guaranteed way of taking a farmer’s wisdom away from him. They’re a brazen means of taking water, land and irrigation away from the poor and gifting it to the rich. Their reservoirs displace huge populations of people, leaving them homeless and destitute. Ecologically, they’re in the doghouse. They lay the earth to waste. They cause floods, water-logging, salinity, they spread disease. There is mounting evidence that links Big Dams to earthquakes.’

What really concerned this writer the most is the stupidity of the Indian government’s decision to go ahead with hydroelectric dams to meet its electric demand. This decision seems too short-sighted, too irresponsible, and can only antagonise people on either sides of the border. If India cares about meeting energy needs in the north-eastern corner it would better serve the interest of its people by choosing the nuclear alternative. India has several nuclear power plants that are operating in various parts of India. It is inconceivable that it cannot afford to build one extra plant in the north-east corner of the country to meet its energy demand. 

Again, I want to know: what did the previous administrations in Bangladesh do about this dam? How is the new government planning to deal with this issue? What can conscientious human beings of our planet do to stop India from building dams that kill people? 

As hinted earlier, the very people targeted for drawing the benefits of the Tipaimukh dam living in the Manipur State had long been fighting a losing battle to stop this project. It is highly unlikely that demonstrations and protests inside Bangladesh would push India to abandon the project now, especially after spending hundreds of crores of rupees in front end loading activities. 

While we are critical of Indian government’s decision to construct dams that produce devastating results affecting tens of millions of people, we have to be self-critical of our own failure to bring world attention to the gargantuan harm that India’s Farakka has already brought upon Bangladesh. If we had succeeded in that endeavour, India today wouldn’t be building the Tipaimukh dam. Whether we like it or not, we must realise that self-interest rules the day. In our world, there are no permanent friends or enemies. We are continuously reminded that what is permanent is self-interest and that has to be pursued vigorously. That says a lot about moral bankruptcy of a world that we live in and share with our neighbours in which might is increasingly becoming right, and the powerless has no effective means to fight against powerful enemies and nations that prey upon them. 

At this stage, what actions and programmes are meaningful for Bangladesh? Can India be persuaded to abandon dam projects on international rivers in favour of alternative options for energy need? Given India’s long history of dishonouring its agreements on Farakka with Bangladesh, can it be trusted for keeping any new promise? Are the UN and/or the ICJ only options Bangladesh has to redress its grievances? 

*Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and human rights activist, and chairman of the Board of Directors of Bangladesh Expatriate Council, USA. He writes from Pennsylvania. saeva@aol.com

‘It has to be solved by the Prime Minister now”

June 12, 2009

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.

India’s Tipaimukh dam: another Farakka for Bangladesh in the offing?

June 12, 2009

NewAge Extra, June 12-18, 2009

Mohiuddin Alamgir reveals the implications and consequences awaiting Bangladesh and the Manipur state of India through the completion of the Tipaimukh Dam.

When completed in 1970 by India, the Farakka Barrage, around 18 kilometres upstream of Monohorpur, seemed a rather innocent venture by India at just ‘saving the Calcutta Port from silting’.

   The reality was felt by the Bangladeshis over the next few decades as the entire south-western region of Bangladesh was affected due to the dearth of water. The country also faced long term losses in the agricultural, fisheries, forestry, industry, navigation and other sectors.

   The barrage also caused some fatal damages over the years through floods, droughts, excessive salinity and depletion of groundwater. The then-Bangladesh government tried to solve the impending problem through bilateral talks immediately following the formation of the Indo-Bangladesh joint river commission (JRC) in 1972.

   After being assured in the 1974 summit between the two countries that the Farakka barrage would not be put into operation before an agreement was reached on sharing the dry season flow of the Ganges between the two countries, Bangladesh allowed India to test the feeder canal of the barrage in 1975.

   India commissioned the barrage and continued unilateral diversion of the Ganges flow, beyond the stipulated test period. The barrage had been operational without a water-sharing agreement till 1997, before the then-Awami League government finally managed to make the Indian government concede. In the meanwhile, Bangladesh’s economical activity and ecological health had been hugely affected.

   Bitter experience has taught that the historic friendly relations Bangladesh and India share through their experience in the war of independence in 1971 have not always translated into deeds. Farakka, enclaves, killing of innocent civilians by BSF, maritime and land border demarcation, smuggling, subversive activities by the intelligence wings, both nations harbouring each others’ high profile criminals, the river linking project have been a thorn on the side of the apparent ‘friendly’ relations.

   And now, the construction of Tipaimukh Dam threatens to affect north-eastern Bangladesh the way south-western Bangladesh had been affected by the Farakka. Despite India’s insistence that the dam has only been built to generate electricity and a lukewarm response from the government in power, in Bangladesh, citizens and environmentalists feel extremely concerned and many have vowed to resist the construction at all costs.

