Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tipaimukh And Our Foreign Policy

THERE has hardly been a time where we could say with great pride that any of our governments, past or present stood up, to world powers to defend the nation’s legitimate rights. A report from the UNB news service published on New Age on July 17 reported the approval of the construction of the Tipaimukh dam by the Indian government and yet we hardly see an expression of protest from the Bangladesh government. Unsurprisingly, the WikiLeaks documents also reveal how the Bangladesh government approved of it tacitly.

What is the Tipaimukh dam?
IN A nutshell, the dam is part of a larger project to generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity as a result of hydropower generated by the dam. The project is to be constructed by the Indian state-owned North East Electric Power Corporation Ltd. The dam is to be constructed in the Indian state of Manipur, approximately about a 100 kilometres from the Bangladesh border with India near Sylhet.

Why all the concern about the Tipaimukh dam?
THE International Rivers, a prestigious non-governmental organisation which has done extensive research on the effects of dams around the world, posted on their website a report authored by Zakir Kibria, executive director of BanglaPraxis, also an NGO, based in Bangladesh. The report was originally submitted to the workshop on the World Commission on Dams recommendation on ‘Gaining Public Acceptance’, organised by Dams and Development Project of the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi on October 2005. Zakir Kibria states that the consequences of this dam will be harmful since there will be a decline in the nutrient-rich silts which keeps the soil fertile. Hence, soil fertility will decrease as the dam will block the natural flow of water that carries these silts. The report states that the riverbeds will rise causing the probable blockage of certain tributaries that originate from the river Kushiyara which can have overwhelmingly dire consequences for the whole nation. Without a doubt, depletion in water and other mineral resources lead to the loss of fertile lands, thus incapacitating the agricultural output which threatens Bangladesh’s food security. 

Already 20,000 people of Sylhet have been displaced due to land erosion, and the report by Zakir Kibria also states that this dam will cause serious erosion which will expedite the displacement of people. Concerns have also been expressed about the situation where during water overflows, the dam has to be opened to release the water, causing serious floods in the downstream regions which include very much the whole of Sylhet. The report states many other harmful consequences due to this dam.    The link to the report can be found at the International Rivers web site at

Apart from Bangladeshi concerns, the Indian people in Manipur have also expressed concerns as well, most notably the Sinlung Indigenous People Human Rights Organisation of India. SIPHRO is quoted as saying, according to the International Rivers website, ‘the process for choosing [the project premises] ignored both the indigenous people and the recommendations of the WCD.’

How does foreign policy come into play?
BANGLADESH’S lack of assertiveness in upholding its legitimate demands is nothing new. Leaked US diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks illustrate the lack of strong remonstration in regards to the Tipaimukh dam. The cable dated January 27, 2010 reports the state minister for environment, Hasan Mahmud, talking to the United States principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, Patrick Moon: ‘He said Bangladesh could not prevent India from developing water and hydroelectric projects, so it needed to encourage India to address Bangladeshi concerns. He said that hydroelectric projects such as the controversial Tipaimukh Dam could actually benefit Bangladesh by regulating water flow. Although this project has become politically controversial, Dr Mahmud pointed out that Bangladesh originally asked India to build the Tipaimukh Dam in 1988.’

The above quotation is nothing but an indication of how our government rather than strongly objecting to the construction of the dam was implicitly approving it in the expectation that India will address Bangladesh’s concern. People in both countries have objected to the construction of this dam but their representatives have gone in the opposite directions and contravened the WCD recommendations. One of WCD’s recommendations states, ‘A dam should not be constructed on a shared river if other riparian States raise an objection that is upheld by an independent panel,’ which clearly shows that Bangladesh has the legitimate right to object India’s dam construction. The minister’s comment that Bangladesh cannot prevent is false as Bangladesh could have filed a petition to the International Courts of Justice at The Hague. The ICJ is the highest court in the world dealing with disputes among states and a ruling by it would be independent and in conformity with the WCD recommendation. In addition, any ruling by the ICJ would have to be conformed by both India and Bangladesh, as both are parties to the statute of the ICJ. However, to everyone’s dismay, we can see how our representatives deceive us and act as sub-contractors to other nations.

What’s the consequence?
EVEN though politicians of both nations have said that this dam will not have serious consequences, this should not be taken seriously. If we remember the Farakka Barrage and its consequences to Bangladesh, the word of a politician can easily be discredited. Climate experts have said that as Bangladesh being a delta nation would face serious consequences due to rising sea levels as a result of global warming and we can see how the land of Bhola district is eroding by the day. Therefore, the construction of the dam will make Sylhet’s arable land go infertile as time goes by, causing serious food shortages and displacement millions of people due to consequent land erosions. Time has come for all of us to protest against this dam construction if we want to see a prosperous nation rather than a disastrous Bangladesh.