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


TIPAIMUKH PROJECT: Bangladesh to propose joint survey

Dhaka will ask Delhi to conduct a joint survey of the Tipaimukh dam during the Bangladesh parliamentary delegation’s planned visit to the Indian capital as well as the dam’s site in the state of Manipur.
   Bangladesh, according to officials of the foreign affairs and water resources ministries, will also request India to hold a minister-level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission immediately after the visit of the parliamentary team.
   Officials on Tuesday said that they would persuade India to convene the JRC’s meeting, that has remained stalled since 2005, where the issue of the Tipaimukh dam could be discussed at a high level.
   The Bangladeshi parliamentary team, headed by Abdur Razzak, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the water resources ministry, is scheduled to reach New Delhi on July 29 on a five-day trip.
   According to the tentative schedule, the delegation will meet Indian water resources minister Pawan Kumar Bansal as well as the power minister on the first day of their visit.
   ‘Because of the monsoon, the schedule for the visit of the parliamentary delegation has been fixed on July 31 and August 1,’ said an official.
   He said that the Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation would go to the project area on helicopter from Imphal, the capital of Manipur, either through Agartala or Guwahati as the dam’s site is located in a rather remote place.
   Officials said that during the visit Bangladesh delegation will see the course of Barak River as well as project area of the dam, and hold talks with the concerned officials there.
   According to the latest information received in Dhaka, a project office and approach road has been built in that area.
   ‘After visiting the site we will get the real picture of the project as well as Indian design for it. We did not get sufficient information from Delhi though we had earlier requested it to provide us,’ said a high official.
   Referring to India’s latest communication, a foreign affairs ministry official told this correspondent that India has sent a document containing some data as well as maps of the project.
   In a brief note, the Indian government mentioned that Tipaimukh dam would be constructed some 210km upstream on the Barak.
   The proposed dam, with a capacity of containing 15,000 MCM of water and having a length of 165 metres, is being designed to produce hydro-electricity.
   The project aims at producing some 1,500 megawatts of electricity and, according to India, will not have any component for facilitating irrigation by withdrawing water from the Barak.
   The document also mentioned that the Tipaimukh hydro-electric project would reduce the danger of floods through the monsoon flow of the Barak while increasing the flow of water during the dry season.
   At present the river is almost non-navigable during the non-monsoon period and the project will ensure its navigability, according to the Indian document, as quoted by an official.
   The proposed Tipaimukh dam is said to include 12,756 sq kilometres of catchment area to preserve rain-water.

Source: The Daily New Age, 22 July 2009

Ministers, ruling MPs denounce Tipaimukh plan : Wants bi-lateral talks

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

Tipai emits an air of eerie feelings: India’s secretive handling of Tipaimukh dam causing huge concern downstream

Pinaki Roy

Ignoring its promise, India in the last four years has refrained from sharing technical information with Bangladesh about building the Tipaimukh Dam in the bordering Manipur state, triggering public uncertainty and outcry over its possible negative impact on the neighbouring country.

While India has not started construction of Tipaimukh dam on the Barak river near Manipur-Mizoram border, it had floated international tender in 2005 and opened the bid in 2006 during the era of former BNP-Jamaat alliance rule.

In 2005, India promised to share with Bangladesh the project design, which is pending till date. Besides, the country also did not share any study report on the dam’s impact on downstream regions.

Experts told The Daily Star the construction of Tipaimukh dam would impose a great environmental threat to Bangladesh as four major rivers in the Meghna basin — the Meghna, Kalini, Surma and Kushiyara — lie downstream the Barak, locally known as ‘Ahu’.

Amid such concerns, the prime minister has recently said an all-party parliamentary committee will visit India to know about the issue. The schedule of this visit has not yet been set.

Indian response to Bangladesh’s worries has so far been remained confined within officially informing the government that they have not started any construction yet.

“They also informed us that they would not construct the Phulertal barrage under the project,” said Mir Sazzad Hossain, member of the Joint River Commission.

At a Joint River Commission (JRC) meeting in September 2005 held in Dhaka India formally assured Bangladesh that they would not divert any water for their irrigation project, he said.

