Friday, July 17, 2009

PM Singh tells Bangladesh will look at dam

DHAKA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has assured Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina that he will examine a dam project that is drawing fire from Bangladeshi politicians and pressure groups, local media said on Thursday.

Critics fear the dam in Manipur could cause two Bangladeshi rivers to dry up, and desertification in eastern Bangladesh.

The Indian plan entails a 1,500 megawatt project at Tipaimukh on the Barak River which flows from the northeast into Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

Hasina met Singh at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt on the sidelines of the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, on Wednesday, to discuss bilateral issues including the dam.

"After patiently listening to our opinion on the Tipaimukh dam, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said he will take up the issue and will not take any step that will harm friendly relation between the two countries," Bangladesh media quoted Hasina as telling Bangladeshi journalists accompanying her at the summit.

It was the first meeting since Hasina returned to power in January and Singh took charges for a second successive term in May.

New Delhi commissioned the Farakka Barrage in 1974 on the Ganges river along Bangladesh's northern border to divert water to the river Hoogly to keep the Kolkata port navigable.

As a result, Bangladesh faced severe water shortages during winter until a 30-year agreement was signed in 1996 to share the flow.

Critics of the new project cite environmental experts as predicting similar effects from it.

A Bangladesh parliamentary team will visit the site of the planned dam from July 29 on an invitation from India, foreign ministry officials said in Dhaka on Thursday.

Former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, chief of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party will speak to a cross section of people in Dhaka on Saturday on the possible adverse effects of the dam.

The BNP has been running a campaign against the government for its kneel-down bilateral policy with India, on the dam issue.


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