Friday, December 9, 2011

TIPAIMUKH DAM : India Reassures Dhaka But Goes Ahead With The Plan

The opposition BNP last week rejected Indian assurance that it would not do anything with Tipaimukh Dam causing any harm to Bangladesh. BNP does not seem to trust Monmohan’s assurance since in the past such assurances from Delhi was never complied and Dhaka’s interest was ignored. India commissioned the Farakka barrage with the assurance that it was only for a test run but it became permanent, causing disaster for Bangladesh, BNP observed.
BNP acting secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his letter to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia claimed that Tipaimukh is not an irrigation project and that it will not impact negatively on Bangladesh and help protect floods. “But, we believe it would adversely affect the country as well as the people if the dam is built,” he added. Manmohan Singh on November 24 gave reply to Khaleda Zia’s letter requesting India for a joint technical survey over Tipaimukh dam before going for construction.
BNP last Monday reiterated its earlier stance and said if India builds the dam it would adversely affect Bangladesh. Mirza Alamgir criticised the government for not properly protesting the Indian initiative and said his party would stand beside the people who are in movement against the proposed Tipaimukh project. 
“The construction of Tipaimukh dam is against the World Heritage Convention, Bio-Diversity Convention, Wetlands Convention and other international laws and conventions,” he said briefing newsmen on Monday.
Alamgir termed the project as ‘a time bomb’ as it located in an earthquake-prone zone. He said the government has failed to act in preventing the construction of Tipaimukh dam in the national interest.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his letter said the Indian government will not do anything in Tipaimukh Dam project that may cause any harm to Bangladesh as the project will basically help in flood control.
Alamgir said according to technical reports of the national and international water experts, if Tipaimukh dam project is implemented that may affect the livelihood of nearly 3 crore people of 10 districts of north-east region of Bangladesh, agriculture, economic growth, fisheries resources, environment and ecology. The government did not register any protest during the joint river commission meeting and even did not emphasize on carrying out joint technical survey, he said.
He pointed out that in 2009, the parliamentary delegation returned home without visiting the Tipaimukh site. 
Meanwhile, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has publicly announced that India will go ahead with the plan of installing Tipaimukh hydroelectric project on the Barak River along the Manipur-Mizoram border. Manmohan made the statement at a public rally in Manipur state on Saturday. 
“The environmental clearance for the project has been obtained and procuring clearance from forest department is underway,” Manmohan was quoted as saying by The Assam Tribune.
Hasina’s Advisor convinced
However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Foreign Adviser Gowher Rizvi on his return from New Delhi said on Monday that Bangladesh government is satisfied with the explanation given by the Indian government regarding the Tipaimukh Dam on the Barak River, 
“There we have discussed with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior leaders. The Indian prime minister has assured us that no action would be taken about Tipaimukh that would harm Bangladesh in any way”, Advisor Gwhar Rizvi told the newsmen. “If Bangladesh invests in the project then we will get electricity according to our share. In this regard Bangladesh has to decide”, he added. 
The Experts, however, said it was a tactical offer to legitimize  Indian project  by reducing   Bangladesh power  of  bargain  or  to lodge  any  complaint to any  international forum  in  future.  
Environmental concerns
The environmentalists, both in Bangladesh and India, are opposed to the Tipaimukh project. They say the dam would significantly bring down flow of water in its tributaries Surma and Kurshiara in Bangladesh. The dam will have a negative impact on the Meghna basin. 
India’s northeastern state Manipur recently signed an agreement with state-owned NHPC Ltd and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVN) on Oct 22 to construct a 1,500MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric power project in Manipur. 
According to a BBC report, the anti-Tipaimukh movement leaders have said that though the project recieved environmental clearance, the protests of the locals were not taken into account during the ‘Environment Impact Analysis’.
Protest in Sweden 
Bangladeshi students in Sweden have demonstrated outside Indian embassy at Stockholm against India’s plan to dam the Barak River, which flows through Bangladesh from India, to produce power. 
Students, researchers and teachers from several other countries joined hands with the Bangladeshi students in front of the Indian embassy on Sunday to oppose the Tipaimukh project. 
The demonstrators, carrying placards with anti-Tipaimukh slogans inscribed on them, said India being the larger country is trying to be imposing and the Bangladesh government should present the harmful sides of the project to the world. 
”India said Bangladesh will face no harm if the dam is built. But, our experience with the Farakka barrage says that India only looks after its own interests. The ecology of India’s north-eastern part, along with Bangladesh, will be harmed once dam is built.” said, Javed Kaiser, a former Bangladeshi student of Stockholm University.
 Ershad also accuses  Monmohan :
Jatiya Party chairman Hussein Muhammad Ershad , key ally of the ruling grand coalition, has alleged that the Indian prime minister has gone back on his promise to Bangladesh on the Tipaimukh dam. 