   The Indian government recently resumed construction of the Tipaimukh on the Barak River, just a kilometre north of Jakiganj in Sylhet, which resulted in the recent, renewed interest on its affects. The construction work was stalled in March 2007 in the face of protests within, (people of the Manipur state of India are slated to be worst-affected) and outside, India for not following international conventions about the international rivers. The completion of the dam in 2012 will virtually dry up the Surma and the Kushiara rivers, thus choking the north-eastern regions of Bangladesh, say experts.

   The Tipaimukh dam would also affect, while compounding the losses caused by Farakka, the country’s fisheries, agriculture, environment and water supply.

   Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, the finance minister of Bangladesh and also the founder president of the green non-government organisation Bangladesh Paribesh Andalan (BAPA) points out, ‘India will be worse hit than Bangladesh and so the general people of India are also against the project.’

   ‘The region of Sylhet will be adversely affected if the Tipaimukh project is completed and most dangerously, if they make a barrage at Fulertala and withdraw water from Barak River, the whole region will have to face scarcity of water,’ says Major (retd) Hafiz Uddin Khan, vice chairman, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and former minister of water resources.

   ‘The free flowing Surma and Kushyara rivers will turn dry,’ he adds.

   Due to the protests from the Bangladesh side, Shiv Shankar Menon, the Indian foreign secretary visited Bangladesh last month. He requested Bangladesh to send a group of dignitaries who will visit the Tipaimukh area to observe the actual scenario of the controversial project, as the Indian government is thinking seriously about the implementation of the project.

   Given the current developments, it is rather understandable that the dam will be brought to reality. The overall implications and consequences brought about by the project may be even more fatal than we can perceive at the moment, as pointed out by experts.

   The project

   To be located 500 metres downstream from the flowing rivers of Barak and Tuivai rivers, the Tipaimukh dam lies on the south-western corner of the Manipur State of India. The rock filled structure, with a central impervious core, has a height of around 180 metres above the sea-level. Its reservoir will have a storage water capacity of 15,900 million cubic m with a

   maximum depth of 1,725.5 m.

   Although originally considered, to only contain the flood water in the Cachar plains of Assam, the emphasis of the dam was also later placed on hydroelectric power generation. The dam will have an installation capacity of 1500MW with only a firm generation of 412MW (less than 30 per cent of installed capacity).

   Tipaumukh Dam was first thought of in 1954 when the government of Assam requested its construction to the Central Water and Power Commission of India for ways to manage floods in the Barak river basin. The commission surveyed and rejected three sites by 1965 on two grounds. The sites were geologically unsafe and large-scale submergence of cultivable land made it economically unviable.

   The North-Eastern Council of India intervened and after discussion with Assam, Manipur and Mizoram, the states through which the river flows, the Central Water Commission began investigations in 1977. In 1984, it identified a new site. The dam, it was then estimated, would cost Rs 1,078 crore. The project was shelved as it did not have the requisite environmental and management plans.

   In 1995, the Brahmaputra Board, responsible for managing the water of Brahmaputra and Barak river basins in India, carried out studies and revised the plan totalling the estimated cost to Rs 2,899 crore.

   People of Manipur began to take notice as the completion of the dam would immediately result in their eviction from the area where they had lived for the past hundred years. In order to appease them, environment minister Kamal Nath assured that resettlement issues would be taken care of and nothing would be done in haste, in 1995. In 1995, chief minister Rishang Keishing made a statement declaring that the state cabinet did not approve of the dam.

   In 1998, the Manipur assembly passed a resolution not to implement the project. However, in 1999, the central government handed over the project to North-Eastern Electronic Power Co-operation (NEEPCO) under circumstances, which many social organisations allege are questionable. They claim that during a spell of the president’s rule, imposed in 2001, the governor approved the project.

   Then in 2003, the Public Investments Board and the Central Electricity Authority of India cleared the project by which the costs had been revised to Rs 5,163.86 crore by NEEPCO.

   Currently, the information fed to the Indian public details that the project is to be built primarily for flood control and power generation. Irrigation and other benefits will be spin-offs. Flood control will benefit some plain areas in Assam.

   However, Manipur and Mizoram, are likely to bear the brunt of submergence. But they are to equally share, as the central government stipulates to the Manipur government, 12 per cent of the power from the project, free of charge while the rest will be taken by NEEPCO.

   Bangladesh in peril

   Adverse effects of the Tipaimukh dam, including environmental deprivation, economic crisis and drought, will be rather irreversible as pointed out by the education, primary and mass education minister Nurul Islam Nahid. ‘If India withdraws water from the Barak river, the free-flowing Surma and Kushiara rivers will dry up,’ he mentions.