Hiding any information by the upper riparian countries about the use of common rivers is considered as violation of the international water management convention.

The expert warn of an increase in salinity in the Meghna-Surma basin, unusual floods in haor region, reduce in water flow in the Surma, Kushiyara and Meghna rivers in certain period, damage to the country’s ecosystem and agriculture patterns in Sylhet region, among other impacts of the dam.

A chain of severe impacts is very likely as Bangladesh gets 7-8 percent of its river waters through the Barak.

Negative impacts of any large dam are very widely known around the globe. A detailed study by the World Dam Commission published in 2000 says adverse impacts of any large dams are irreversible for the lower riparian region.

The study after reviewing 1,000 dams from 79 countries concludes in its report: “The environmental impacts of dams are more negative than positive ones and in many cases dams have led to irreversible loss of species and ecosystems.”

Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarti at a meeting with Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain recently said though his country will have sole control over water flow at the proposed dam site, it would not make any barrage.

He also said Bangladesh would not be ‘affected’ by the dam.

However, experts fear once the dam is set up, it may reduce the natural monsoon flood patterns in the Sylhet region, adversely affecting cultivation and livelihoods on a vast scale.

“It will increase the risk of floods at the end of monsoon and hamper the agriculture patterns during winter,” said Ainun Nishat, eminent river expert of the country.

Rainfall patterns are changing due to climate change and a lot of rainfall takes place at the end of monsoon, said Ainun Nishat. If it rains at the end of monsoon, it will open the spillway gates of the dam and unusual floods will occur here, he added.

They would preserve the water during monsoon after building the dam and release it in winter, which will increase the water flow downstream.

“The land downstream the Barak in Sylhet region is wetland, where people grow crops during winter when it gets dry. If they release water during winter the wetland will be inundated and it will be a great impact on our agriculture,” Nishat warned.

An increase in water level in the winter will cause a major impact on the ecosystem if the wetland gets inundated, he added.

He however said without checking every piece of information it is not possible to measure the total impact of Tipaimukh dam.

The experts fear India may hold up water flow during dry season and divert water at the proposed Phulertal Barrage 100 kilometres downstream Tipaimukh and 100 km upstream Amalshid in Sylhet.

The Phulertal barrage would have a direct bearing on the Surma, Kushiyara and Meghna rivers due to diversion of water for irrigation purposes in northeastern India. On hydropower component and rock fill dam, India claims no damage would occur to Bangladesh, but Bangladesh fears upstream water flow regulation.

Director General of Water Resources Planning Organisation (WARPO) Jalaluddin Md Abdul Hye said, “We don’t have enough information to talk about the issue.”


According to the International Convention on Joint River Water, without the consent of the downstream river nation no single country alone can control the multi-nation rivers.

But India does not care for these international laws despite being a signatory of this convention.

If India constructs the dam without the consent of Bangladesh, it will also violate the article 9 of Bangladesh-India Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, 1996.

Asked about a possible solution, Ainun Nishat said the solution has to be political. He added in the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty both the countries agreed to manage all the joint rivers on bilateral basis.

“So under the Gages Water Sharing Treaty, both the country can resolve by sharing information and a joint team can study the adverse impacts on both the countries,” Nishat added.

India handed over a number of primary project proposals to Bangladesh in 1979 and 1983. Later they conducted detailed studies about the project and completed the final design and environment impact assessment but did not share those with Bangladesh.

According to the primary project proposals, the height of the Tipaimukh damn was fixed at 161.8 metres and length 390 metres to contain at lest 15.9 million cubic metres of water.


India completed the design and detailed studies and floated an international tender during the BNP-Jamaat rule, but the then government did not take up the issue properly.

At the 36th JRC meet held in Dhaka in September 2005, Bangladeshi delegates did not raise the Tipaimukh issue properly and failed to collect any information from their counterparts.

Just after two months India floated the international tender for the dam in November 2005, meaning they had nearly completed all the preparations during the JRC meet.

The then Indian water resources minister and JRC Co-chairman Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi at that meet said, “We’ll present Tipaimukh’s planned design to Bangladesh when it is prepared.”