“I believe he (Manmohan Singh) has failed to keep his promises. Because they have signed agreements to build Tipaimukh dam,” Ershad said in a media briefing in the party’s Banani office on Thursday. 

“The Indian prime minister had assured that India would not do anything that would harm the interests of Bangladesh. Because Bangladesh is a friendly country. Manmohan Singh had also told prime minister Sheikh Hasina that Tipaimukh dam would not be built harming Bangladesh.”

GM Kader, Ershad’s younger brother  and  a Cabinet  Minister  in charge  of   Commerce  was also present  at  the press briefing. 

Should Dhaka Trust Delhi On Tipaimukh?

Two Advisers of the Prime Minister, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and Dr. Gowher Rizvi have been assured by the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh when they met him in New Delhi that India would not harm Bangladesh with the proposed Tippaimukh Dam. He said that the agreement signed between the National Hydro Power Corporation, Manipur Government and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam on October 22 is to build a hydro-electricity project.
The Indian Prime Minister also offered Bangladesh a stake in the proposed project under cross border power cooperation among SAARC countries to draw electricity from the project. Dr. Singh said that there would be consultations between the two sides so that Bangladesh would know that the proposed dam would not harm it. 

The assurances are convincing but only on face value. However the   Indians had assured Bangladesh twice in the past at the highest political level that it would do nothing at Tippaimukh that would harm it. This assurance was first given to Sheikh Hasina when she visited New Delhi in January, 2010.
Dr. Manmohon Singh reiterated this assurance more forcefully when he visited Dhaka in September this year. The spirit of the assurances was clear. India would take Bangladesh on board for whatever it did at Tippaimukh. This the Indians did not translate into reality. It went ahead and signed the agreement to construct the Tippaimukh Dam without informing Bangladesh. It was only when the news was broken in the Indian media did Bangladesh come to know that India had gone ahead and signed the agreement.
Slow to get confirmed
Bangladesh’s efforts to gain confirmation of media reports in India were slow in coming. When it came, the Indians saw no fault in signing the agreement without informing Bangladesh. Bangladesh was asked to look at the website of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for details.  A spokesman of MEA gave a written response to Bangladesh’s concern later in which it was said that India would not harm Bangladesh.
Thus before the Advisers visited India, the Indians did not feel that there was any reason to keep Bangladesh informed over it.   As a consequence, the news took Bangladesh by surprise. It is not just the opposition but the civil society and environmental groups came together to oppose the dam because serious bipartisan concerns remain in the minds of majority of Bangladeshis over the dam. Sheikh Hasina herself expressed concern when she said in parliament that she would not allow any harm to come to Bangladesh.
There are a few serious issues that make it difficult to feel the comfort that Dr. Gowher Rizvi has express in the media on Indian assurance after returning from New Delhi. The first worrying point is why the Indians did not keep Bangladesh in the picture and why it had to send two Advisers and a Special Envoy waiting to go to New Delhi. It is not that the Indians are not aware about Bangladesh’s concerns.  No matter how convincingly the Indian Prime Minister tries to assure Bangladesh now, the way they have dealt with it on the latest situation over the Tippaimukh issue tends to suggest that Delhi takes Dhaka for granted and treats it condescendingly – a major irritant that has stood in the way of sustainable friendly relations between the two countries.
Unequal partners