   Abdul Karim Kim, an organiser of the Sylhet Paribesh Andolon feels that besides other parts of Bangladesh, Sylhet will be gravely affected. ‘The dam’s completion will disrupt agriculture, irrigation, drinking water supply, and navigation and ground water levels. Sylhet will face the same consequences faced by the south western regions of Bangladesh.’

   He explains that Surma-Kushiara, and its 60 branch and distributaries support agriculture, irrigation, navigation, drinking water supply, fisheries, wildlife in numerous haors and low lying areas in the entire Sylhet division and some peripheral areas of Dhaka division. The river system also supports internal navigation, wildlife in haors, industries like fertiliser, electricity, gas etc.

   ‘Around five crore people of Sylhet and Dhaka division will face problems as Surma and Kushiara will lose five feet water in the rainy season. Environmental degradation will take place massively, severely affecting weather and climate, turning a wet cooler environment into a hot uncomfortable cauldron,’ he says.

   ‘Within 15 years, after starting the project and withdrawing water from the Barak, there will be no water in the rivers,’ informs MA Matin, general secretary, BAPA.

   ‘Scarcity of water will cause siltation on river beds,’ says Engineer Muhammad Hilaluddin, chief director of Angikar Bangladesh. He explains that when high rainfall will occur in the catchments area of the dam, enormous quantity of sediment-laden flood water will be released. He adds, ‘this will cause a severity of flood in the Surma and Kushiara channels, already raised for low flow. This will further raise the water level causing floods in adjoining additional areas.’

   Also, navigation in river channels in the Meghna will be affected due to depletion of water flow and consequent sedimentation and severity of flooding during the monsoon season. Surface irrigation will also be in danger. The Meghna-Padma river will have lower flow, accentuating saline backwater intrusion in the Padma channel.

   ‘The total agricultural sector of around 20 districts, directly and indirectly, will be affected,’ says Professor Anu Muhammad from the economics department in Jahangirnagar University. He adds, ‘The Barak-Surma-Kushiara-Meghna river system stretches about 946 km. Around 669 km of this is in the Bangladesh portion. If India withdraws water, the fate of this whole river system will be threatened.’

   Many scientists, engineers and green activists feel that the completion of the Tipaimukh dam will increase the frequency of earthquakes in the adjoining region of both India and Bangladesh. ‘The north-east region of India is one of the six major seismically active zones of the world that includes north-east India and suburbs, and Bangladesh. The huge reservoir of the dam will create pressure on the ground of this region which is already a high alert zone for earthquakes,’ shares Hilal.

   Protest in India

   The people of Manipur state protested from the very beginning of the dam’s conception as they are to sacrifice the most. The unanimous verdict of the peoples’ affirmation was that the Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project is not for the people, by the people or of the people of the Manipur.

   As has been pointed out by the intellectuals and experts of the state, the 900 km long Ahu (Barak River) is a constant source of the socio-political, economic and cultural sustenance for the indigenous Zeliangrong and the many indigenous and non-indigenous communities, who live along its course in India and Bangladesh. These cultures have grown up along these rivers over the past few centuries.

   The mega-dam proposed at Tipaimukh (Ruonglevaisuo to the Hmar people) will smother this particular source of life for them while also affecting their culture, anthropology, ecology and economy. As per estimates of the authorities, the project will also totally affect 311 sq km area of the state. More than 40,000 people will be rendered landless as 16 villages at the Barak Valley will be submerged while around 90 villages will be adversely affected.

   As such, academicians, politicians, students and civil society organisations have formed the Action Committee against Tipaimukh Project (ACTIP) to oppose the project which will further deepen the cracks in Manipur’s already fissured society. The construction of the dam will also benefit some groups at the cost of others.

   Matin says ‘more than 20 social and political organisations, representing the largest communities, ethnic groups and political interests are protesting against the dam. We have a good understanding with them.’ The leaders of the groups believe that the unviable project design will also drive a wedge between communities that live in a state of unremitting conflict between themselves and with the state.

   He points out, ‘the Indian government is playing hide and seek with their people as they are, not only making hydro electric power plant to produce electricity, but also planning to make a barrage at Fulertala, located slightly upstream of the river Barak.’ He mentions that the original plan is to supply water to the areas of Rajasthan and other states from the Barak river, around 900 kilometres away from the Manipur state.

   ‘This is actually a good strategy by the Indian government as although around 180 MW of power has been offered to the Manipur state, it needs only 150 MW of power. The rest will be distributed to the other states,’ informs Hilal.

   ‘Besides these, the Indian government has already initiated works in the seven north eastern states, widely known as seven sisters of India, for 24 irrigation projects or dams,’ says Baki Billah, a member of the Communist Party of Bangladesh. He adds, ‘200 more are at the planning level. The construction of these dams or projects will also affect Bangladesh as these will eventually choke around 54 rivers in Bangladesh.’

