Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Boon or bane for Bangladesh?

G. M. Quader

FOR quite sometime now Tipaimukh Dam has been a subject of discussion, a political issue. Different people are raising it in various forums, providing reasons based mostly on political bias and very little on facts and figures.

On July 18, leader of the opposition Begum Khaleda Zia made some statements on Tipaimukh Dam. She gave a call to all the people of Bangladesh, including the government, to be united against construction of the said dam in India. She also called upon the Indian government to declare immediately that India had abandoned the project.

She said that Tipaimukh Dam when constructed would have a tremendously harmful effect on Bangladesh. She said that it would have an adverse effect on water, life, environment, nature, agriculture, fish etc. She termed the dam as a death trap for Bangladesh and compared it with the Farakka Barrage.

She said that she understood that the government did not have enough data or facts and figures on Tipaimukh Dam. She thought that it was her duty to collect the same from renowned experts and disclose those to assist the government

A power-point presentation with some information was given by a former power secretary, Mr. Akhter Hossain, after Begum Zia's statement.

Mr. Akhter Hossain expressed that India had been constructing dams on common rivers and withdrawing water unilaterally in the upper riparian region, depriving Bangladesh of its due share. He concluded by stating that by the year 2050 there would be no water in any river in Bangladesh due to construction of the dams on common rivers. He said that Bangladesh was going to become a desert in the long run due to the actions of the Indian government.

Mr. Akhter Hossain accused India of violating the international charter since it was mandatory for India, an upper riparian country, to consult Bangladesh -- the lower riparian country -- and take its consent before building the Tipaimukh Dam.

Engr. Akhter Hossain also said that the proposed dam site fell within the earthquake prone zone. As such, in case of an earthquake the dam may fail, which would cause havoc like a tsunami and Shilchar, Karimganj of Assam and Sylhet of Bangladesh would be inundated.

Let us analyse the accusations in the perspective of what we find from different documents.

The question of construction of a water reservoir on the Barak river came up as far back as June, 1972 in the first meeting of the Joint River Commission (JRC) between the experts of India and Bangladesh. The purpose had been moderation of flooding along the Brahmaputra and its tributaries, Barak and other rivers and in Sylhet district in Bangladesh.

Quoted below is the relevant portion of the minutes of the meeting:

"The current flood situation in Assam and the adjoining areas in Bangladesh was reviewed by the Commission. There has been heavy flood along the Brahmaputra and its tributaries, Barak and other rivers and in the Sylhet district in Bangladesh. In considering measures for flood control and flood distress mitigation, the Commission decided to form a Study Group comprising of Shri V.N. Nagaraja (alternate Shri R. Rangachari) and Director, Floods, CWPC or alternate from India and M/s. A. M. M. G. Kibria, Chief Engineer, IWTA and Amjad Hossain Khan, Director, Water Investigation, from Bangladesh to assess immediately the flood situation in the Sylhet area of Bangladesh in Cachar district and other adjoining areas in India in order to formulate short-term and long-term measures for reducing the flood damage in the region. In this connection the Commission noted that a project for the construction of storage reservoir on the Barak river has been investigated. The Commission felt that this was a useful project and formulation of this project should be expedited taking into consideration conditions in Bangladesh."

The subject continued to be discussed, decisions taken and follow up actions persuaded in the subsequent JRC meetings and recorded accordingly e.g. 2nd meeting in Dhaka, September 28-30, 1972 (Para 8), 3rd meeting in New Delhi, December 11-13, 1972 (Para 8), 4th meeting in Dhaka, March 29-31, 1973 (Para 8), 5th meeting in New Delhi, July 19-21, 1973 (Para 8), 6th meeting in Dhaka, November 8-10, 1973 (Para 7), 7th meeting in New Delhi, Feb 28-March 2, 1974 (Para 10), 8th meeting in Dhaka, June 6-12, 1974 (Para 8.4.1), 10th meeting in Dhaka, Aug 29-Sept 2, 1974 (Para 10), 13th meeting in Dhaka, June 19-21, 1975 (Para 8).

Quoted below is the extract of the 14th JRC meeting in Dhaka, June 20-24, 1978, when a dam at Tipaimukh site was considered:

"With regard to the flood problem of Sylhet-Cachar and adjoining areas the Commission decided that the concerned superintending engineers of both the countries should jointly examine the scope of the Indian scheme of a storage dam on Barak river at Tipaimukh and study expeditiously the potential flood control and other benefits for Bangladesh and report the progress to the Commission at its next meeting."

