Partha Pratim Bhattacharjee
Many Awami League lawmakers and cabinet ministers believe that the proposed dam at Tipaimukh across the Barak River might cause ecological disaster in downstream Bangladesh.
A number of lawmakers and ministers of the Awami League-led coalition government said on Friday that the government would uphold the country’s interest in any bilateral dialogue on the dam and equitable sharing of the common rivers’ waters.
A parliamentary delegation, which will be assisted by leading water experts of the country, is expected to leave for India to assess the ecological impact of the Indian project, conceived in 2003, by visiting the site.
The finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, opined that the project, if implemented, would be harmful for the lower riparian country.
‘The proposed dam is not good for our nation as it is against the environment and nature,’ said the minister, adding that when they were in opposition they launched a movement, but the then Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government ignored their protest despite the fact that India had completed the design of the dam and floated an international tender during the BNP-Jamaat regime.
Muhith, however, urged all concerned to wait until the Bangladesh delegation submits its report after visiting the project site.
‘As India has invited us to send a delegation to visit the site, we should make our decision after it submits its report,’ he added.
The agriculture minister, Matia Chowdhury, told New Age that the problems raised by the Tipaimukh dam should be resolved through consultation. ‘The government will take a decision in the highest interest of the country,’ she said reassuringly.
Textile and jute minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui, who a week ago expressed ignorance of the project at a discussion, said the proposed Tipaimukh dam would destroy the environmental balance in the region.
‘The dam is being constructed in an earthquake-prone area and after its completion millions of cusecs of water will be kept in reserve at the site, so if there is an earthquake the whole eastern part of Bangladesh will go under water,’ he said.
‘It won’t be good neighbourly behaviour if India constructs the dam without consulting Bangladesh,’ said Latif.
The water resources minister, Ramesh Chandra Sen, on April 14 said that India had assured Bangladesh that the Tipaimukh dam project was not aimed at diverting water from the Barak River.
‘We have come to know from diplomatic sources that the proposed dam is a hydro-electricity generation project. The Indian authorities have assured us that they will not divert water elsewhere through the dam,’ the minister told a number of lawmakers who had questioned him.
Commerce minister Faruk Khan on May 26 said the government would not oppose construction of the Tipaimukh dam by India if Bangladesh gets certain benefits, such as the chance to import some of the electricity produced by the dam.
‘I think those who are talking too much against construction of the dam are talking without knowing anything about the dam,’ said Faruk.
Foreign minister Dipu Moni said that Bangladesh had demanded a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission, which was formed to discuss water issues between Bangladesh and India. ‘We will raise the issue at the next JRC meeting,’ she said.
Dipu said the government would send the parliamentary standing committee on the water resources ministry to visit the dam’s site for analysing its effects on Bangladesh. ‘If the data on the Tipaimukh dam show that it will be harmful to Bangladesh, we will do whatever is needed to protect our interest,’ she said.
Industries minister Dilip Barua on Wednesday said Tipaimukh will cause environmental disaster not only in Bangladesh but also in the north-eastern states of India. ‘The dam is being constructed in an earthquake-prone area. If there is an earthquake after construction of the Tipaimukh dam, the whole of Bangladesh will disappear,’ he claimed.
The government has already decided that the all-party parliamentary standing committee on the water resources ministry led by chairman Abdur Razzak, along with experts, will visit the project site and submit their report to the parliament after due assessment.
Razzak blamed the BNP for ‘agreeing’ to let India construct the Tipaimukh dam. ‘We have come to know that the hydro-electric project went ahead as per the discussion and the resolutions of a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission in New Delhi in 2003,’ he said on June 16.
Razzak, former water resources minister of the last AL government, observed that Bangladeshi experts who have been holding forth in the talk shows in television channels have little knowledge of the project, but still talk a lot about it. ‘I request all to refrain from talking on the issue without studying it thoroughly,’ he added.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 24 called on the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party to take an initiative on their own to send a separate delegation of water experts to India’s Tipaimukh dam site and submit a report, and the government would go through the two reports and take a decision in the best interest of the country.
Responding to Hasina’s call, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia on June 29 sent a letter to her, seeking official help to enable a seven-member team of experts, nominated by the BNP, to visit the site of the dam.
Workers Party’s president Rashed Khan Menon said India must stop construction of the dam because it will bring about disaster in both the countries. However, he favoured solving the problem by holding bilateral talks instead of resorting to international negotiations.
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal’s president Hasanul Haque Inu, also a lawmaker of the ruling alliance, said the government must take political measures to stop construction of the dam right at this moment. It is a national issue therefore it must be solved in a national manner.
AL lawmaker Mahmud-Us Samad Chowdhury termed the Tipaimukh dam a ‘death trap’ for Bangladesh and said that its construction cannot be allowed. ‘The Surma and Kushiyara will dry up if the dam is built.’
Abu Zahir, ruling alliance lawmaker from Habiganj-3, told New Age that the problem should be solved through bilateral talks and the government should not take any decision against of the country’s interest.
AL lawmaker MA Mannan from Sunamganj expressed concern over the proposed Tipaimukh dam, saying that it would create many problems for the country. ‘But I think the issue should be resolved through bilateral talks with India,’ he said.
Source: The Daily New Age, 04 July 2009