   Abul Mal Abdul Muhith expresses his doubts about the project, when he says, ‘the Indian government claims that the dam is simply a project to help the power problem of their country. How can we trust this after the bitter experience we have had with the Farakka barrage. Furthermore, when even the ordinary Indians are protesting against the project, it is worth contemplating how much it may affect Bangladesh.’

   International river convention

   The Tipaimukh Dam project was en- tirely developed and approved without informing the government of Bangladesh or involving its people in any meaningful exercise to assess the downstream impacts of the dam.

   Since the river Barak is an international river, Bangladesh as a lower riparian country should have an equitable share of water. Moreover an access to the design details of the project, planning and design etc also is a right of the country.

   ‘We do not know what is going on there,’ says Mir Sajjad Hossain, member of Joint River Commission (JRC). He adds, ‘we came to know from our sources that India is planning a hydroelectric plant. India has not sent any official documents about the proposal.’ Ministers Abul Mal Muhith and Nurul Islam Nahid reiterated the same point.

   ‘The Indian government was asked to give data about the Tipaimukh Dam twice during the JRC meeting- in 2003 and in 2005, but they did not provide us with the data,’ said Hafiz.

   As such, this is clearly a gross violation of co-riparian rights of Bangladesh. India has disregarded some major provisions of the 1997 UN Watercourse Convention on the Article 5(1) Equitable Utilization, (7) No Harm Principle, (9) Exchange of Information.

   ‘India is taking the privilege of being a big country,’ says Professor Nazrul Islam, chairman of the University Grants Commission and a renowned environmentalist of the country. He adds, ‘Bangladesh can do nothing but complain to the international communities.’

   JRC and going international

   ‘JRC is a dead horse and good for nothing. They should be renamed Jhuliye Rakha Committee (Hanging on a matter),’ says Matin. He adds, ‘we were told that the Bangladeshi part of the committee could not produce satisfactory data due to their Indian counterparts non-cooperation in the JRC meeting.’

   Nazrul Islam feels that the solution to the problem is through mutual understanding between Bangladesh and India and a more efficient role of the JRC. ‘Our government and JRC can request India to postpone or, better yet, stop the construction of the Tipaimukh Dam if possible. This can be done through bilateral diplomacy or through UN intervention,’ he says.

   ‘JRC should soon start negotiation on equitable sharing of water, according to our entitlement as a lower riparian of the international river Barak-Surma-Kushiara, through international forums and the UN,’ suggests Anu.

   ‘Unilateral withdrawal would be a gross violation of the UN Convention that regulates the use of water of international rivers/water courses. This should be done as soon as possible. Any delay in negotiation might end up in a pathetic situation, causing irreversible environmental, economic and hydrological chaos,’ urges Matin.

   Muhith feels that data exchange between the two countries’ governments will help at solving the issue. ‘Bangladesh needs to have the design, survey data, drawings, maps etc. prepared by the dam authority in order to verify the adverse effects and also to initiate mitigation measures for the lower riparian Bangladesh.’

   ‘We are waiting for the official invitation from the Indian government that Shiv Shankar Menon, Indian foreign secretary, told us about during the visit,’ says Mir Sajjad.

   ‘Bangladesh will obviously respond to the invitation and will take the right decision through mutual co-operation, through which the general public of both countries will be benefited,’ hopes Nahid, the education minister and a member of parliament from Sylhet.

   The Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarti, while talking to the media recently said that although India will have sole control over water flow at the proposed dam site, it will not hold it back.

   ‘The flow of river water and flood control will remain in the hands of India’, he told reporters after a courtesy call on communications minister Syed Abul Hossain at the ministry.

   ‘Tipaimukh Dam is a hydro-electric project that will generate electricity from the flow of water, and then will release the water back,’ he added.

   Prime minister Sheikh Hasina said on May 27 that her government would form an all-party committee to report on the pros and cons of the proposed Tipaimukh barrage in India, before taking a decision on the disputed project.

   ‘We have to send a technical committee rather than a parliamentary committee to find out what is actually going on,’ says Hafiz.

   ‘The nation has to fight together to protest this project,’ he adds.

   Choking north-eastern Bangladesh
   * India has resumed construction of the Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak River which will virtually dry up the Surma and the Kushiara rivers, thus choking the north-eastern regions of Bangladesh
   * The construction will disrupt agriculture, irrigation, drinking water supply, navigation and ground water levels. Sylhet will be worst hit
   * Tipaimukh to be used only for hydroelectric power generation, say India
   * The people of the India state of Manipur to be affected the most
   * The parliamentary committee on water resources and technical experts to visit Tipaimukh