Vol. 5 Num 568 Sat. December 31, 2005  
Front Page

Tipaimukh Dam
Indian move to trigger severe eco-disaster
Fear experts, rights activists of two countries

The water flow to Bangladesh's major river system -- the Meghna and its tributaries - - might be slashed by around one third resulting in massive intrusion of saline water from the Bay of Bengal with its devastating effects on the country's farm productivity, fish population and ecology when the biggest ever Indian dam is built at Tipaimukh at the confluence of the Barak river.

The dam could reduce 15 billion cubic metres (bcm) of the 48 bcm flow of water towards the Meghna from the Barak and a barrage on it downstream as part of the project might cause drying up of the Surma and Kushiara rivers in Bangladesh during the lean period.

Experts, academics and rights activists from the Indian states of Assam and Manipur joined their Bangladeshi counterparts in expressing such fears at a two-day 'International Tipaimukh Dam Conference' (ITDC-2005) that began in the capital yesterday.

The ITDC is being held in the wake of the Indian government's go-ahead in November for generating 1500 MW power by building the Rs 6,000 crore dam in Manipur on the Barak, the source of water of the Surma and Kushiara in Sylhet that feed the Meghna.

Moreover, the Surma and Kushiara would fully dry up during lean period when the proposed barrage at Phulertal, 100 kilometres downstream of Tipaimukh, for irrigation purposes is built, they said.

India is not consulting co-riparian Bangladesh in harnessing water of the trans-boundary river and is not even providing the lower riparian with any information, the experts alleged.

Participants from Assam and Manipur said Tipaimukh dam would also affect livelihood of 73 villages on the Indian side alone, of which 15 would be inundated.

The ITDC, inaugurated by writer and educationist Muhammed Zafar Iqbal yesterday morning with the slogan 'Development in Harmony with Nature,' ends this evening.

It will adopt 'Dhaka Declaration' urging political leadership of both India and Bangladesh to save millions from a potential man-made disaster.

The conference opened amidst hoisting of flags of 10 countries -- Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Afghanistan, Myanmar and China , who are co-riparians for many rivers. The first working session began in the afternoon with hydro-geologist Prof Khalequzzaman of Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) in the chair.

Former member of the Indo-Bangla Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) and renowned water expert Dr Ainun Nishat gave a detailed presentation at the session. It was addressed by, among others, Awami League lawmaker Dr Abdur Razzak, Dr Zahiruddin Chowdhury of BUET, Dr KR Ranjan of Manipur University, rights activists from Assam-Manipur Devabrata Roy and Rabindranath, freedom fighter Mashrur-ul Huq, ActionAid Country Director Nasreen Huq, and BAPA (environmental group) General Secretary Mahidul Huq Khan. Muhammad Hilaluddin, chief director of Angikar Bangladesh Foundation moderated the confeence.

Expressing concern at the lack of information flow through the JRC, Dr Ainun Nishat stressed basin-based water management and involvement of all co-riparian countries in harnessing waters of cross-boundary rivers.

Prof Zafar Iqbal said India should not unilaterally build a dam on trans-boundary river. The Tipaimukh dam plan, keeping Bangladesh uninformed, is unfortunate, he said.

Sylhet and its rivers would face desertification, said Zafar, a teacher of Sylhet University of Science and Technology (SUST).

Prof Zahiruddin feared that if a barrage is built at Phulertal, the Barak's water-flow meant for feeding the Meghna would be diverted for irrigating 1,680 square km areas in northeastern India.

In the last JRC meet in Dhaka in September, the then Indian water resources minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi however assured Bangladesh that there would be no diversion of water for irrigation purposes. But the ITDC organisers said that the Indian Public Investment Board (PIB) last month sanctioned Rs 6,000 crore for completing the Tipaimukh project in totality by 2011.

Dr Razzak emphasised political capacity building for making better bargain with India about the ecological interests of Bangladesh.

Prof Khalequzzaman said Bangladesh might get 17,000 cusec less water than what it gets now from the Barak due to the building of the dam. The Indian government signed an agreement with Manipur state government aiming at finishing the task by 2011.

Indian rights activist Rabindranath said Tipaimukh dam would turn hundreds of indigenous people in Manipur into beggars.

Coordinator of the River Basin Friends of Assam Rabindranath feared that tonnes of rocks and mud rolling down from Tipaimukh dam construction site would choke rivers of Bangladesh.

Anti-Tipaimukh dam activist from Manipur Devabrata Roy said the project has the potential of inflicting a 'cultural genocide' on indigenous people of northeastern India.

Manipur University Registrar Dr RK Ranjan feared that when water flow would slow down from Barak to Meghna, saline water from the Bay of Bengal would intrude into mainland Bangladesh, damaging its farmlands forever.

Writer and educationist Muhammad Zafar Iqbal speaks at the inaugural ceremony of a two-day International Tipaimukh Dam Conference 2005 at the Institution of Engineers in the city yesterday. PHOTO: STAR