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Tipaimukh Dam of India: Probable Disaster for Bangladesh

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M. Anowar Hossain Associate Program Officer, ActionAid Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh

1. Introduction

The water disputes between the South Asian Countries provide classic examples of the contentiousness of the issues involved in the management of international river basins. One major cause behind the failure of these countries in finding a comprehensive solution to these disputes is their reluctance to embrace the more recent norms of relevant international law. India and Bangladesh share many rivers and water resources .The rivers including the Brahmaputra and the Barak or their tributaries flowing across the north-eastern regions of India and entering into Bangladesh are mostly international rivers. These two rivers play a vital role for sharing the joys and sorrows of the people of both Bangladesh and India. Since the independence of India, its government has initiated many river projects that have innumerous negative impacts on the socio-economy, environment, agriculture, fisheries, hydrology, ecology etc. of Bangladesh located adjacent of Indian states of Assam, Manipur, Tripura at the downstream of those river projects that has to receive all the development detritus.

Amidst mounting protests both at home and in lower – riparian Bangladesh, India is going ahead with the plan to construct its largest and most controversial 1500 mw hydroelectric dam project on the river Barak at Tipaimukhin the Indian state of Manipur on the common borders of three northeastern states of Assam, Manipur and Mizoram.

In India too, people will have to suffer a lot for this mega project. The total area required for construction including submergence area is 30860 ha of which 20,797 ha is forest land, 1,195 ha is village land, 6,160 ha is horticultural land, and 2,525 ha is agricultural land. As per estimates of the authorities themselves, the project will totally affect 311sq. km and 8 villages, 1461 Hmar families in all. The project will submerge altogether 60 kms of National Highway No 53, the only alternative lifeline to NH-39 at three different points with two major bridges. The main sources of livelihood of the people are agriculture and horticulture. With the construction of Tipaimukh high dam more than 67 villages will be deprived of their source of livelihood.


Experts in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka are afraid of the unilateral Indian movement for construction of the massive dam and regulate water flow of the river Barak that will have long adverse effects on the river system of Surma and Kushiyara in the north-eastern region of Bangladesh which will obviously have negative impacts on ecology,environment,agriculture, bio-diversity, fisheries, socio-economy etc. of Bangladesh. The river Barak has entered into Bangladesh through Zakiganj in Sylhet and is flowing into two directions - Surma and Kushiyara.‘The Timpaimukh Dam will choke up the Surma and Kushiara rivers during the dry season and leave similar effect on Bangladesh as the Farakka Barrage is doing’, In a study made by Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) noted that obstruction to the natural flow of the Surma and Kushiyara will seriously hamper hydrology, agriculture etc. in at least seven districts of Sylhet, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, Sunamganj, Brahmanbaria, Kishoreganj and Netrokona in Bangladesh that produce bulk of the country’s rice crop.

The Barak and its main distributaries river Surma and Kushiara fall within the Meghna basin, member of one of the world’s most dynamic and diversified hydrologic basin trio- Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river system. The total drainage area of the GBM region is about 1.75 million sq. km-stretching across five countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, of which Meghna basin is the smallest but most unpredictable and chaotic in hydrologic means. Barak and then Surma, Kushiyara river receive all the surface water originated in Meghna basin, carry down to the upper Meghna River, and join with Padma river at farther downstream. Combined flow then move further southward naming Lower Meghna or Meghna river to Bay of Bengal. Now, proposed Tipaimukh Dam will be constructed on the Barak river by controlling the stream flow of it, create a huge reservoir upstream of the dam to develop one of largest hydroelectric power plant in the eastern India. The dam site is located at around 100 km upstream from the diverging point of the Barak river into two rivers where Surma-Kushiara are the main distributary channels in the north-eastern part of Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, experts in Bangladesh have expressed their apprehension about the Tipaimukh Dam project that will surely to block the flow of the country’s major riverine networks in the north-east region and will have further disastrous consequences at the downstream. They claim that it could hit the country fatally, or have consequences of no less magnitude than the Farakka Barrage constructed across the Ganges  in the north-west of Bangladesh. After completion of the project, Bangladesh would get less water in three rivers-the Meghna, the Surma and the Kushiara, So it was felt that a study in this regard would be useful to assess the plausible impacts of Tipaimukh Dam.The study was conducted with the objectives: (i) to assess the plausible impacts of Tipaimukh Dam on the environment and socio-economical conditions of the people of Bangladesh.(ii) to make recommendations and suggest remedial measures to minimize the negative impacts of Tipaimukh Dam.



