Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barak Dam in the vortex of controversy

Jyoti Lal Chowdhury

The controversial Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydel Project is once again the centre stage of news. Besides facing opposition in Manipur, it has also been protested against by socio-political bodies in Bangladesh. On August 11, 5000 Bangladeshi protesters belonging to Tipaimukh Dam Resistance Committee and Sylhet Division Unnayan Sangram Committee joined by leaders of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamat-e-Islami organised a mass gathering at Jakiganj opposite Karimganj town and criticised the Indian decision to build the dam. “Bangladesh will suffer huge economic and environmental losses if the Tipaimukh Dam comes up”, said Jamat-e-Islami chief Motiur Rahman Nizami. Their much hyped long march to the dam site was foiled by the Bangladesh Rifles.

In Manipur, Citizens’ Concern for Dam and Development, a conglomerate of 34 organisations, has been agitating against the construction of the project.

The agitation is being backed by Committee on Land and Natural Resources, Action Committee against Tipaimukh Project, United Naga Council, Naga Women Union, All Naga Students’ Association and Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights. Hmar People’s Conference (D), underground outfit, issued a press statement cautioning against any construction work to build up the infrastructure of the dam.

Notwithstanding the wave of opposition, the MoU was signed between the three states of Manipur, Assam and Mizoram a decade back. The Ministry of Home Affairs agreed to security arrangement and the Ministry of Road Surface Transport to take action for the improvement of NH 53 and NH 150 for easy access to the dam site. The Planning Commission gave its nod for the allocation of Rs.20 crore for the project during 2000-01 for infrastructure build up. The project was to be included in the 9th Plan. Mooted in the 70’s, its estimated cost has gone up from Rs.1500 crore to more than Rs.6000 crore. The centre approved a rehabilitation package for 350 tribal families to be affected due to submergence.

The project is to be built on river Barak. The site is in the remote village of Tipaimukh in Churachandpur district, bordering Mizoram. The project is designed to contain flood waters in Barak Valley, generate 1500 MW of power, facilitate irrigation and pisciculture.

Anti-dam activists fear the dam, if built, would disturb the seasonal rhythm of the river with adverse effects on downstream agriculture and fisheries. It will also affect two rivers of Bangladesh, 100 km away from Tipaimukh, Surma and Kushiara. River Barak at Haritikar in Cachar close to the border bifurcates into Surma and Kushiara before entering Sylhet district.

They also argue that the mega They also argue that the mega project with a catchment area of 9126 in Manipur alone would submerge over 90 villages, besides inundating a vast chunk of forest and agricultural land as well as destroy tribal and folklore interests and diverse flora and fauna. With heat and dust around, the foundation stone of the dam was laid on December 16, 2006 by the then Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde at Tipaimukh under a blanket boycott call by different organisations.

Significantly, China has advised a dialogue between India and Bangladesh over the issue. China’s interest arises out of India’s objection to its decision to divert Yarlung Tsangpo, known as Brahamaputra in Assam, by building a dam over the river in Tibet. The Indian apprehension was that such a move by Beijing would greatly affect the river system of the North East, thereby the ecology and economy. Egged on by China, the Bangladeshi campaign against Barak dam has got a new dimension, making it an international issue.

In the context of these apprehensions being aired by different quarters, it would be quite relevant to examine certain records and observations for a fair and objective appraisal of the project. North East Region Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (NERCPC) in its meeting held in May, 1999 at Imphal stressed on the need to constitute the Barak Valley Authority for the implementation of the project on the pattern of Narmada Central Authority. NERCPC, in this context, referred to the three consecutive meetings of the Chief Secretaries of Assam, Manipur and Mizoram which reached a sort of consensus to thrash out misgivings and take positive steps for clearing the hurdles.

The Manipur government, after being briefed by the Brahamaputra Board on the project constituted two committees under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary in details all aspects for moving ahead as recorded in the minutes of the first meeting of the technical committee on April 10, 1999 at the Brahamaputra Board Complex, Guwahati. After receiving the detailed project report from NEEPCO, the executive agency, state government of Manipur entered into a MoU on January 31, 2001. The MoU was facilitated with the annulment of Manipur State Assembly resolution unanimously in 2000.

Experts in the Brahamaputra Board and Ministry of Water Resources pointed out that the 16.80 lakh cusec capacity reservoir of the dam will not only control floods but also release enough water during the lean season through Barak and its tributaries-Surma and Kushiara. Besides this, the nod of the Manipur government followed the meeting of a 5 member Parliamentary standing committee on energy under the Chairmanship of Santosh Mohan Dev on February 10, 2001 at Silchar. Additional Chief Secretary of Manipur P.L. Thanga who attended the meet gave the seal of approval of his government.

In fact, once the project is commissioned, the North East region as a whole will benefit as it will substantially meet the power needs of the area. Manipur and Mizoram will get 12 percent free power. It will, at the same time, give a boost to fisheries, tourism and accelerate the economic development of the area. The Ministry of Water Resources has agreed to provide 220 KV transmission line to Imphal along with step down substation. Experts opine that the dam site does not fall in the seismic zone. Moreover, since the three states concerned after protracted discussions have agreed on the project, there is no reason to keep it in abeyance on grounds which look more far-fetched than reasoned.

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