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     Volume 8 Issue 76 | July 3, 2009 |

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The ugly mukh of Tipaimukh


My dear brothers and sisters in India,
The intention of this letter is not to divide your people but to save some of them from the ill effects of the planned dam/barrage/barrier at Tipaimukh; and to do that I take the help of mainly Indian writers.

We recall with gratitude the support and succour provided by your people and government during our War of Liberation. Many of your kith and kin have also made the supreme sacrifice for our cause.

My premise is that no government (with the exception of Pakistan 1971) or nation harms its own people, however few, or indigenous. Going straight to the purpose of writing this letter, this dam (pun by chance) thing has to be against the Indian constitution, which we gracefully agree upholds one of the greatest democracies.

I too remained uninformed and unperturbed when on 18 January 2003, the project received the all-important approval under the (Indian) Electricity Act, but I got a wake-up shock even before Tipai could produce its first watts when I read about some Indian nationals who arrived at Akhaura, pleading us Bangladeshis to join their protest against the proposed 162.80 meter (534 feet) high, 390 m (1280 feet) long mega structure.

I also read that the Naga Women Union, Manipur, had appealed to all like-minded people to intervene and stop the signing of memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the government of Manipur and the North-Eastern Electrical Power Corporation (NEEPCO) concerning the proposed Tipaimukh rock-filled high dam. I believe they meant you too.

Why you Indians would want such a stupendously expensive Rs. 5000 crore project in one of the most neglected regions in your country beats me? They say the place has no state government establishment, no proper schools, no proper medical facilities, hospitals or doctors, no electrification, no proper roads, no mobile network, or telephone connectivity. Surely their priorities are food, clothing and shelter, the basics. Instead they are threatened with extinction.

We are told that the 1500 MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric project will be one of the largest in India. Located 500 meters downstream of the sangam of the Tuivai and Barak Rivers in the State of Manipur, near the Manipur-Mizoram border, the project will take over a decade to complete. It has taken much longer to plan and was first proposed in 1954 when the Assam government requested the Central Water Commission (CWC) and the Planning Commission to save itself from recurring monsoon floods. They took their time, and thirty annual floods later the CWC submitted their report, which proposed the construction of the Tipaimukh high dam at a cost one-fifth of today's, while we in East Pakistan and later Bangladesh were put to 'fast asleep' mode. By whom, pray tell us!

The report was turned down for the lack of proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the submerged areas. The EIA, completed twenty years later in 2004, remains controversial till date. In 1995 the Detailed Project Report was made. In 1999 the project was entrusted to the NEEPCO.

Despite such a distinguishable CV, 'the earthen-rock filled dam also has the potential to be one of the most destructive', according to Dr. R.K. Ranjan Singh, a prominent environmental activist and a Registrar of Manipur University in 2006.

Tipaimukh is a historical and sacred spiritual site of mainly the Hmar tribe as well as of other indigenous tribes of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Assam.

According to Aram Pamei (Secretary, Naga Women's Union, Manipur, Imphal), 'There has been no other more dreaded state-sponsored human rights abuse than the Tipaimukh high dam, whose primary objective is to prevent frequent occurrences of flood in the Cachar plain of Assam, will result in permanent submergence of over 275 sq km of land surface in Manipur. This is against the National Land Use Policy. The Manipur people's constitutional rights were circumvented by secret approval of the project given during the period of central rule in Manipur, according to a statement given on the floor of the Manipur state assembly by the then minister of irrigation and flood control, government of Manipur, L Chandramani Singh. The government of Manipur is at present attempting to sign the MoU with NEEPCO without the participation of the people, particularly the affected people of Tamenglong district'.

Aram Pamei is incensed, when she tries to explain that the Tipaimukh high dam site is located in the highest risk seismically hazardous zone, characterised by earthquakes of magnitude 7 or more on the Richter scale and which has experienced more than five such earthquakes. The most recent earthquake that took place on April 5, 1999 measured 5 on the Richter scale. The fact that the dam rests on a fault line which is occupied by the river itself makes it prone to reactivation any time, causing vertical lateral displacement along the pre-existing faults and thrusts. This suggests that tremendous damages cannot be ruled out. A rock-filled dam up to a height of 162.80 metres has not yet been attempted anywhere. Hence the dam's structural design in the geologically unstable area is questionable and the project authorities must be held directly responsible for engineering such natural calamities.

