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.


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

‘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

India’s Tipaimukh dam emits an air of eerie feelings: concerns in downstream Bangladesh

June 11, 2009

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.”


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.


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.


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.