With the Indian government going ahead with the proposed Tipaimukh Dam in Manipur, environmentalists in India continued to mount their protest in north-eastern region of India.
Originally conceptualised and awarded to Indian state-owned North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd. (Neepco) in 1999, the giant power project was handed over to a consortium comprising National Hydroelectric Power Corp (NHPC) and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and the Manipur government last year.
"The mega hydel power project would be commissioned despite opposition within the country and outside," Prem Chand Pankaj, chairman-cum-managing director of Neepco, told in an interview with Indo Asian News Service last week.
Pankaj said, "We would soon ask the government to return the project again to Neepco for its early commissioning. The delay in execution of the vital power project would create numerous problems. Some so-called environmentalists and NGOs for the past few years have been campaigning against the project and misleading people," said Pankaj, who took over as Neepco CMD last month.
Setting aside fears, he said only 74 families would be rehabilitated elsewhere due to the implementation of the Rs 8,138-crore ($1.7-billion) Tipaimukh project.
But the environmentalists and activists in North-eastern India and Bangladesh fear that rivers flowing down the stream in both the countries could be adversely impacted by the project.
Desertification in Bangladesh
Environmental activists fear, this project will start desertification in Bangladesh, which is already suffering desertification in northwestern districts due to Farakka Dam. It will also change the ecosystem of Sylhet region. It would affect the production of rice, the staple food, which require huge amount of water to grow. It will also affect fish production because fish is mainly found in the monsoon when many part of that area goes under water. This will immensely affect the flora and fauna and the entire biodiversity of the region.
Apart from the experts and environmental groups, the opposition parties in Bangladesh and the people of Sylhet region in particular demanding the project to be scrapped.
Assam students' group
Meanwhile in North-Eastern India, members of Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba-Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP) on July 12 staged demonstrations at the district and subdivisional headquarters all over the state of Assam in support of their demand for abandoning the existing and proposed mega dam hydel projects of the NE region and neighbouring Bhutan.
The AJYCP members also sent memorandums to Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, demanding immediate steps to scrap all the mega dam projects.
In Guwahati city, the members of the Guwahati district committee of the AJYCP staged a demonstration near the Panbazar ferry station. Later they sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister through the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup (Metro) district.
Meanwhile, Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti general secretary Akhil Gogoi, in an open letter to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, questioned the legitimacy of his claim that the mega dam projects would solve the State's problem of floods.
He also described the bid of the Government of India to set up 168 hydel projects in Arunachal Pradesh as a colonial attempt to exploit the water resources of the region. The State Government should not extend support to the Central Government in this respect, said the KMSS general secretary.
The KMSS general secretary also alleged that the Central Government has been ignoring the rights of Assam over the inter-State rivers flowing through its territory. The environment impact assessment (EIA) studies conducted for setting up the hydel projects in the NE region have not covered the issue of impact of these projects in downstream Assam, he alleged.
The cumulative impact of these projects, together with the Bhutanese ones with the joint capacity of generating 15,000 MW of power, should be properly studied before going for setting up such projects, said the KMSS general secretary.
The Tipaimukh project, located on the Barak river under Churachandpur district in western Manipur, is under attack from opposition parties and environmental groups in Bangladesh, which say it could cause desertification in their country.
Part of the Brahmaputra river system, the Barak bifurcates into the Surma and Kushiyara rivers on entering Sylhet district in eastern Bangladesh.
Khaleda's letter to Indian PM
Bangladesh's opposition leader and former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia in a letter also asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop construction of the project.
Incidentally, at the end of the three-day India visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January last year, a joint communiqué by the two countries had said: "The Prime Minister of India reiterated the assurance that India would not take steps on the Tipaimukh project that would adversely impact Bangladesh."
Additionally, a 10-member Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation conducted an aerial survey of the Tipaimukh dam in July 2009 after opposition intensified in Dhaka over the hydel project's possible ecological impact.
India's Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had then told the delegation that the Tipaimukh project was not an irrigation project or a water diversion scheme.
"He said it was a hydel project and in no way would harm Bangladesh's interest," an official of the Manipur power department told journalists at Imphal quoting Union Power Minister.
Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna in his recent visit to Bangladesh has told his counterpart Dipu Moni that India would not harm its neighbour's interests.
The project, said TC Borgohain, a senior Neepco engineer, will regulate excess water and help control floods in Sylhet district of Bangladesh as well as western Manipur and southern Assam in India. "It will open a new waterway from Haldia port in West Bengal to landlocked northeastern India via Bangladesh," Borgohain told IANS, and added that water used for generating electricity would be released back into the river.