Bangladesh’s demand: no water withdrawal from Barak : Parliamentary team leaves for Tipaimukh today

Nazrul Islam

The Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation leaving for the site of the proposed Tipaimukh dam on Wednesday will ask India for assurances that it will not withdraw water from the Barak River through any irrigation project.
   The delegation, headed by former water resources minister Abdur Razzak, is also scheduled to visit Lakshmipur (Phulertal) where the Indian authorities have reportedly planned to construct a barrage for irrigation.
   ‘We will ask the Indian authorities not to implement any project that diverts or withdraws water from the Barak River,’ said Razzak, the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the water resources ministry.
   He said the team would also request the Indian government to launch a joint survey on the proposed multi-purpose dam before beginning construction.
   The 10-member delegation, comprising six lawmakers, three officials and only one water expert, will hold talks with Indian officials at the water resources and energy ministries on the first day of its five-day trip.
   The Bangladesh Nationalist Party did not send any of its members with the delegation despite the government’s repeated requests to send at least two of its lawmakers on the trip, which is intended to assess the impact of the proposed dam at Tipaimukh on downstream Bangladesh.
   The BNP pointed out that a parliamentary team cannot understand technical matters and called the trip a ‘picnic’ in its press conference.
   ‘The trip will hardly be of any benefit to the nation so we decided to stay away from it,’ Hafiz Uddin Ahmed, also a former water resources minister, told New Age, adding that a highly qualified team comprising water and environment experts should have accompanied the parliamentary delegation.
   The BNP had sent names of a panel of experts to the prime minister for inclusion in the delegation, but there was no response from the government. ‘It is unfortunate that the prime minister did not even respond to the letter sent by leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia,’ Hafiz said.
   He blamed the Indian authorities for not providing data on the project since Dhaka had asked for it some 29 years ago. ‘We had also asked the Indian side to launch a joint survey on the project. India did not take our concerns into consideration while carrying out the environmental impact assessment.’
   A delegation member, Hamidur Rahman Azad of the Jamaat-e-Islami which is a staunch ally of the BNP, in a letter regretted that he could not go to Tipaimukh on account of his illness.
   Razzak blamed the past BNP regimes for not raising the matter with the Indian authorities during their tenure. ‘We are now trying to resolve the matter through negotiation.’
   Razzak said that they would go to Guwahati, the capital of Assam, on the second day, and on the third day would travel to the project’s site at Tipaimukh in Manipur. ‘We will also go to Phulertal in Kachha district of Assam where, as we have heard, India plans to construct a barrage to divert water from the trans-boundary river for irrigation.’
   He said that as per the minutes of the Joint Rivers Commission’s meetings and also according to a study by Bangladesh on the proposed dam, just a hydro-electric project in Tipaimiukh would not harm Dhaka’s interest.
   The delegation will go back to New Delhi on the fifth day and is scheduled to return the same day. It is also scheduled to call on the Indian external affairs minister, SM Krishna, during its stay.
   The Indian Tipaimukh project came to the fore of Bangladesh-India relations after the Indian foreign secretary came to Dhaka on a surprise visit in April to invite a Bangladeshi team to visit the project’s site. He told the Bangladeshi media at that time that the proposed dam would not harm Bangladesh.
   But Bangladeshi environmentalists and water experts said that if the multi-purpose dam project is implemented, it will cause ecological imbalance in downstream Bangladesh.
   Dhaka has long been asking New Delhi to refrain from constructing the multi-purpose dam at the confluence of the Barak and Tuivai rivers from the day that India solicited international bids in early 2006.
   Environmentalists fear that the dam on the Barak River, which feeds Bangladesh‘s Surma and Kushiyara rivers that eventually combine and become the Meghna, one of the three main rivers in Bangladesh, would cause the drying up of large areas in the north-eastern region.
   India plans to complete the project by 2012.
   Indian environmental pressure groups, especially in Manipur and Assam, have also expressed deep concern over the project, saying it would submerge vast areas in Manipur and Assam, displace many indigenous people and destroy their culture and heritage.
   ‘The dam may cause an endemic socio-economic conflict in north-eastern India as many indigenous people will lose their homes,’ Aram Pamei, co-chairperson of Citizens Concern for Dams and Development of Manipur, told a seminar in Dhaka.
   The long-term consequence of the dam is expected to be more dangerous, she said, adding that the infrastructure development for the project would require the felling of 8,000,000 trees in the hilly terrain, and have other terrible impacts. It will cause the loss of the sustainable eco-friendly life patterns in the entire north-eastern region.
   The proposed Indian dam is 162.8 metres high and will cause the submergence of 311 square kilometres of land in order to generate 1,500 megawatts of electricity. This was revealed at the seminar organised by Centre for Human Rights, Development and Human Security in Dhaka.

Source: The Daily New Age, 29 July 2009

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