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Tuesday, January 10, 2012
OP-ED

Impact of Tipai Dam on the haor regions

The debate over potential impacts of Tipaimukh Dam has intensified following Adviser Gawher Rizvi's article in The Daily Star on December 13, 2011 in which he called for a science-based analysis of the proposed project. The following arguments about potential negative impacts of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam on downstream region in Bangladesh have been formulated based on the conventional knowledge of hydrology, environmental science and published information in the electronic and press media.

The Tipaimukh Dam will retain about 15 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water at peak level, which is about 31% of the total flow of water that enters Bangladesh through Barak River into Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna rivers. Therefore, it is unacceptable to Bangladesh that India will have unilateral control over 31% of the water in a shared river. Proponents of the dam (Advisor Gawher Rizvi, Water Minister Ramesh Shil, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, etc.) in the government claim that they have necessary information on Tipaimukh Dam, and that the Indian government (including Manmohon Singh) reassured them on numerous occasions that they will not do anything to harm Bangladesh. This logic is unacceptable for many reasons: (a). India should not decide what is good for Bangladesh and her people without first taking them in confidence. If India's intension was to help Bangladesh then they would have studied all environmental and economic impacts jointly with Bangladesh before initiating this project; (b) India did not even inform Bangladesh about this project before they signed an agreement on October 24, 2011. They are in clear violation of all laws, policies, and agreement that are practiced on shared international rivers.

The Article IX in the Ganges Treaty clearly demands such co-operation and prior consent from all stakeholders. If Bangladeshi news media did not raise this issue, then India would not have even bothered to mention it to anyone (including the government) about the project;(c) Indian government has issued the environmental clearance certificate on October 24, 2008and they are going ahead with the project despite serious objections from Bangladesh and Indian environmental groups. In their environmental analysis, they did not carryout any study in Bangladesh to understand the natural ecosystems that exist and depend on natural flow of water in Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna and their numerous tributaries. The assumption that Tiapimukh Dam will not cause any harm to Bangladesh is not based on science.

India claims that the Tipaimukh Dam is a run-of-the-river project and no water will be diverted for irrigation, and therefore, no harm will be done to Bangladesh. This is a flawed logic because:

(a) They will have to fill up the reservoir that holds 15 BCM of water, out of which about 8 BCM will be dead storage (i.e. will remain behind the dam permanently to maintain needed pressure to run turbines). If this 8 BCM water is released over 365 days in a year then it amounts to about 17,000 cusec, which is a huge amount for the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna riversin dry season. As result of the dam, the flow characteristics and water release schedule will be different as compared to the flow that existed before the dam was built. No one in Bangladesh really knows how much water will have to be released on a daily basis for proper operation of the hydroelectric project; (b) The life, livelihood, and ecosystems in Haor region have established an equilibrium with the natural flow of the rivers, and the farmers prepare their field in harmony with this natural flow regime. Now, if this natural flow regime is altered then farmers will not be able to prepare their land for boro cultivation on time, and the whole agricultural production may be jeopardised. On the other hand, if India releases way too much water in the dry season then farmers will not have access to their land since these lands will be under unusual amount of water.

India has offered Bangladesh to invest in the project and to buy electricity from the project, which is not acceptable on the following counts: (a) If India was serious about a joint venture project then they would not sign an agreement with three Indian entity and set a deadline of 87 months for completion of the project. They would not issue the environmental clearance without involving environmental study in Bangladesh first; (b) There is no treaty between India and Bangladesh about joint management of water resources in Barak-Surma-Kushiyara. If even Bangladesh invests money in the project, India will decide unilaterally how much water they will release and when they will release it; (c) Since the Barak-Surma-Kushiyara is an international river system, Bangladesh should not pay for electricity, India should provide a fair share to Bangladesh for free as they agreed to provide some electricity to Monipur for free as a stakeholher. More importantly, Bangladesh should find other means to produce electricity -- not by destroying the agriculture and ecosystem in the haor region

Adviser Gawher Rizvi wrote that since the Tipaimukh Dam is 140 miles away from Bangladesh border its impact will be minimal on Bangladesh. The truth couldn't be far from this. Barak-Surma-Kushiyara is a continuous river and it empties in the Bay of Bengal through the Meghna River. Therefore,unilateral control of upstream water flow will be felt all the way to the Bay of Bengal as is the case for the Farakka Barrage on the Ganges. Any water diversion barrage will further deteriorate the situation in greater Mymensingh and Sylhet districts.

As a part of FAP-6 study, it was concluded that if the Tipaimukh Dam is completed then the flow in Bangladesh will increase in summer months and will decrease in rainy season. This finding is questionable on the following accounts: (a)Since India has not completed the dam they don't have any water release schedule yet, and if even they did have a tentative schedule then it is not clear as to when and how they shared this information with Bangladeshi authority. Therefore, the FAP-6 is carried out based on many assumptions and sketchy data, which may or may not be true; (b)As mentioned before, any departure from natural flow regime will mean adjustments for farmers and fishermen in the haor region in terms of timing for preparation of their agricultural fields, planting of seeds, and harvesting the crops. There is no guarantee that this disturbance in natural flow will bring positive feedback for the haor region. Most importantly, the people of Bangladesh will have to rely on the mercy and decision of Indian authority for the fair share or necessary amount of water needed for their life and livelihood. The natural flow of the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna should be warranted for the well being of the people and existence of Bengal delta which has been fed by water and sediments of Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system during its entire existence throughout the geologic time.

The writer is Professor of Geology, Lock Haven University, Lock Haven, PA 17745, USA; E-mail: mkhalequ@lhup.edu

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