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    Volume 10 |Issue 45 | December 01, 2011 |


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Trouble over Tipaimukh

Syed Maqsud Jamil

India is going ahead with the construction of Tipaimukh dam on the Barak River in its north-eastern Manipur state. It is a setback for the assurance given to Bangladesh that India will not harm its interest. The Barak River enters Bangladesh as two channels of the river system of Surma and Kushiara. Naturally the flow of water in these two rivers will be affected. The present government has been quite circumspect in conveying its concerns to its neighbour. India for its part always does what it does best of using the trade mastered under the British Raj. The final agreement on Tipaimukh dam has come at the wrong time. Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka could not deliver the high profile deal of Teesta water sharing because Mamata Banerjee's Paschimbanga government backed out of it with umbrage against 50:50 sharing of the river water. The impasse has not ended with Dr Manmohan pleading for time and Bangladesh foreign minister meeting Mamata Banerjee for doing her part of clearing the cloud.

Bangladesh has naturally opted out of formally initialing the Transit treaty. It is a delicate situation and the government is in great deal of unease in spite of the brave efforts the Prime Minister has taken. In fact she has put her personal popularity in line by unofficially letting the transit on. India has not responded in equal measure. With the national polls but two years away Tipaimukh, Teesta and Transit et al can be a cross for her government to bear. When friends disappoint fusillade of resentment does not help. It is always better to wait for the details to come up and to engage in dialogue to impress upon the other side how badly you need a resolution.

On 22 October India went ahead with the formation of tri-partite joint venture company comprising of NHPC Ltd. (formerly National Hydroelectric Power Corporation), the Manipur state government and another state enterprise SJVN (formerly Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd) to build the 1,500 MW Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Dam on the Barak. The Tipaimukh dam has serious concerns for Bangladesh. Sylhet will become a water deficient region with reduced flow of water through the Surma-Kushiara river system for major part of the dry season. It will badly affect agriculture, irrigation, navigability, riverine species and drinking water supply once the dam is commissioned. There are risks of pre-monsoon flash flood and lean flow even during the monsoon due to upstream withdrawal of water. The hydrological experts of Bangladesh have been expressing these concerns since Tipaimukh came into limelight.

Almost all of the rivers of Bangladesh excepting the great Brahmaputra and the river Naf begin their journey from India. And it is an irony that India as the upper riparian continues to plod in matters of giving Bangladesh its share of water as the lower riparian. The Ganges Water Treaty has at the most given Bangladesh a deal. The Padma was always the main course of the Ganges. During the dry season the shrunken channel of the Padma is a pitiful sight. The Farakka Barrage was built to withdraw water from the Padma. Teesta is the major river of the northern region of Bangladesh. And India has built a hydrological project at Jaldoba of Paschimbanga. Teesta water sharing deal has run into deadlock with its chief minister digging in her heels against it. Bangladesh has a large stake in the deal because it needs water for Teesta Barrage project. It is in the air that the Feni River will be sacrificed.

Bangladesh generally known as a deltaic region has its river system in problem. There is much talk about connectivity particularly in Bangladesh. If it is to inspire hope water sharing has to produce result. As the bigger neighbour a lot lies with India. Bangladesh has done its part of coming forward. Otherwise in an atmosphere of deepening disappointment, connectivity or historical friendship whatever be the template the good initiative will suffer. Negative perception will have more followers because there will be no shortage of issues for enthusiasm to wither, that the trade deficit has risen to US Dollar 4,057 million during the last financial year 2010-2011, that India is wavering on the issue of exporting electricity to Bangladesh and that it is stalling on the release of $1billion credit.

A country serves it well when it understands its realities better. The realities for Bangladesh exist in its geographical location and in its history. India is its closest neighbour and served it well during the Liberation War. The geographical and historical link will continue to remain perennial factors in its march through time. There is an age old adage that there is nothing called permanent enemy or permanent friend. But neighbours are permanent facts for countries and human beings, no matter how good or bad they are. Even remote countries like Vanuatu need the help of its far off neighbours to solve its drinking water crisis. Insular North Korea can do without South Korea but it cannot do without China. In mid 1950s India and China were gaga with 'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai'. In a matter of years they fought a war over Ladakh and Chinese forces even reached the plains of Assam. So neighbours cannot be shunned; they are to be engaged. By this measure in spite of the disappointment of Tipaimukh the present government of Bangladesh is on the right track.

The fundamental reality about India is that it is a country of disparate ethnic groups distinguished by their language, custom, culture and religion. Many of its states have regional parties in power. Dr. Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is an assortment of different political parties from all over India with Indian National Congress presiding over it. Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress is understandably the major stakeholder in Manmohan Singh government's initiative in working out Teesta Water Sharing Treaty with Bangladesh until she backed out at the last moment. That may be understandable because Trinamool has its own constituency to answer to. But for Tipaimukh Dam there is no Mamata Banerjee. Rather as gathered there have been demonstrations against it in Manipur and other Northeastern Indian states. Indian central government's hands do not appear to be tied down here. India would have done better to involve Bangladesh in a joint survey of the project and acted accordingly. India has lot more to do than Bangladesh in restoring neighbourly trust and understanding.

Neighbours are the strangest of mates. There are ups and downs; there are highs and lows; and there are celebrations and disappointments. It goes on; particularly when expectations are to be fulfilled and promises are to be kept. That is what differentiates a friend from a neighbour. It is here India-Bangladesh friendship leaves much to be desired for no fault of Bangladesh.

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