Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tipaimukh water bomb a curse for Barak-Surma basin

Faisal Rahim

When the Indian environmental activist groups in the states of Assam and Monipur are fighting back terming the Tipaimukh dam project a 'water bomb' sure be a "living curse for the inhabitants of the Barak-Surma basin", Bangladesh's ministers and policy makers are describing it as even beneficial to the nation.

The Bangladesh parliamentary team that visited Tipaimukh dam site early this month gave a clean certificate to the Indian government's move on the dam issue saying that the Indian government ministers have given them assurance that Delhi would not do anything harmful to Bangladesh.

The team leader Abdur Razzak MP praised the Indian government for sharing "important" documents that were not made available earlier. He pointed out that all available data and information suggest that the dam construction is all but a fight in the air.

"India isn't building dam"!

"Moreover no construction was visible in the site from the aerial view that suggests India is not building the dam", he said.

Some government ministers are even making statements saying the dam may be beneficial to Bangladesh and hence people here should ignore the opposition parties' call to create public awareness about it and fight back the issue locally and in international forum.

But the latest news report tells different stories. A report in a national daily last week said Indian government has passed the responsibility of building the dam to its Eastern army command.

Army to construct

The report detailed which military wing is working on implementing the project, which one worked on the design, which army unit is providing security to the dam site. It also named the military authorities which supervised an ecological survey to determine the extent of damage and geo-physical change that the dam may hit in the region.

The report further said that a high power meeting of Indian military and civil bureaucracy was held in Delhi on June 20 last to coordinate the activities relating to the dam project and evolving strategy on how to run public relations campaigns to counter protest against the dam which is increasingly growing in the Indian northeast and also in Bangladesh.

On the public campaign issue, the meeting left it with a special group to mobilize the civil society organizations both in India and Bangladesh to the support of the mega project.

Bangladesh govt.'s weakness

The recent visit of six editors of national dailies from Dhaka to Delhi may be viewed from that background.

The Delhi meeting also underlined the fact that since India has a friendly government in place now in Dhaka, it should take immediate steps to begin construction of the dam to exploit the weakness of the Bangladesh government and the silence of its front line organizations.

This is one side of the story which tells how the Indian government is blackmailing its friends in Dhaka in one hand and mobilizing the project under the supervision of its Eastern Army Command on the other.

News report said the ecological report on the dam which the Indian army has prepared, said that a total of 288.60 sq kilometers area would go under water in the Borak valley following the construction of the dam.

Crippling impact on Bangladesh

The Indian local environmental activist groups are therefore opposed to the dam as it is becoming a looming threat to the existence of local communities and their livelihood although big capitals and construction companies will benefit from it as also the Indian geo-politics will emerge as a winner on its close neighbour Bangladesh having crippling environmental impacts on its agriculture and environment.

Indian local environmental groups say they can not sit idle because of its hazardous impact on them and sought the cooperation of Bangladesh on the issue. The Silchar-based Society of Activists & Volunteers for Environment (SAVE) recently presented a memorandum opposing the construction of the Tipaimukh dam to Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata. The memorandum dwelt on the devastating environmental impact of the dam on downstream Borak basin in general and Bara Valley in particular which also include areas covering Bangladesh.

The memorandum was originally addressed to the Bangladesh parliamentary team that visited the project site but failed to land in the area because of bad weather. So the organizers pushed the memorandum to its leader through the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in Kolkata.

Dr. Parthankar Choudhury, President of SAVE and its secretary Pijush Kanti Das in the memorandum drew the attention of the Bangladesh parliamentary team to the looming danger from the proposed dam. They expressed their deep concern about the impact of the dam in the upstream of the Barak river. They termed it a 'water bomb' at Tipaimukh and said people in the region are resisting the move holding growing protests at various level and places. They said such protests are taking place in Manipur and in the Barak Valley of Assam, besides lot such protest in Bangladesh.

SAVE's demand

They said all such actions should be purely viewed from environmental and human points and those who want to ignore it should be dealt with severely. The memorandum said the SAVE people belong to the school of thought which "think globally and act locally" and sought to work jointly with Bangladesh in facing the disaster.

The SAVE leaders emphasised the need for an extensive downstream environmental impact study from the proposed dam site up to the sea-mouth to be jointly conducted at the initiative of the Government of India and Bangladesh.

Experts on the study group need to be hired from NGOs, particularly from the environmental outfits, IITs and universities to independently assess its possible detrimental impact on the environment and life of inhabitants in the catchments areas. They said, without downstream impact study, if a clean chit to the project is given, it would be detrimental for both environment and people at large; and the struggling people of both in India and Bangladesh in particular.

They said the proposed dam falls at the confluence of Indo-Burma, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese biodiversity hotspot zone. These areas are characterized by the presence of a large number of plant and animal species, many of which are not seen or seldom witnessed in the rest of the world.

A large number of them have been categorized as endangered and threatened as the IUCN Red Data book and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Once the dam is constructed, these innocent endangered and threatened species would have no other alternative, but to perish.

Earthquake Zone-V

They said SAVE strongly believes that this rock-filled 500 metres long and 162.8 metres high dam to be constructed at the Earthquake Zone-V will become a constant threat to survival of people in the region. It will have constant pressure of water and if for any reason cracks open, the entire civilization of the whole of downstream region will be washed down in no time. The age-old Barak-Surma culture will live in history only. They pondered the question: Can any force or technology prevent this and ensure safety against such catastrophic mishap?

Impact on agriculture

The memorandum further dwelt on the important impact of the dam on water scarcity, crop cultivation, navigation, siltation, ecological imbalance, river pollution, extinction of aquatic life forms and the like and said these are no less important frontier areas that deserve careful and serious attention.

It urged the Bangladesh parliamentary delegation to strongly oppose the dam keeping in view all those things from a purely pro-environment and pro-human viewpoints. The Tipaimukh dam is going to be the lifetime curse for the inhabitants of Barak-Surma basin, they said pointing to the need for resisting it at all cost.

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