Later, the flood plan coordination organisation, Bangladesh Water Development Board, made a study on Flood Action Plan and prepared a report titled "Northeast Regional Water Management Project (FAP 6) in September 1993.

Quoted below are the contents of page 17 of the said study report, which provides an overall assessment of the project as published:


Planned date of implementation: Proposed to start 1993 but delayed pending resolution of various issues, including impacts on Bangladesh.

Objective: Generate 3,609 GWH of electricity annually and irrigate 1,680 sq/km of Cachar Plain.

Physical works: 161metre high rock-fill dam at Tipaimukh gorge on the Barak river with an installed generating capacity of 1,500 MW.

Barrage on the Barak at Fulerthal, about 100 km downstream from the dam, irrigation distribution system, Cachar Plain.

Direct impacts: Moderation of flood flows of the Barak, Surma, and Kushiyara rivers. Amalshid peak flows reduced by 25%, floodwater volumes reduced by 20%, water levels reduced by 1.6 metres. The Sylhet basin would experience lower floods, less inundation, lower monsoon drainage flows. Surma and Kushiyara channel erosion and sediment transport would be less.

Augmentation of dry season flows. Amalshid. Average February flows estimated to increase by a factor of 4.2, total dry season volume +60%, water levels +1.7 metres, Other dry season water levels: Sherpur +1.5 metres, Ajmiriganj +1.0m. Drainage congestion possible in some areas.

Other impacts: Monsoon season: less flood and erosion damage to crops, homesteads, urban areas, infrastructure. Dry season: increased water availability during the critical period for irrigation, fisheries, navigation.

Hazards: reduced flood hazards. Dam failure could have catastrophic effects on the northeast region -- the issue requires further study/environment management planning.

Implementation phase impacts: Reservoir filling could affect hydrology in the northeast region -- the issue requires further study/environment management planning."

[Source Joint Rivers Commission, NERP estimates.]

The above clearly indicates that the project would achieve moderation of flood flows of the Barak, Surma, and Kushiyara rivers. In addition, it would allow augmentation of dry season flows of the same rivers.

As regards hazard, the project did minimise the flooding, but dam failure could have catastrophic effects on the northeast region. It is also seen that in addition to generation of 1500 mw of electricity, the project has a component for making a barrage on the Barak at Fulerthal, about 100 km downstream from the dam.

In the 35th JRC meeting in New Delhi, September 29-30, 2003 (Para VI) Bangladesh side raised an objection on the proposed construction of a barrage at Fulerthal for diverting water by India. The Indian side assured that there would not be any diversion of waters from Fulertal or elsewhere on the Barak river.

The Indian side also gave assurance that if it was ever decided to build a diversion structure on the Barak river it would be done after due consultation with Bangladesh. There was reassurance from the Indian side on the same issue again in the subsequent 36th JRC meeting in Dhaka on September 19-21, 2005.

It is known from newspaper reports that on December16, 2006, two ministers of the government of India laid the foundation stone of Tipaimukh Dam project. The Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested the government of India vide a note verbal dated January 2007 not to proceed with the construction of Tipaimukh Dam until the water sharing issues with Bangladesh were resolved.

The Indian prime minister, during a meeting with the prime minister of Bangladesh on the sidelines of the 15th Non-Aligned Movement Summit at Sharm El- Sheikh in Egypt on July 15, gave firm assurance that India would not take any action in respect of Tipaimukh Dam which would harm the bilateral relations between the two countries.

In the meantime, the government of India forwarded an invitation for a team from Bangladesh to go to Tipaimukh Dam site to have first-hand understanding of the situation there. Bangladesh is preparing to send an all-party parliamentary delegation to visit the site.

It is clear from the above that the concerned experts from Bangladesh side have all along been very much aware of the situation as regards Tipaimukh Dam. The government of Bangladesh did not show any lack of alertness to safeguard the interest of the country on the issue as well.

No visible sign of unilateral action by the Indian experts or the government of India defying or denying Bangladesh could be traced so far. Is creating unnecessary panic and making the situation complicated with aggressive accusations really needed at the moment? It is evident from the above-mentioned study done by Bangladesh that if constructed properly taking into consideration interest of Bangladesh, the country can be immensely benefited from Tipaimukh Dam.

G.M. Quader is Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism.

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