The dilemma between India and Bangladesh over the construction of the Tipaimukh dam has been augmented by raging controversies within both countries. This article brings out perspectives from Bangladesh through the opinions roofed in three prominent Bangladesh dailies: The Independent, Financial Express Bangladesh and The Daily Star. Significant variations in perspective can be noted on the question of whether the Tipaimukh dam will be a boon or bane for the lower riparian Bangladesh.
Volume of electricity generated and shared
The Tipaimukh venture is a multi-purpose hydropower plan initiated by the Government of India to be located on the border of Kolashib district of Mizoram and Churachandpur district of Manipur, where the Tipai River meets Barak River.
It is a run-of-the-river project and the water stored in the dam will be discharged continuously to enable electricity generation and regulated to mediate flood in the plains. The Prime Minster of India has offered a joint stake to Bangladesh to invest in the project and to share the power generated (Gowher Rizvi, ‘Tipaimukh: A plea for rational and scientific discussion’, The Daily Star, 13 December 2011).
The question here arises; will India be able to share its electricity with Bangladesh? The proposed project site in the upstream area of the Barak River has a catchment of 1200 sq km. Compare this to the Kaptai Dam in Bangladesh with double the catchment area, rainfall intensity, and storage capacity, which only manages to produce 450 MW. How then is the Tipaimukh dam expected to generate 1500 MW of electricity? (M Inamul Haque, ‘Tipaimukh Dam: For whose benefit?’ The Daily Star, 20 December 2011).
Diversion of water flow
Given the Farakka Barrage experience, many Bangladeshis are reluctant to accept any assurances from the Indian government. M A Muid Khan in ‘Dealing with the issue of Tipaimukh Dam’, The Financial Express Bangladesh, says, ‘History will testify that India has never kept her promise before erecting any dams on the common rivers’. With this background, Bangladesh is concerned because although the agreement signed between the Government of Manipur and National Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) states that no barrage or diversion of water flow on the Barak River will be built, the GOI and Government of Assam have met with an understanding to build a barrage at Fulertal in Cachar district. This will divert the water flow and have a major impact on the irrigation and agricultural production of Bangladesh’s lower riparian areas such as Sylhlet and Maulvi Bazar. (M Inamul Haque in ‘Tipaimukh Dam: For whose benefit?’ The Daily Star, 20 December 2011). The operation of the dam itself will increase the water flow during summer seasons causing flash floods during the Boro harvesting in Sylhet. (Barrister Harun ur Rashid, ‘Tipai Dam: Response to Dr. Rizvi’, The Daily Star, 21 December 2011).
However according to Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury in ‘Tipaimukh and the call for engagement’ (The Daily Star, 22 December 2011) this assurance of the Indian Government is official, and as also stated by Rizvi, is binding and unequivocal.
Assuming that there is no diversion, Albelee A Hague in his ‘Tipai dam and science’ (The Daily Star, 26 December 2011) has analyzed that the dam will result in irregular flow of water which will have an adverse impact on the ecosystem of the entire Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin.
In contradiction to Inamul Hague and Rashid, Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury’s ‘Tipaimukh and the call for engagement’ (The Daily Star, 22 December 2011), states that the overall impact which is believed to affect the lower riparian Bangladesh will be mitigated by additional rain water that flows from lower Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland and the northern slopes of Tripura to the downstream of Tipaimukh into Barrak river. Be that as it may, the fact that any mega dam can alter river dynamics, and constant irrigation can waterlog the ground causing siltation upon evaporation cannot be ignored. (Enam A Chaudhury, ‘A response to Dr. Rizvi’, The Daily Star, 29 December 2011).
Tipaimukh dam site: Seismically active zone?
Another major concern is that the dam site and the adjoining areas are fragile geo-tectonic regions which lie in an active seismic zone and has experienced more than eight major earthquakes, with a magnitude of more than 8.
Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain,in ‘Seismo-tectonic risk of Tipaimukh Dam’, (The Daily Star, 23 December 2011) states that Rizvi’s assertion that such environmental disasters are unlikely to have any adverse impact on Bangladesh as the site location is nearly 140 miles away from its border exposes his ignorance. An environmental disaster can cause unimaginable destruction in the lower Surma-Kushiyara-Maghna basin causing flooding in the lower riparian districts. However Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury disagrees: “there are many dams in seismically active zones of the world. Any engineering structure can fail, so can a dam; what is needed is a proper earthquake resistant design.”
Summarizing the debate, it can be understood that a joint in-depth evaluation and more realistic discourse between Dhaka and New Delhi will not only reduce the bilateral contention but also the domestic one. In ‘The significance of data collection’ (The Independent, 24 December 2011), Enamul Hoque outlines the importance of information-sharing and in-depth surveys before constructing a hydropower project over a shared river. It is also important to note that for Bangladesh, environmental concerns and energy security are equally important. Besides benefitting the Indian states, the project will also enhance power capacity in the Sylhet region and irrigation in Maulvi Bazar.