The Indian minister also committed to Bangladesh that they would not construct any barrage at Phulertal point as per their initial plan.

But just in next year, in July 2006, the pre-bid qualification of the tender for the first phase was opened. But the then BNP government did not conduct any technical study about the impacts of Tipaimukh or send any team to negotiate or visit the site.

Asked, Maj (retd) Hafizuddin, former water resources minister of the alliance government, said, “We repeatedly asked them to inform us about the Tipaimukh dam. But they didn’t inform us anything, not even how much electricity they are going to produce.”

“The Bangladesh governments are always in the dark about the issue,” he observed.

About the JRC meet in 2005, he said the Indian minister assured that they would not build any barrage at Phulertal and they would inform later if they decide to build any barrage at any other point.

He added BNP will soon arrange a press conference on the issue.


Information surfaced in different websites says several Indian organisations and civil society bodies are protesting the dam considering its negative impacts.

The websites also say the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of India has found the design of the dam contains many errors, omissions, gaps, lacks in scientific rigour and falls far short of compliance of normative standards set by the scientific and academic community in India and the world.

The Action Committee Against Tipaimukh Dam (ACTIP), a platform protesting the dam, along with some other local committees from Manipur and Mizoram submitted a memorandum on March 14, 2007 to the president and prime minister of India in protest against the project.

They mentioned in their memorandum that once the project is implemented, an area of 286.20 square kilometres land will go under water forever.

Eight villages situated in the Barak valley will be completely inundated leaving over 40,000 people landless and more than 90 villages, mostly in Tamenglong district, adversely affected. Besides, about 27,242 hectares of cultivable land will be lost.

The Barak waterfalls and Zeilad Lake, which are connected with the history of the Zeliangrong people, an indigenous community in India, will go forever underwater. All folklores and legends will have no monuments’ proof and it will become a makeup story for the next generation.

In the memorandum they said the mega-dam proposed in Tipaimukh will smother this river, change its age-old knowable and reliable nature, and drown them all in sorrow forever.

The project is not for the common people, they said, appealing to the government to let the Ahu run free.

How far they have advanced could not be confirmed, but the project is scheduled to be completed by 2012, different websites mentioned.

Recently, the Indian high commissioner said most of the Bangladeshi experts are making comments without having adequate information.

In response to the envoy’s remarks, this correspondent tried to reach him in Dhaka, but he was not available.

None of the other high officials at the Indian High Commission in Dhaka could be contacted for comments despite repeated attempts in the last three days.

Source: The Daily Star, 11 June 2009

Lawmakers’ team to visit Tipaimukh, said Faruk Khan

Commerce Minister Faruk Khan yesterday said the prime minister will send a team of parliament members and experts to the Tipaimukh dam site in India for a firsthand view of the gigantic project involving a common river.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a regional seminar at Sonargaon Hotel in the city, he deplored that those who are talking much on the issue actually talk without knowing the fact.

He said the team will see as to how Bangladesh could derive benefit from the Tipaimukh dam on the Borak River.

“If Tipaimukh dam is not beneficial for Bangladesh, then it will not be put in place. Bangladesh will not give its clearance for the project,” Faruk said.

The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Saarc CCI) jointly organised the seminar titled ‘Regional Connectivity: Potential for Infrastructure Development and Energy in South Asia.’

Saarc Chamber President Tariq Sayeed, FBCCI President Annisul Huq and Vice-President of Saarc CCI Mir Nasir Hossain also addressed the business meet.

Addressing the seminar, the commerce minister said the South Asian region is rich in terms of water and energy resources. But, for a lack of equal distribution, this potential still remained untapped.

He viewed that this is the proper time to utilise the opportunity and potential as all the countries in the region have got democratic governments.

Emphasising regional connectivity, the minister said Bangladesh is very much interested to establish a regional road and railway network.

He also suggested building a trans-border gas network from Iran to Myanmar, connecting Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other countries in the vast region.

Referring to the huge hydro potential, Faruk said there could be thousands of megawatts of power generation from this hydro resource.

The commerce minister offered the country’s Mongla seaport to turn into a regional port to be used by China, Bhutan and Nepal as well.

