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

To
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.

Sir,

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

Advertisements

Press Release: Tipaimukh Dam Must Be Scrapped

July 30, 2009

The Citizens Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD), Committee on Land and Natural Resources (COLNAR), Action Committee Against Tipaimukh Dam (ACTIP)

Press Release, 30 July 2009, Northeast

The Citizens Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD), Committee on Land and Natural Resources (COLNAR), Action Committee Against Tipaimukh Dam (ACTIP) would like to express our reaffirmation that the Tipaimukh Dam should not be constructed without the free prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples of all affected peoples in Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and further down in Bangladesh along the Barak River.

CCDD, COLNAR and ACTIP would also like to express our condemnation to the environmental clearance accorded by the Ministry of Environment and Forest of the Government of India in end 2008 despite affected peoples vehement opposition to the public hearings on the proposed dam and also to the construction of Tipaimukh dam. The clearance despite the absence of a holistic and detailed impact assessment with due rightful participation of affected peoples construes disrespect to the indigenous peoples call for respect of peoples’ rights over their land and resources.

The Tipaimukh dam to be built over Barak River, an international river, is now resisted from not all sides, upstream and downstream and the only supporter remains the government of India and the state of Manipur. The continuing and ongoing resistance against Tipaimukh dam, including the mass anti-dam mobilization in Bangladesh and the recent resolution against the dam in the Barak valley in Assam resolutely demands abandonment of the dam. Only a despot or a dictatorial government will continue with forceful implementation in defiance to peoples call for respect of their rights and justice.

CCDD, COLNAR and ACTIP will continue to fight against forceful damming of Barak river, we will defend against forceful dislocation of our peoples, resist any attempt to disregard and sacrilege our culture, economy and identity. In the past we have made it clear that our land and environment is crucial for the survival of civilizations that has grown with the river. Whether in the downstream or upstream, lives of all forms, the ecosystem, the economy, culture that has evolved with this river are critically going to be affected by this huge dam. Any form of compensation, compensatory forestation or other ‘benefits’ cannot replace what has evolved over generations.

We are also keenly aware that this dam has already caused conflicts and misunderstandings between upstream and downstream, between India and Bangladesh, between communities and to an extent fracture within communities. The government is to be squarely blamed for these consequences.

Issues of downstream impact of dams are well known. Completely ignoring such impacts and overlooking those who live in the downstream of Barak river has now catapulted. As the people of Bangladesh, the communities living downstream of this imposed dam have every right to demand scrapping of this dam. Similar to the treatment to upstream communities, it is clear that the government and the dam authorities have complete disrespect of the rights and dignity of those who live downstream. The dam if built will stand to represent an example of a repressive development.

The Government of Manipur appreciably in the past have twice passed in the Assembly resolving that they will not allow the dam. But undemocratic processes that rules Manipur have led to the signing of MOU with NEEPCO, and now with NHPC without explaining to the people what these MOUs are, how they have passed and how they have changed their position since Assembly resolution in 1995 and 1997.  We urge the government to change its course on this dam.

On the visit of the Parliamentary Committee from Bangladesh, we definitely welcome them as representative of our neighbor if they are to come seeking to know more about the dam. However, we would respectfully urge them to desist from any unilateral agreement with India. By agreeing to this dam, impacts on the downstream in Bangladesh or in Assam nor in Manipur or Mizoram will go. We will continue to work with our friends living in downstream to stop this dam from coming up.

Finally, it is made known here that we will line up a series of events if this dam is not being scrapped immediately.


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


Govt seems to be undermining Tipaimukh danger

May 28, 2009

Editorial, NewAge, May 28, 2009

THE Awami League-led government, it increasingly seems, has somehow been convinced by its New Delhi counterparts that there is benefit for Bangladesh to be had from the construction of the Tipaimukh Dam/s on the river Barak. Ever since the Indian high commissioner disclosed late last week India’s plan to go ahead with the construction of the dam, at least three members of the cabinet said Dhaka would not oppose the project if it benefits Bangladesh. The commerce minister, Faruk Khan, as usual, came up with by far the strongest hint that the government may have been already convinced that dam could after all benefit, and not harm, Bangladesh, when he told journalists on Tuesday that ‘those who are talking too much against construction of the dam are talking without knowing anything…’ He did say the government ‘will soon send a delegation comprising experts and parliamentarians to see what is going on there and how it will benefit Bangladesh.’ That is, however, hardly reassuring.
   

It would indeed be interesting to know who the commerce minister was accusing of ‘talking too much… without knowing anything’; after all, the individuals who have been at the forefront of the ever-intensifying wave of opposition to the Tipaimukh project are mostly experts with years of experience under their belts. Interestingly still, many of them are Indians. They are unanimous in their conclusion that the Tipaimukh Dam/s would wreak an environmental disaster of an unimaginable magnitude and adversely affect millions of people on either side of the Bangladesh-India border who rely on the Meghna river system for their livelihood. Needless to say, their conclusions are based on an ever-growing pile of scientific evidence.
   

The benefit that the government may be envisaging, i.e. import of electricity generated from the dam, could turn out to be a chimera. In an article published in New Age on May 21, Dr Solbam Ibotombi, who teaches earth sciences at Manipur University and is a staunch critic of the Tipaimukh project, writes that ‘the dam was originally conceived to contain the floodwater in the Cachar plain of Assam but, later on, emphasis has been placed on hydroelectric power generation, having an installation capacity of 1,500MW but only firm generation capacity of 412MW.’ If so is the case, what percentage of the 412MW of electricity the government expects to import from India, which is no less electricity-starved than Bangladesh, and at what cost? As argued by Ibotombi and other Indian experts, the cost involved here is not just the cost of electricity but the irreparable economic and environmental damage that the project is likely to cause.
   

When there is a growing body of scientific evidence as well as strong opposition within India against the Tipaimukh project, the argument put forth by the commerce minister and some of his colleagues, i.e. there may be benefit in the project for Bangladesh, can hardly be construed as being a product of naivety and inadequate knowledge. In fact, given the Indian government’s perceived predilection for the Awami League, it could very well be construed as the government’s willingness to submit to Delhi’s plans. Here, the credibility of the government is not at stake alone, the livelihood of millions of people in India and Bangladesh is as well. The ministers in question would surely have done a great service to the country and to themselves if they took the pains to gather the details of the dam project and also go through the scientific evidences that point at the potential economic and environmental damage that the Tipaimukh project would cause. If they had, they might have thought twice before suggesting that Bangladesh is likely to benefit from the project and that the critics of the project are ‘talking too much… without knowing anything’.