Habib Siddiqui, a peace and human rights activist, and chairman of the Board of Directors of Bangladesh Expatriate Council, USA in joining the choir against the Tipaimukh dam project recalls the effects of the Indian-built Farakka barrage: The immediate effects have been (1) reduction in agricultural products due to insufficient water for irrigation; (2) reduction in aquatic population; (3) river transportation problems during dry season; (4) increased salinity threatening crops, animal life, drinking water, and industrial activities in southwest Bangladesh. The long-term effects, which are already being felt, include: (a) one fourth of the fertile agricultural land will become wasteland due to a shortage of water; (b) 30 million lives are affected through environmental and economical ruin; (c) an estimated annual economic loss of over half a billion dollars in agricultural, fisheries, navigation and industries; (d) frequent flooding due to environmental imbalance and changes in the natural flow of the Ganges. A BSS report of 2004 stated that over 80 rivers of the country dried up during last three decades due to the construction of the Farakka barrage on the Indian side of the river Ganges.

Siddiqui points out that the proposed Tipaimukh dam is unpopular in the Manipur state where it is being constructed. Experts there have rightly termed it a geo-tectonic blunder of international dimensions. The Indian government's decision to construct the Tipaimukh Dam in north-east India is not only arrogant but also criminal to the core. It will have lasting devastating impact in the entire region. It will adversely affect millions of Bangladeshis living down south in the north-east corner of the country, weakening their means of livelihood, forcing them to become internally displaced and thereby worsening Bangladesh's overall economy. It will harm bilateral relationship between the two neighbouring countries. Bangladeshi people have already suffered miserably from the Farakka Barrage and cannot afford to see another one built to threaten them.

'According to international law, it is illegal to construct any dam on an international river without consent from the other side', writes Dr Nadim Jahangir of Independent University, Bangladesh in NewAge (June 23, 2009). He emphasises that 'Unilateral water diversion, or withdrawal of water from international or common rivers, has been the long-standing policy of India. India has seldom bothered to think about the impact of such policies on a lower riparian country, such as Bangladesh, in diverting water from common rivers'.

The people of Manipur have been fighting legally to stop the project but have so far been unsuccessful. The Indian government is going ahead with the plan. The Sinlung Indigenous People Human Rights Organisation (SIPHRO) of India said that 'the process for choosing it (the project premises) ignored both the indigenous people and the recommendations of the WCD (World Commission on Dams)'.

Environmentalists are also concerned because they fear Indian farmers of nearly seventy villages will lose their occupation because of the proposed Tipaimukh dam. Sixteen Indian villages are likely to be completely wiped out, and the low-lying large areas of the other villages shall be submerged in water. The rainy season shall cause havoc because the water level of the reservoirs shall be high. You do not protect Assamese by discomforting and hurting the people of Manipur and Mizoram, and adjoining areas. Our interest may not be in your agenda.

It has come to light that about twenty socio-political organizations in Manipur have united under the banner of ACTP (Action Committee against Tipaimukh Project), and are protesting against the project they believe will bring more bad than good to the people and the environment. We Bangladeshis are slowly garnering fuel to mount similar steps.

There is a suggestion (we call it tope) that the project would allow us to rent the generated electricity at Tipaimukh, but first we want more of OUR water that by divine ordain is travelling through YOUR land.

People can survive without electricity, as it was only discovered about two hundred years ago, but not water, not even an excess of it. Take a look at the Mogul red sandstone city of Fatehpur Sikri, capital from 1571 for only ten years, and all shall be as fawk-fawka as daylight.

Please help your brothers and sisters, and the tribal men, women and children, and us Bangladeshis by urging your government to stop construction of the dangerous dam at Tipaimukh. Do not let your policymakers mess with nature.



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