Vol. 5 Num 569 Sun. January 01, 2006  
Front Page

India goes for dams ignoring eco-disaster
Plans to sell electricity in SE Asia

India strives to emerge as an electricity supplier to the power-hungry Southeast Asia by generating hydroelectricity from scores of dams it is building, including the highly controversial Tipaimukh dam, causing colossal ecological damage to its northeastern part and entire Bangladesh.

Rights activists from the Indian states of Assam and Manipur spoke of India's plan to sell power to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand at the International Tipaimukh Dam Conference (ITDC-2005) in the capital that ended yesterday with the adoption of 'Dhaka Declaration.'

Both Bangladesh and northeastern India fear complete choking and drying up of their river systems and also submersion of scores of villages inhabited by indigenous people in Manipur due to regulation of water at Tipaimukh dam at the confluence of the Barak river.

Participants from India at ITDC alleged that Delhi was up for generating 60,000 MW of hydropower by building scores of dams for marketing abroad.

"Projected power requirement of seven sisters (seven northeastern Indian states) is 1900 MW in 2020 while Delhi is up for generating 60,000 MW by building dams on rivers and tributaries, many of which are main sources of water for major Bangladeshi rivers. The 22-km chicken-neck dividing seven sisters and rest of India would not permit transfer of such high-velocity additional power that India decides to sell to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand," said the Coordinator of the River Basin Friends of Assam, Rabindranath.

"This power will not light our homes. If Tipaimukh (dam) is built, the Surma and Kushiara (in Bangladesh) will be choked in a year. Indian government is not considering preserving human livelihoods and ecology, it is considering the dam issue in the line of cement-mafia, iron-mafia and turbine manufacturers," said Rabindranath, well known in India for water rights activities.

The Dhaka Declaration of the ITDC-2005 called for coordinated peoples' campaign against Tipaimukh project and advocated a 'South Asian Regional Riparian Union' agreement within the framework of Saarc.

Prof Nazrul Islam chaired the third and last session of the two-day conference with politicians, academics and activists making a strong plea for basin-wide approach in harnessing waters of the common rivers. They stressed that co-riparian countries should have equal rights on trans-boundary rivers.

Writer and academician Prof Muhammad Zafar Iqbal inaugurated the meet on Friday, held at the Institution of Engineers.

The ITDC was held in the wake of last November's Indian decision of building the Rs 6,000 crore Tipaimukh dam and its assurance in September that there would be no diversion of water from the Barak, the main source of water of the Surma and Kushiara that feed the Meghna.

Experts fear that Tipaimukh dam would slash down water flow to the Meghna, Surma and Kushiara resulting in intrusion of saline water from the Bay of Bengal up to Bhairab in Bangladesh.

Speaking at the conference, Awami League (AL) central leader and lawmaker Nurul Islam Nahid asserted that no state or government can have a sole stake on nature which is the common property of the mankind.

The main organiser of the ITDC and Angikar Bangladesh's Chief Director Muhammad Hilaluddin felt pity that people are becoming captive of their greed, and urged all to fight any move that goes against nature.

Former minister and AL leader AMA Muhit expressed concern at India's dam-building spree in its northeastern states, having serious bearings on Bangladesh.

Indian authorities should not be captive of partisan interests, said JSD (Inu) leader Mainuddin Khan Badal.

CPB leader Shahidullah Chowdhury said while India is concerned at militancy in Bangladesh, it is unfortunate that building of a dam that could jeopardise millions of lives did not bother it (India) at all.

Citing integrated water resources management of common rivers like the Mekong, Zambezi and Lake Victory, Prof Asif Nazrul said he did not find any reason why donors are not coming forward in case of India, Bangladesh and Nepal contemplating concerted efforts to harness waters of trans-boundary rivers.