Water resources minister Ramesh Chandra Sen, on Wednesday, said Dhaka had been pressing New Delhi for conducting a joint study to assess the impact of the Tipaimukh dam project on the river Barak in Manipur.
Besides, Dhaka has requested New Delhi to set a date for a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) to discuss the issue, he added.
“As a lower riparian country, Bangladesh has a right to know everything from India, before the latter takes up any project in the upstream of any common river. We cannot allow India to construct anything that may prove harmful to Bangladesh,” he observed.
Sen iterated that if India tried to construct the Tipaimukh dam, Bangladesh would lodge a complaint with the International Court.
“India is yet to give its reply on conducting a joint survey. Also, it has not yet sent the schedule for the JRC meeting. But we remain optimistic about holding the JRC meeting in Dhaka anytime this year,” the minister told The Independent.
For long, several communities in Manipur in north-east India and Bangladesh have expressed concerns over the proposed Tipaimukh dam.
The project has sparked controversy in the two countries, as India took up this project without consulting or sharing of information with Bangladesh and a number of indigenous communities in north-eastern India.
The project was first proposed by an Indian state-owned utility service, North East Electric Power Corp Ltd, to prevent floods. Later, the plan was modified to a hydroelectricity project that would generate 1500 MW of power, to be sold mostly outside the region.
According to Sinlung Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Organization (SIPHRO) of India, the project paid no heed to the indigenous people of Manipur and the recommendations made by World Commission on Dams.
On October 22, 2011, the state government of Manipur signed an agreement with two Indian companies to construct the Tipaimukh dam, without providing any prior information to Bangladesh.
It came barely seven weeks after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh, signed a framework agreement on cooperation for development between India and Bangladesh in Dhaka on September 6 last year.
The agreement by the Manipur government and the other parties, which cleared construction of the long-proposed dam, is contrary to joint declarations made by Bangladesh and India in 2010 and 2011, where Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh assured Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that New Delhi would not take any step in this regard that might harm Bangladesh.
Demonstrations in Manipur, Assam and Bangladesh started on November 17, after it was reported that a tripartite agreement had been signed between NHPC Ltd, Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Ltd and the Manipur government to set up a joint venture company that would implement the 1,500 MW project.
Under the project agreement, which was inked on October 22, 2011, the Manipur government would hold a five cent stake in the venture, with 69 per cent and 26 per cent each for NHPC and SJVN, respectively. On November 21, 2011, the Bangladeshi foreign ministry urged New Delhi to share with Dhaka all information about the Manipur agreement, underscoring Bangladesh’s right as a co-riparian country. It also stressed that India must consult in advance with Bangladesh before the former took such initiatives on any common rivers.
According to experts, the Indian government has never officially informed Bangladesh about the dam’s construction. The dam would virtually dry up the rivers Surma and the Kushiara, two tributaries of the river Barak, in Bangladesh. They added that this would choke the north-eastern region of the country.
They also predicted that the dam would disrupt the seasonal rhythm of the river and hamper agriculture, irrigation, fisheries, drinking water supply, navigation and ground water levels.