Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Dhaka will urge no Barak irrigation project'

Kamran Reza Chowdhury

bdnews24.com Senior Correspondent

Bangladesh will demand assurance from India that it will not implement any irrigation project which will divert water from the common river Barak, says the chief of the parliamentary team leaving on Wednesday to visit the site of the planned Tipaimukh dam.

Abdur Razzaq, who will head the 11-member parliamentary delegation, told bdnews24.com on Tuesday that he would propose India carry out a joint study on the dam that Bangladesh fears will cause environmental damage in the downstream.

The former water resources minister said as per the minutes of the joint rivers commission (JRC) meetings and a Bangladesh study on the proposed dam, if India solely implements a power project in Tipaimiukh, it would not harm Dhaka's interests.

Razzaq said the BNP' former water resources minister Hafiz Uddin Ahmed at the JRC meetings in 2003 and 2005 rightly opposed implementation of any irrigation project in Phulertala—further down to the Tipaimukh dam in the northeasternIndian state of Manipur.

As per the Indian plans, Delhi will implement an irrigation project at Phulertala over the Barak which enters into Bangladesh as the Surma and Kushiara.

The two rivers are lifeline for hundreds of rivers and water bodies in the greater Sylhet region.

"Despite the study and the JRC agreements, we will propose carrying out a joint-study to know whether the Tipaimukh dam will cause any harm to Bangladesh," Razzaq, , also the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on water resources ministry, said at parliament building.

He said Bangladesh had been opposing implementation of the irrigation project over the Barak since 1978.

"We will firmly ask the Indian side that they must not implement the irrigation project at Phulertala. Because, irrigation project means water diversion (from the upstream)," he said.

Razzaq said India "repeatedly" committed to not implement the Phulertala project.

"At one stage, they agreed that they would not start irrigation project there.

"Again, the Indian prime minister has assured us that they will not do anything that will harm Bangladesh," said Razzaq.

Environmental pressure groups in Bangladesh and Manipur state have repeatedly voiced concern over the potential impact of the planned dam in downstream regions.

India claims the Tipaimukh dam would not withhold water from Bangladesh as it is part of a power generation and not intended for irrigation purposes.

Indian high commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty has said there will be no water diversion from downstream Bangladesh.

The parliamentary delegation goes for a five-day tour after India invited it in a move to allay Dhaka's fear over the controversial project.

The main opposition the BNP has not nominated any delegation to the 11-member team.

The BNP's main ally Bangladesh Jaamat-e-Islami MP Hamidur Rahman Azad, who is one of the members of the team, may not go, according to Razzaq.

He said the team would leave Dhaka for New Delhi at 10:00am by a Jet Airways flight on July 29, where they will meet officials from the foreign and energy ministries.

"We will listen to what they have to say, rather than voice our own opinions," said Razzaq.

On July 30, they are scheduled to fly to Guwahati, the capital of Assam state, and to the proposed dam site.

"We will submit a report on our return to the prime minister through the water resources ministry and the parliament secretariat," he said.

Members of the parliamentary team include Awami League MP Abdur Rahman, AKM Fazlul Haq MP (AL), ABM Anwarul Haq MP (AL) and Jatiya Party MP ABM Ruhul Amin Hawlader, Hamidur Rahman Azad (Bangladesh Jaamat-e-Islami), and independent MP Fazlul Azim.

It also has two experts, BUET professor Monwar Hossain and Sajjad Hossain of the Bangladesh-India Joint Rivers Commission, the water resources secretary and a director general of the foreign ministry.

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