Based on different journals, books, seminar papers, reports, magazines etc. the literature review was made. 2.1 Study Area: The Study area covers a gross area of 335,600 ha between latitude 24°56’ and 24° 15’ N and longitude 92°05’ and 90°55’E. It extends over the districts of Sylhet, Sunamganj, Moulavibazar, Habiganj and Kishoreganj in Bangladesh. The study area is bounded by the Kushiyara-Bijna-Ratna-Sutang River system on the south, the old Surma-Dahuka River system and Jagannathpur-Sylliet road on the north, old Surma-Baulai River system on the west, and the Sylhet-Kaktai village road on the east. The area generally experiences the sub-tropical monsoon climate due to variation of its location and topography. Mean annual rainfall increases from an average of 2,572 mm/year in the south (at Habiganj) to 5,641 mm/year (at Sunamganj) in the north, or by 119% across the project area. This increase is mainly attributable to the presence of the Shillong Plateau to the north. The mean annual rainfalls during the period 1961-90 were 10% greater than those during the period 1901-30. The annual rainfalls during the period 1961-90 were 1.95 times as variable as those during the period 1901-30. It is possible that the indicated trends may reflect only a rise to the peak of some long-term climatic cycle, but they may reflect a monoclinal rise due to global climatic change. However, caution should be exercised in interpreting these results, due to the relatively high proportion of synthetic data Maximum temperature varies from 27.6°c to 35.0°c.The highest temperatures are experienced during the pre-monsoon period. Daily minimum temperature can fluctuate significantly during the year ranging from 9 °C to 23 °C. (NERP, 1995).  The land in the study area is generally low-lying and of low relief. The landforms in the study area have formed as a result of alluvial sediment deposition on a slowly subsiding tectonic basin. Consequently, most of the area is underlain by Holocene-age alluvial, estuarine and lacustrine deposits. The study area is comprised of three main physiographic units: uplands, lowlands floodplain and flood basins (GSB, 1990 and Rashid, 1991). Uplands cover about 1 % of the study area and are located in the northeast. They are comprised of merging alluvial fans that slope gently outwards from the foothills.

The lowland floodplain comprises about 34%, or 1,137 km2 of the study area. The floodplain contain channel deposits such as meander scrolls and fills, over bank deposits such as natural levees and crevasse splays, flood basin and back-channel deposits. Flood basins cover about 65% of the study area. This physiographic unit is characterized by large, saucer-shaped depressions known as haors. Haor land is generally very low-lying and often contains permanent water bodies or heels. During the monsoon season, all of the haor areas are deeply flooded. The haors comprise the prime agricultural land of the study area, but seasonal inundation is a constraint to agriculture. In most areas only the born (dry season) rice crop can be grown, but this is liable to flood damage in the pre-monsoon season. Haors and beefs are also important habitat for fish and other wildlife.

The area occupies five agro-ecological zones (AEZ): the Old Meghna Estuarine Floodplain (AEZ 19), Eastern Surma-Kushiyara Floodplain (AEZ 20), Sylhet Basin (AEZ 21), Northern and Eastern Piedmont Plains (AEZ 22), and Northern and Eastern Hill (AEZ 29). All the zones excepting AEZ 20 are divided into sub-zones. The sub-zones are differentiated by relief and flooding characteristics.

Nine general soil types occur in the study area: Non-calcareous dark Grey Floodplain, Noncalcareous Grey Floodplain and Acid Basin Clays are their major components. Non-calcareous Dark Grey Floodplain predominates in the southwestern part, Acid Basin Clays in central-southern part, and Non-calcareous Grey Floodplain in the western, northern, and eastern parts. Varying proportions of Non-calcareous Alluvium, Peat, Non-calcareous Brown Floodplain Soils, Grey Piedmont Soils, Brown Hills Soil, and Deep Grey Terrace Soils occur in the project area.

 Table 1


 Land Use

 Area (Ha)

 Culitivated Laud


 Settle Lela












 Klws/Grass Kind





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