Mir Nasir Hossain said freedom of movement should be allowed for more people for contacts across the borders and the visa regime in South Asia needs to be more open.

He proposed issuance of five-year multiple visa without police reporting and city restriction for at least 500 businessmen and increase in Saarc visa exemption stickers from 100 to 300 for each country.

FBCCI President urged an increase in the regional trade and infrastructure under Saarc umbrella.

He noted that the Saarc region is yet to achieve the goal of establishing a regional free-trade area like NAFTA or ASEAN.

He observed that still the intra-Saarc trade within the regional countries is only 5 percent while it is in NAFTA 52 percent, in the European Union 52 percent and in ASEAN 24.5 percent.

Source: The Daily Star, 27 May 2009

TWIN TIPAIMUKH, PHULERTAL DAMS: Environment, livelihood at stake: experts

Shahidul Islam Chowdhury

Water resources experts, economists and environmentalists on Wednesday dismissed India’s claim that the Tipaimukh multi-purpose dam would have no harmful impact on Bangladesh, the lower riparian country.
   They said the twin dams — one at Tipaimukh and another at Phulertal, on the cross-boundary river Barak — would dry up the rivers and the water bodies in the north-eastern districts of downstream Bangladesh, upsetting the ecological balance and destabilising the livelihood of the millions of people there.
   ‘India has started multi-purpose interventions at the Tipaimukh on the river Barak. It will also construct a dam at Phulertal, which is 100 kilometres downstream from Tipaimukh. These twin interventions on the Barak will have multifarious adverse impacts on nature and livelihood in the north-eastern districts here,’ Tauhidul Anwar Khan, an expert on regional water resources, told New Age on Wednesday.
   He said any interference with the natural flow of rivers is bound to have adverse impacts — sociological, hydrological and morphological — on the downstream country.
   Tauhidul Anwar, also a former member of the Joint Rivers Commission of the two countries, made this statement when his attention was drawn to India’s claim that the Tipaimukh project across the Barak would not harm Bangladesh.
   Indian High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, however, claimed in Dhaka, ‘The barrage by no means will have any adverse effect on Bangladesh…It will just regulate the river’s flow. It is a project aimed at producing hydro-electricity, not at irrigation, so no water will be withheld from Bangladesh.’
   But Tauhidul Anwar said the Phulertal dam would have extremely adverse impacts on the Surma, Kushiyara and Meghna rivers due to diversion of water for irrigating north-eastern India.
   He said Bangladesh had made both formal and informal protests in bilateral and JRC meetings. ‘But they [India] never paid any heed to our protests,’ he said.
   India is constructing the Rs 6,000 crore 1,500 megawatt Tipaimukh multi-purpose projects at the confluence of the Barak and Tuivai rivers in its eastern states of Manipur, Assam and Mizoram in spite of heightened fears in Bangladesh about its impact on water flow to the Meghna river system.
   The Barak feeds the Surma and Kushiyara rivers in Sylhet that flow into the Meghna, one of the three major rivers in Bangladesh.
   Experts said India would build one of the world’s highest ‘Rock Fill Dam’ (162.80 metres high) to harness the Barak’s water for generating electricity.
   Quazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Economic Association, said Bangladesh needs to ask India to provide adequate information on the projects in question. ‘We hardly know what India is constructing on the river Barak. If it is an electricity generation project, we will not be affeced. But if it is a dam, it will definitely harm Bangladesh.’
   M Shafiqur Rahman, a Dhaka University teacher of soil, water and environment, said the extent of damage would depend on India’s response to Bangladesh’s demand. ‘It is a major question whether India will give us water when we are in serious need of it,’ he said.
   Bangladesh is criss-crossed by nearly 300 rivers, with 54 major ones originating from India. It gets 7 to 8 per cent of its total water from the Barak that flows through India’s north-eastern states.
   ‘Construction of the proposed high dam in a geologically very sensitive zone above the long recognised Taithu Fault Line will only serve to provoke frequent and major earthquakes, inviting a major tsunami-like disaster and endangering the lives, land and forests of both India and Bangladesh,’ said the Dhaka Declaration, adopted at the International Tipaimukh Dam Conference (ITDC-2005) in Dhaka with participants from both India and Bangladesh expressing deep concern.