The India treatment of Bangladesh has actually angered people like noted newsman Kuldip Nayyar and formed Indian foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey. In fact, the latter has put it on record that “the attitude of most Indian political leaders, senior officials, business magnates and strategic thinkers towards Bangladesh has been one of disdain and apathy.”  One cannot help feeling the same attitude in what the Indian Prime Minister has said to the two Advisers. If the Indians respected Bangladesh then in the first place they would not have gone ahead and decided on the construction of the dam keeping Bangladesh out of the loop and in the second place, they would have sent a Special Envoy to Bangladesh instead of Dhaka’s sending two Advisers and waiting to send a Special Envoy! At the least, the Indian Prime Minister could have expressed regret for not informing Bangladesh before signing the agreement.
The Indian Prime Minister’s assurances now do not do anything to the element of trust that his government has broken with Bangladesh. He of all persons should know what the Indians have done to Bangladesh by withdrawing the Teesta Agreement off the table after giving us assurances that it would be signed in Dhaka during his visit. Then why should he forget his major faux pas and then an official apology with his insensitive and absurd statement that 25% of Bangladeshis are anti-Indian and under influence of Pakistan’s ISI?
It is just not the Indian Prime Minister who has been insensitive and disdainful towards Bangladesh in recent times. It has been so all along in the relations between the two countries. As the much smaller neighbour, the record shows quite clearly that it is Bangladesh that has always gone ahead first and made concessions to India. The Indians either did not match Bangladesh’s concessions or in other instances, promised to match the concessions and then reneged.
Broken promises 
Take for instance the 1974 India-Bangladesh border agreement. Bangladesh kept its part of the agreement within months of signing the agreement. The Indians did not, on one pretext or another. Teen Bigha corridor was agreement bound to be handed to Bangladesh under the 1974 agreement in exchange of Berubari. Bangladesh has now been given 24 hours access through it to its enclaves of Dahagram and Angorpota but not the right to own it. Absurdly, Bangladesh negotiators have acclaimed this 24 hours’ access as a mark of success of their negotiations!
Bangladesh allowed the Indians trial run for 40 days on the Farakkha Barrage. Indians perpetuated that unilaterally till Bangladesh was able to reach an agreement in 1996. For 22 years, the Indians dried the northern part of Bangladesh by holding back the water of the Ganges illegally. In 1992, Bangladesh withdrew tariffs against Indian goods under the SAPTA Agreement. The Indians, who were supposed to reciprocate, did not. Bangladesh has been pleading for India to do since then without much success. In fact, there is a litany of such broken promises by India in the history of Bangladesh-India relations.
Even in the backdrop of such a history, Sheikh Hasina risked her political career and gave India unilateral concessions on two critical areas to Indian interests, namely security and land transit. Instead of feeling embarrassed that Bangladesh again gave the concessions expecting to see the Indian heart for its legitimate rights on water, trade and a host of other bilateral issue. Instead it was shown the same face by India, that it could not be trusted. India did what is a pattern in Bangladesh-India relations. It reneged on the Teesta and now on Tippaimukh. 
The Indian Prime Minister, after his latest “assurance” to Bangladesh, has said in Manipur that the project has been accorded environmental clearance and he has asked concerned Ministries to pursue World Bank funding for it.  So what is India going to discuss with Bangladesh on Tippaimukh except  re-iterating that it knows what is best for Bangladesh, a view that the Bangladesh government has accepted obligingly? 
The BSF betrayal
For another Indian “assurance”, it is the same story; the same pattern. Only two weeks ago, the BSF beat to death another Bangladeshi and kept his body in a field for all to watch. Yet in the Joint Statement of the recently concluded Bangladesh-India Home Secretary level talks, it was the Indian concern that Bangladesh Border Guards should refrain from indiscriminate firing that was reflected ahead of ours! Bangladesh’s policy on India cannot any longer be called subservient.  It is worse. 

