With the public sentiment quickly rising against Bangladesh government’s weak-kneed policy towards India, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday told the parliament that her government would not accept any unilateral Indian move to build the Tipaimukh dam on the River Barak.
During the weekly question hour, Sheikh Hasina told her party MPs present in the parliament that there would be no compromise with Bangladesh’s interests so long the Awami League-led government remained in power. “We know it better how to protect the country’s interests, because we liberated the country,” she said.
She told the House that she would send a special envoy to Delhi to discuss India’s controversial Tipaimukh dam on the Barak, a common river.
The Barak splits and enters into Bangladesh as the Surma and the Kushiara.
Skeih Hasina criticised the opposition’s movement over the Tipaimukh issue as indulging in double standards. She ventilated her anger as a prompt reaction to BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia’s accusation about government’s silence over the Tipaimukh.
Addressing a large public meeting in Dhamrai on Tuesday Khaleda asked the government to protest against the Indian plan and realise Bangladesh’s due share of the waters of the common rivers. Khaleda said her party would extend support if the government protested against the unilateral move.
The leader of the opposition in the parliament, Khaleda Zia, has also written to the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, requesting him for conducting a joint survey before proceeding with the controversial Tipaimukh dam on the upstream of the Surma and the Kushiara rivers.
Khaleda Zia, whose party has long been criticising the government for not taking any effective measures to stop India in erecting the dam, wrote the letter following the publication of a report that the government of the Manipur state on October 22 signed an agreement on dam construction.
The BNP spokesperson Mirza Fakhrul Islam said the letter was sent on Monday last.
A former UN water expert Dr S I Khan suggested last week that a regional river commission would have to be formed through mutual understanding among neighbouring countries with a view to resolving the ongoing debate on the Tipaimukh Dam project and also solve the water problems in South Asia.
He said the Indian government seemed set to go ahead with its plan to build the controversial Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak River in the state of Manipur. But this is a violation of international laws.
“According to the international water-related laws and conventions, no country can carry out such activity on common rivers, as there is always the chance of harming the downstream countries.” Dr Khan said.
He mentioned that as per the World Convention on Dams, if a country wants to build a dam with height over 15 metres and minimum water reservoir capacity of 3 million cubic metres on a common river, the project must be acceptable not only to the government(s) but also people(s) of its river basin.
Dr Khan, also vice-president of International Farakka Committee, said although the height of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam is 163 metres and its water reservoir capacity would be 1.5 billion cubic metres, India has not shown any willingness to negotiate with downstream Bangladesh.
“As the Barak-Surma-Kushiara is an international river, Bangladesh should have equitable share of its waters and access to detailed information about any proposed project such as Tipaimukh Dam,” he said.
The water expert mentioned that Article 9 of the Ganges water sharing treaty, signed by Bangladesh and India in 1996, also states that both sides will implement a no-harm policy and refrain from taking unilateral steps concerning all shared rivers.
He also said that according to the Helsinki Convention, upper countries could not carry out any such activities that might adversely impact on environment and biodiversity of downstream counties. But India has taken a controversial move (Tipaimukh Dam project) that will spell environmental disaster for Bangladesh.
Referring to the Mekong River Commission, Dr Khan said there are many common rivers in the world and Mekong is such a common river in East Asia. Laos once tried to build a dam on Mekong River, but it was compelled to abandon the move following objection by other countries in the region.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh foreign secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes said on Wednesday that is no need to raise the Tipaimukh and Teesta issues at international forums as suggested by political group and environment experts.
Quayes said that Bangladesh government “has confidence on India’s assurance conveyed at the highest level that it would not do anything at Tipaimukh that could harm Bangladesh”.
“I believe that the Tipaimukh and the Teesta issues could be resolved through bilateral discussion,” he told a press briefing.
He said Bangladesh Foreign Ministry has requested New Delhi to consult it before initiating any intervention in the flows of common rivers like the Barak upstream.
The foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that Bangladesh also hoped that India would share all relevant details of the proposed multipurpose hydroelectric project at Tipaimukh in Manipur state in full transparency.
The fresh outcry against Tipaimuk dam surfaced following the signing of a ‘promoter’s agreement on October 22 with the purpose of setting up a joint venture company by the government of Manipur state with two hydro-power developers—NHPC Ltd and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd.
India earlier clarified its position to a Bangladesh parliamentary delegation led by former water resources minister and current chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on water resources, Abdur Razzak, which had visited India in July 2009 at the invitation of the Indian government.
Subsequently, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reassured Bangladesh that India would not take steps on the Tipaimukh project that would harm Bangladesh.
Environment and agriculture experts have warned that the twin interventions — a hydroelectric project at Tipaimukh and a barrage at Phulertal – on the cross-boundary river Barak would dry up the rivers and water bodies downstream and vast farm lands would turn arid, greatly affecting agriculture and livelihoods and threatening food security in the north-eastern districts of Bangladesh.
Tipaimukh dam will also affect Surma, Kushiyara and Meghna rivers and turn Bangladesh’s mid-east and north-eastern region into desert, directly affecting two crore people, they warned.
BNP last week gave a call for bold protests against the Indian move to build the controversial Tipaimukh dam on the river Barak to threaten at least three crore people of Bangladesh and their livelihoods.
Fakhrul said that the controversial Indian dam threatens three crore people living in the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna basin and heir livelihoods
He said expansionist India was going ahead with the construction of Tipaimuk dam only to weaken lower riparian Bangladesh economically, ecologically and politically.
Meanwhile, different socio-cultural organizations staged demonstrations and organized human chain in the city to protest Indian project to construct the controversial dam on the upstream of the Suma and the Kushiara river.
A women’s platform, named ‘Shommilito Nari Shomaj’ formed a human-chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka on Nov 21, protesting the signing of a deal to construct a dam on India’s Tipaimukh River. The participants later marched towards the Indian High Commission to form another human chain there, and they were dispersed by the police.
The organization went to stage a human chain programme in front of the Indian High Commission to protest the Indian bid. The convener of the organization, Farida Akhter, complained that police intercepted their peaceful human-chain programme which was unacceptable in a democratic country.
Agitation also is being organized in north-east Indian state of Assam, Monipur and Mizoram where different political, social and environment groups are taking to the streets in protest following the signing of an agreement on Tipaimukh dam.
BNP Sylhet chapter on Wednesday called a dawn-to-dusk hartal in the city of Sylhet on December 1 in protest against the Indian move to build the controversial Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak River.
Sylhet chapter of BNP will hold rallies and take out processions in the city on November 24.
Ilias said that BP would hold rallies at all upazila towns in the district on November 26, its student front will hold demonstration in the city on November 27, Shechchha-shebak Dal on November 28, youth front Juba Dal on November 29 and a joint demonstration of BNP on November 30.
BY : Abdur Rahman Khan.