Source: The Daily New Age, 21 May 2009

Tipaimukh Dam: An alarming venture

TIPAIMUKH dam located in Monipur state of India, by all definitions falls into the category of a large high head [162m] dam. Though learnt to be a hydel power project for generation of 1500 MW electricity, it will definitely work

Proposed Tipaimukh Dam and Public Protest against the Dam
Proposed Tipaimukh Dam and Public Protest against the Dam

 as a flood control dam for Monipur and the neighbouring Mizoram state and irrigation may be practiced in suitable land areas along the 1 km stretch of the Barak river up to the Bangladesh border and by the periphery of the reservoir perimeter.

Dam and international river
Since the river Barak-Surma-Kushyara is an international river, Bangladesh as a lower riparian country should have an equitable share of water and an access to the deign details of the project, planning and design etc. It is learnt that the construction that started in 2007 was halted due to national and international uproar and resistance against probable environmental degradation inside and outside Indian territory and unilateral withdrawal of water of the river which will turn Bangladesh’s north-eastern lush-green fertile soil into a sandy dry waste land, during the dry reason.

Such action tantamounts to violation of international convention which controls/regulates the equitable share to water of international rivers/watercourses. The above topics were discussed in many forums in different meetings and seminars in Dhaka and Sylhet and in at least two published books, ‘No to Tipaimukh Dam’ and ‘Controversial Tipaimukh Dam: Overall Review’.

If we have access to the planning and deign details of the dam we can see, apart from hydro-power generation, what else the project entails. Whether it has a component of irrigation in particular, as for irrigation they will use winter dry season flow which otherwise would have been flowing downstream for ecological and other uses in the lower riparian country. For any large dam the release of water in the low flow period for ecological use is mandatory by international convention as well as custom.

Dam Break Study
For every large dam there is an important study called “Dam Break Study”. In olden days this study was done by thumb-rule calculation without use of modern technology. In USA dams constructed in the 30’s had serious incidences of collapse. Now the computer assembles all study, data and design eriteria to ascertain the stability and strength of the dam against possible break/breach due to some acts of God like catastrophic hydrological events, severe earthquake or other events (like war). Different models are used to determine as to how to minimize high flood damages that might cause death and destruction downstream. In this case Bangladesh will be the poor victim. Tipaimukh dam impounding “billions” of cube meter (M3) of water, will naturally cause catastrophic floods (in case of dam break) for the dam is large and high.

Nigerian experience
The writer has the experience of review and analysis of a Chinese-built large and high dam in Cameroon, Africa, 40km east of Nigerian border on the large Benue river in 1980. In Nigeria its dam break study was performed. Design flood for this large dam was taken as 50,000-year flood. In the high hilly drainage basin of the dam, there was very high rainfall with consequent abnormal rise of water level of the reservoir in 1988 flood season which menacingly threatened the very stability of the dam, with water almost overtopping the dam. It was a rock-fill dam on which overtopping might have resulted in washing away of the dam with catastrophic consequences in both countries.

However, I am citing this grim episode for lessons for Tipaimukh dam design. If we can have an access to its design details, we can verify what flood frequency they had applied to arrive at design flood. As for any faulty design, if any catastrophe occurs, the sad outcome will fall on us in Bangladesh as a result of dam break.

For a dam of such magnitude and dimension a 100,000 to 500,000-year design flood should be considered adequate, particularly when the location of the dam is in a hilly earthquake-prone and a high intensity rain region of India.

Adverse effects
Adverse effects of the Tipaimukh dam will be staggeringly devastating and damaging for Bangladesh. Environmental degradation, economic crisis and hydrological drought will cause irreversible damage. Suddenly, the free flowing Surma and Kushyara rivers will turn dry and remain so for a major portion of the year (Nov-May) disrupting agriculture, irrigation, drinking water supply, navigation etc. Six to seven months dry conditions will stop/lessen recharge of ground water which over the years will lower the ground water level, affecting all dug wells, shallow tubewells, as it happened in south western region of Bangladesh as a result of drastic withdrawal of the Ganges water at Farakka. Agriculture that depends on surface as well as ground water will be affected seriously.