BY : M. Serajul Islam.

National Unity For A National Cause

The construction of the Tipaimukh dam is a national problem. All the political parties must keep aside their differences
and be united on this issue.

RECENTLY, there has been much discussion in the electronic and print media about the potential impacts of the Tipaimukh dam on Bangladesh. The Indian government has initiated construction of the Tipaimukh dam 500 metres downstream from the confluence of the Barak, the second largest drainage system in northeast India and a kilometre north of Jakiganj in Sylhet, Bangladesh, and the Tuivai river in the south-western corner of Manipur, India.

The dam is proposed to be some 180 metres above sea level, with a maximum reservoir level of 178 metres and 136 metres as the minimum level. It is said to be the world’s largest rock-filled dam. The main purpose for constructing this dam is to generate hydroelectric power, with an installation capacity of 1,500MW. It is also likely to work as a flood control dam for the Manipur and Mizoram states in India and for irrigation purposes along the one-kilometre stretch of the Barak up to the Bangladesh border and by the fringe of the reservoir boundary.

The Tipaimukh 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 basin. The first initiative for this construction started in 2003. Attempts were made by the Indian government to start construction of this dam, but the process had to be stalled amidst violent national and international protests in 2007. At last the Indian government signed a bilateral investment treaty on 22 October, 2011 to complete the project by 2018.

There are numerous reasons for such opposition towards the construction of this dam. Bangladesh would have to face serious consequences if this dam is constructed. Even the people of Manipur and Nagaland would have to suffer.

Barak-Surma-Kushiara is an international river. 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 been provided to Bangladesh to appraise its full impact on Bangladesh. Being an upper riparian country, India has an obligation under international law to discuss the construction of such a massive infrastructure on the common river with lower riparian Bangladesh.

This dam would lead to drought and environmental degradation. It would cause the Surma and Kushiara to run dry during November to May, which would eventually hamper agriculture, irrigation and navigation, and lead to a shortage of supply of drinking water, etc. The shortage of water in these few months would lead to decrease in ground water which over the years would lower the ground water level, which in turn would affect all dug outs and shallow tube wells. Agriculture, which is dependent on both surface as well as ground water, would also be affected.

Also, any interference in the normal flow of water in the Barak would have an adverse effect on the Surma River in Bangladesh which, in turn, feeds the mighty Meghna River 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 seven to eight percent of the total water of Bangladesh is obtained from the Barak River. Millions of people are dependent on hundreds of water bodies fed by the Barak in the Sylhet region for fishing and agricultural activities.

According to experts, if the dam is constructed, 16 districts of greater Sylhet will be affected. The immense natural disaster that will take place would be irreplaceable. 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, however, make sense to make a certain part of Bangladesh a desert area solely for the purpose of importing electricity.

The ever-increasing demand for fresh water 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 the 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 an article published by Dr Soibam Ibotombi, teacher of earth sciences at Manipur University, the north-eastern 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. Studies on the trends of earthquakes reveal 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 will endanger species like pythons, gibbons, as well as herbal and medicinal plants. They also fear that the dam would submerge as many as 90 villages within a 311 sq-km radius.

According to a UNESCO study, fresh water 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.

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 the Tipaimukh dam on the Barak River.
Sadly, such assurances were given at the time of the construction of the Farakka Dam also, but till date, 

Bangladesh is suffering from its consequences. Surprisingly, even the Bangladesh water resources minister said that Dhaka would not object to a project to produce electricity but would protest if a dam was constructed.
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.
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 Paribesh Andolon (BAPA), 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 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 River system 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. 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 responded 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.

The construction of the Tipaimukh dam is a national problem. All the political parties must keep aside their differences and be united on this issue. We have seen the consequences of Farakka and we don’t want another Farakka for Bangladesh.

BY :  Md Faruq Hossain