Kashmir Watch, Nov 14
By ALI SUKHANVER
Sylhet, the beautiful paradise of Bangladesh, is going to turn into a vast barren wasteland very soon. Located on the banks of the winding pair of rivers Surma River and Jaintia and surrounded by Khasi and Tripura hills, this city is situated in the north-eastern region of Bangladesh. The Sylhet region is well known for its tea gardens and tropical forests. The valley has good number of big natural depressions, called ‘haors’. During winter these haors are vast stretches of green land, but in the rainy season they turn into turbulent seas. These haors provide a sanctuary to the millions of migratory birds who fly from Siberia across the Himalayas to avoid the severe cold there. India has started the construction of the Tapaimukh on the Barrak River in Manipur State just 100 km off the Bangladesh border. It is likely to affect two major rivers of Bangladesh; Surma and Kushiarra which are life line for the Sylhet region. The Dam will be 390 meters long and 162.8 meters high. It will be at an altitude of about 180 meter above mean sea level with a maximum reservoir level of 178 meters. The construction of this dam has stirred a lot of fear in Bangladesh because the whole economic prosperity of Bangladesh depends upon the river system.
Since 1975 the sharing of river waters has been a bone of contention between India and Bangladesh. The construction of Farraka and Teesta barrage from India has already added salt to injury on the part of Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh has protested the construction of these two dams by calling it a violation of bilateral water sharing agreements between the two countries but the Indian government paid no heed to this hue and cry and started construction of the Tapaimukh dam. In the beginning the project was kept secret.
The people of Bangladesh came to know of this dam when in April 2009 the Indian Foreign Secretary visited Bangladesh and requested the government to send a delegation to visit the Dam site. Since then various political parties, environment groups, and people from Dhaka and Sylhet and other cities are in a state of protest against this construction.
The Dam was originally designed to contain flood waters in the lower Barrak valley, but hydro power generation was later incorporated. The project will have an installation capacity of 1500 MW and a firm generation of 412 MW. The Dam will permanently submerge an area of 275.50 square kilometers. Reportedly a pick up barrage is also being planned, 95 Km down stream of Dam site. Bangladeshi experts are of the opinion that the construction of Dam will disrupt the seasonal flow of river and will have an adverse effect on downstream agriculture and fisheries. Some experts fear the desertification of Sylhet region due to decrease of water flow in Meghna basin comprising River Surma, Kushiarra and Meghna. Majority of Bangladeshis are in anticipated fear of the probable damage that may be created after construction of Dam.
Not only in Bangladesh but also in India the construction of this dam is facing a very strong opposition. More than twenty influential social and political organizations in Manipur state have united under the banner of "Action Committee against Tapaimukh Project". These organizations have termed it as, "Water Bomb" due to its adverse effects on environment in Barrak Valley. It means that this dam is going to cause a lot of damage not only to the economy of Bangladesh but also to the people of the Manipur State. The politicians from Manipur are of the opinion that as a result of the construction of this dam about 286.20 Sq Km area will be submerged for ever. More than 40 thousands people will be rendered homeless. Eight villages situated in Barrak valley will be completely under water. More than 90 villages will be adversely affected. About 27,242 hectors of cultivable land will be lost.
The construction of the Tapaimukh Dam is being opposed by the People of Southern Assam also. Various social organizations in Southern Assam are opposing the construction of Dam due to devastating environmental impact on down stream Barrak basin. The Silchar based Society of Activist and Volunteer for Environments (SAVE) is leading the resistance movement against the construction of this dam in the Southern Assam.
People, civil society, NGOs and environmentalists of Bangladesh, Manipur and the Southern Assam have joined hand together against the construction of this dam. They are strongly criticizing the proposed constructions through seminars, rallies and demonstrations. The experts fear that construction of the Dam will affect the livelihood of about 50 million people spanning sixteen districts in Sylhet region and many more in Manipur and the Southern Assam.
Faced with public protests, the government of India has adopted a "wait and see" policy with several ministers citing Indian claims that dam would not be harmful to anyone. To pacify the people of Bangladesh a parliamentary delegation was invited to India in August 2009, to visit the dam site but the tour to the dam site was ironically cancelled due to bad weather.
The construction of the Tapaimukh Dam is nothing but an effort to convert Bangladesh into a desert by destroying its agricultural economy. We can say that the power luxury for India is a death question for Bangladesh.
Author is Pakistan based bilingual analyst on national and international strategic and defense affairs. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org