English Arabic French German Hindi Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish

Tipaimukh dam pact a setback to Hasina

Print
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

By Syed Tashfin Chowdhury
DHAKA - The work of two years of improving relations between India and Bangladesh, culminating in Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka in September, appears to be unraveling following India's decision to go ahead with construction of a dam on waters that flow between the two countries
On October 22, the Manipur state government of India signed an agreement with two other parties to construct the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur, without providing any prior information to Bangladesh. Since then, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and her cabinet have tried to mend the crisis while under increasing public and opposition criticism for the government's "subservient" attitude to its bigger neighbor.
"The agreement for construction of Tipaimukh dam has made it


  clear that India is deviating from the formal and informal commitments it made to Bangladesh," Center for Global Change executive director Ahsan Uddin Ahmed told New Age on November 19.
Public hostility to the dam could prove fatal to Hasina's hopes of securing voters' support in parliamentary elections due at the end of 2013.
"The incident portrays how weak Bangladesh's diplomatic stance is with India," M Inamul Haq, former director general of Water Resources Planning Organization (WARPO) told Asia Times Online. "Although this government came to power with a landslide support from the public, they have lost most of it already following this recent development with the Tipaimukh dam."
A full-day strike was held last Thursday in Sylhet, the area bordering India through which the affected Bakar river flows, and the opposition Bangladesh National Party is threatening further action through into next month. Opponents of the dam say it will dry up a number of rivers and cause other environmental problems in north-eastern Bangladesh. Protests have also been staged in Manipur as the dam will displace people upstream and affect agriculture and water use downstream.
The agreement by the Manipur government and other parties, which cleared the way for construction of the long-proposed dam, is contrary to joint declarations made after summits between the premiers of Bangladesh and India in 2010 and 2011, when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that New Delhi would "not take any step regarding their planned Tipaimukh Dam that may harm Bangladesh".
It came barely seven weeks after Hasina and Manmohan signed the "Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development between India and Bangladesh" in Dhaka on September 6. This signaled important headway on several long-standing cross-border issues and opened the way for improved trade between the two countries.
"That is the nature of India's diplomacy," M Inamul Haq, former director general of the government's Water Resources Planning Organization, told Asia Times Online. "No matter what they say to Bangladesh to improve ties, they will never steer away from the original imperialist perspective that is followed by the central government of India as far as water and other resources are concerned."
Demonstrations in Manipur and across Bangladesh started on November 17, after it was reported that the tripartite agreement had been signed between NHPC Ltd (a hydropower company owned by the Indian government), Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Ltd, and the Manipur government to set up a joint venture company that will implement the 1,500 MW Tipaimukh Hydroelectric (Multipurpose) Project.
The local government will hold a 5% interest in the venture, NHPC 69% and SJVN 26%, under the project agreement, which was signed on October 22 in New Delhi, according to a press release on the NHPC website dated October 24.
The release said the "project is located in Churachandpur district of Manipur" and has been "conceived as a multipurpose storage project on the Barak river with the main objective of hydropower generation along with flood moderation of downstream area. The project is estimated to generate 3,800 Million Units of electricity annually and likely completion period is 87 months after government sanction."
The Bangladesh government was not informed of the agreement details until it asked for them on November 21, adding fuel to BNP's long-held claims that the ruling party is "subservient" toward India.
The dam will block the Barak (also known as Borak) river, which develops in Manipur before flowing briefly into Mizoram state and on to Assam state, where it flows west before dividing into the Surma and Kushiara (or Kushiyara) rivers almost immediately before the border with Bangladesh. Those two rivers then form a vital irrigation network across the flat northeast of the country before finally rejoining as the Meghna River.
The dam, to be located 500 meters downstream from the juncture of the Barak and Tuivai rivers, was first proposed in 1954 by the Assam government but following protests by populations in affected areas was shelved a number of times till 1999. The central government then handed the project to North-Eastern Electronic Power Co-operation and it was apparently approved by the Indian president in 2001.
Preparatory work on the ground started in 2003, was halted after national and international uproar, then was begun again in late 2008. With protests renewed in Bangladesh and Manipur, the Indian government invited a parliamentary delegation from Bangladesh in July 2009 to discuss the project and visit the site. Indian Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde assured the Bangladesh delegation that "no water flow will be diverted and no irrigation project will be constructed upstream or downstream of the project".
Following the meeting, the delegation and senior Awami League leader Abdur Razzak was quoted by Daily Star on July 31, 2009, as saying, "Whatever they [India] do, they will do through discussions with Bangladesh" and that "all issues can be resolved through talks."
The tripartite agreement in October took the ruling Awami League in Bangladesh by surprise. BNP leader Khaleda Zia was quick to take advantage. On December 1, she told the press she had written on November 22 to the Indian prime minister asking for a "joint impact study by experts from both countries". She said she would release the reply, which she received on November 26, at a later date.
India was going ahead with the Tipaimukh dam project due to "ineffective and bow-down foreign policy of the [Bangladesh] government," she said. "If the dam is built, water flow in Meghna, Surma and Kushiara rivers [of Bangladesh] will be seriously affected," she said.
The Sylhet region would be under a constant threat of flood, as the proposed dam site is in an earthquake-prone area and "if there is any breach in the dam, Sylhet region will be under eight-foot of water."
The opposition party is capitalizing on the lack of trust that Bangladesh has held towards Delhi since India built the Farakka barrage, completed across the Ganges in 1970, in West Bengal about 18 kilometers from the border with Bangladesh. The stated objective of this water diversion scheme was to "save Calcutta Port from silting".
A 1974 summit between the two countries secured assurances that the barrage would not be put into operation before an agreement was reached on sharing the dry season flow of the Ganges, which terminates in the vast delta that forms much of Bangladesh. Dhaka agreed that India could test the feeder canal of the barrage in 1975, but Delhi commissioned the barrage and continued unilateral diversion of the Ganges beyond the stipulated test period.
The barrage was then operational without a water-sharing agreement until 1997.
On November 21, the foreign ministry in Dhaka urged India to share all information regarding the October Manipur agreement while it underscored Bangladesh's right as "a co-riparian country" and urged the "need for prior consultation before initiating any intervention on common rivers like the Barak".
Hasina assured parliament that a formal delegation will visit India to discuss the issue, with a date tentatively set for December 4. Hasina's international affairs adviser Gowher Rizi and economic affairs adviser Mashiur Rahman went to New Delhi four days earlier to discuss the issue.
The same day, India welcomed the proposal of Bangladesh for further consultations on the Tipaimukh project. It noted that the Tipaimukh project has been under discussion bilaterally since 1972, with the objective of reducing flood damage in the Cachar and Sylhet areas of India and Bangladesh respectively.
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is the Editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, in Bangladesh.
(Copyright 2011 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


Soucre : Asia Times

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

| + - | RTL - LTR