Surma-Kushyara with its maze of numerous tributaries and distributaries support agriculture, irrigation navigation, drinking water supply, fisheries, wildlife in numerous haors and low lying areas in the entire Sylhet division and some peripheral areas of Dhaka division. The river system also supports internal navigation, wildlife in haors, industries like fertilizer, electricity, gas etc.

The rosy, prosperous and healthy scenario may soon turn into history causing despondency desperation and misery to the people inhabiting the zone which is known for abundance of water, lush green field of crops and fish sanctuary.

Massive environmental degradation will occur, drastically affecting weather and climate, turning a wet cooler habitat into a hot uncomfortable cauldron. The severity of micro-climate causing heat and dry conditions will gradually increase in intensity spreading over a large area over the years. It may be mentioned that rainfall that the area gets for 4 to 5 months and flood water that will be released from the dam for a short period will not be enough to replenish the ground water. Climate and environmental change will force the farmers to reluctantly resort to planting low-yielding drought-resistant crops (unknown to them).

Scarcity of water will cause siltation on river beds. When high rainfall will occur in the catchment area of the dam, enormous quantity of sediment-laden flood water will be released which will cause severity of flood in the Surma and Kushyara channels which would be already raised for low flow. This will further raise the water level causing floods in adjoining additional areas.

Navigation in river channels in the Meghna (combined Surma and Kushyara) will face depleted water flow and consequent sedimentation and severity of flooding in the wet season. Surface irrigation will be in jeopardy. The Meghna up to Chandpur will suffer from the adverse effects. The Meghna-Padma will have low flow which will accentuate saline backwater intrusion in the Padma channel which is already affected by the low flow for the withdrawal of water of the Ganges at Farakka.

Relevant ecological flow
The writer visited Bhumipol and Sirikit Dam sites in Thailand in mid seventy’s. Though the dams were completed about 5/6 years ago the reservoir water level did not reach design level and the filling of the reservoir was continuing unabated during dry and rainy seasons. It was ascertained that water flowing (a good per cent of the impoundment) unabated through the outlet meant for release of water to maintain ecological balance in the downstream channel. The writer designed four major dams in Nigeria where, in all of them, there are separate adequate outlets for irrigation, water supply and hydropower and ecological flow for environment and emergency outlet for rapid evacuation of water for the safety of the dam.

It is expected that Tipaimukh dam will also allow ecological flow along with the equitable share of water for the international river Barak-Surma-Kushyara for Bangladesh as per entitlement negotiation.

Our government (JRC) may request India to postpone, better stop the construction of the Tipaimukh Dam if possible, through bi-lateral diplomacy or else seek intervention by United Nations. Sharing of water of Indus basin was negotiated between India and Pakistan with the assistance of the World Bank. A dispute on river Danube between Czechoslovakia later Slovakia and Hungary was referred to the International Court of Justice. In our own country Farakka issue was resolved bilaterally with India.

Our government (JRC) should soon start negotiation on equitable sharing of water according to our entitlement as a lower riparian of the international river Barak-Surma-Kushyara as per UN Convention. Unilateral withdrawal would be a gross violation of UN Convention that regulates the use of water of international rivers/water courses. Any delay in negotiation might end up in a pathetic situation, causing irreversible environmental, economic and hydrological chaos.

We may ask for design/survey data, drawings/maps etc, and EIA report prepared by the dam authority in order to verify if the Dam Break Study was made and whether EIA included adverse effects and mitigation measures thereof for the lower riparian Bangladesh. Environment-concerned institutions and individuals may even intensify resistance against the Tipaimukh Dam, as it is still in the rudimentary stage of constriction.

The writer, a water resources expert, is a professor of civil engineering in the World University of Bangladesh. He was formerly in World Bank, Washington DC, UN/FAO, Nigeria, Planning Commission and BWDB, Dhaka.

Source: The Daily Star, 25 April 2009