Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bangladesh has no final say

It appears the UPA government has finally succeeded in convincing Bangladesh on the multi-purpose Tipaimukh dam. Despite protests from the opposition and environmental activists, Bangladesh has recently expressed its intention to support the proposed Tipaimukh Dam through its High Commissioner in New Delhi Tariq Ahmad Karim. It is the result of the recent visit of Gowher Rizvi, Foreign Affairs Advisor to the Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina to New Delhi. Gowher Rizvi alongwith his colleague Dr. Mashiur Rahman and Bangladesh High Commissioner Karim had met with a number of Indian leaders including the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ministers for home, finance, power, rural development, and water resources and the national security advisor. With the assurances given by India, the Awami League government in Bangladesh seem convinced that there will be no diminution in the flow of waters in Surma and Kushiyara rivers and that the high dam would have no adverse environmental or ecological impact, no aggravation of the floods during the monsoon. Yet, the government of Bangladesh is proposing to send an expert team to the Dam area to examine the features and likely impact of the dam on the flow of water into the Surma and the Kushiara. Here, we need to remember that, extending support to the Tipaimukh dam is not the unanimous opinion of Bangladesh. Bangladeshi experts have said the massive dam will disrupt the seasonal rhythm of the river and have an adverse effect on downstream agriculture and fisheries. Also, the Khaleda Zia led opposition BNP is dead against it. The Awami League government has dismissed the opposition to the dam as mere demagogy, stridency, devoid of substance and playing to the gallery. It also said, partisan politics and propaganda has replaced the pursuit of truth amongst many commentators. An interesting point to be noted here is that the Indian Prime Minister had invited Bangladesh to become an equity partner in the Tipaimukh project and take a share of the power that will be generated. Bangladesh believes this would guarantee them a place at the decision-making table and the ability to oversight the project at all stages. Here lies the cream icing.

Tipaimukh Dam is a proposed embankment dam on the river Barak in Manipur. The stated purpose of the dam is flood control and hydroelectric power generation. The project has led to controversy between India and Bangladesh over water rights as well as controversy with Manipuri people to be relocated by the reservoir. The dam will be 390m long and 162.8m high, across the Barak River. The dam`s crest elevation will be at an altitude of about 180 m. above mean sea level with a maximum reservoir level of 178 m. The dam was originally designed to contain flood waters in the lower Barak valley but hydro power generation was later incorporated into the project. The project will have an installation capacity of 1500 MW, supplied by six 250 MW Francis turbine-generators. Here we have to be very clear in our mind, that the support of Bangladesh in the matter of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam does not necessarily mean that all the roadblocks have been cleared. They must remember that, it is not only activists but the general public of Manipur is against the dam also. Besides being an earthquake zone, the water reservoir for the proposed dam would lead to massive loss of precious flora and fauna. It will also uproot many villages who they say would be relocated in various locations. But this is entirely against human logic. We have to take into account the man-land relationship and the attachment that people have with the land on which they were born. One cannot simply relocate living people. Yes, Manipur needs power. But it should not be at the cost of precious flora and fauna and of the man-land relationship.