Monday, August 31, 2009

Tipaimukh Dam:India to allay Dhaka’s concerns

Ashok Tuteja
New Delhi, August 30

As Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni prepares to fly down to India early next month, the Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Dam Project has become a bone of contention between the two countries, threatening to sour bilateral ties. Located near the confluence of Barak and Tuivai rivers in Manipur, the project has sharply divided civil society groups, environmentalists, human rights organisations and the media in Bangladesh over its implications on the share of water flowing from upper riparian India.

The Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is hell bent upon exploiting the situation to the hilt by fanning anti-India sentiments. Recently BNP chief Begum Khaleda Zia, who was perceived to have an anti-India bias even when she was the Prime Minister, even refused to nominate her party colleagues on a team of Parliamentarians and water experts which visited the dam site in India last month.

The recent comments of Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty ridiculing suggestions in Dhaka that the project could harm Bangladesh’s interests had almost kicked up a row between India and Bangladesh. Thanks to the excellent relations that India enjoys with the Sheikh Khaleda Government, the controversy over his remarks was allowed to die down. Indian officials said Dhaka’s apprehensions on the dam project were entirely misplaced. They contended that the project provided a ‘win-win’ situation for both India and Bangladesh.

A deliberate and motivated campaign had been launched by vested interests against the project in Bangladesh. ‘’We have furnished data and views of experts to Dhaka explaining how the project would be beneficial for both the countries…it would still be our endeavour to remove doubts that still exist in the mind of the Bangladesh leadership,’’ official sources said..

They recalled that the Bangladeshi team which had visited India last month was briefed on how the project would help control floods in Bangladesh and provide it with more irrigation facilities. Dipu Moni’s visit, the first intense high-level contact between the two governments after the UPA began its second innings at the helm of affairs in New Delhi in May, would also provide an opportunity to the two countries to review the entire range of bilateral issues, the threat from terrorism to the South Asian region and international developments.

It is also being seen as a visit preparatory to the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s tour of India later this year. In the context of terrorism, India is likely to once again ask Dhaka to deport ULFA chief Anup Chetia and other militants belonging to the outlawed outfit who are in Bangladesh. New Delhi has made this request to Dhaka on several occasions in the past but in vain. Now that a ‘friendly’ government is in place in Bangladesh, India is hopeful that Chetia’s extradition to India could be a possibility.

New Delhi is also encouraged by some of the steps taken by Bangladesh in recent months to check the activities of anti-India elements operating from its soil. Bangladesh had last month arrested two Indian militants, who had been hiding there for 15 years, in a span of one week.

What is more, Bangladeshi security forces are said to be hot on trail of 3-4 more Indians who have been choreographing terror attacks against India from the Bangladeshi territory. Bangladesh had, in fact, from time to time, proposed a joint task force to combat terrorism in South Asia.

The proposal could again be on the agenda between the two countries. However, the increasing activities of Pakistan’s ISI are a matter of concern to New Delhi, which might be prompted to take it up with Dhaka during Moni’s visit. On the economic side, India and Bangladesh are trying to settle their differences in a variety of areas, including commerce, power and railways.


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