India's Hydro-Electric Project at Tipaimukh and the Hot Debate in Bangladesh

Published on Monday, July 27, 2009


ABSTRACT: The government of India has taken up a project for the construction of a dam for the purpose of power generation at a place known as Tipaimukh on Barak river in Assam. After having preliminary information from that government, the government of Bangladesh under Begum Khaleda Zia got prepared a report regarding the affects of this dam on Bangladesh by a number of experts working as consultants. The report they gave was found mostly favorable for Bangladesh. This year, after the Indian government declared their program to initiate the project, the opposition party led by Begum Khaleda Zia nearly declared war saying that it would ruin the country. She has been successful in accumulating a number of like-minded experts and political leaders to speak in her favor. On the other hand, the government of Bangladesh seems to be in favor of its construction. In the meantime various experts and non-experts have expressed their ideas, explanations and predictions about the affects of the project. These have profusely confused the people, specially because while explaining matters some experts use technical terms in which the common people are not conversant. In such a situation this article would endeavor to give a transparent picture regarding the affects of the dam, reason of 'war cry' by the opposition, deficiencies of the present government to take right decision etc. avoiding unknown technical terms.

INTRODUCTION : Before emptying it in the Bay of Bengal, river Karnafully was snaking her way through a number of hillocks in Chittagong hill tracts. In the years of heavy rain the river used to create flood and wash away everything including habitations on the river bank. Experts discovered that if a dam could be constructed on this river thus creating a large reservoir, it would be possible to (i) permanently solve the problem of seasonal flooding due to this river, (ii) generate large quantity of hydro-electricity, the cheapest type of energy, (iii) culture fish in the reservoir etc. They also discovered that its construction would create serious problems for the tribal people living in the to-be submerged areas. It was easily possible to rehabilitate these people. But the government of Pakistan did not take the issue seriously. Even though Islam declares equal rights for all, Pakistan, the Muslim country practiced the principle of having concern only for the Muslims and hating others. Naturally the tribal people found hard days. The country however, got huge power at minimal cost. Still today Bangladesh is enjoying that benefit.

India discovered a similar site a Tipaimukh, where from they could generate hydro-electricity by constructing a dam. The government of India prepared a proposal for it at Tipaimukh, a place 100 miles upstream from Sylhet of Bangladesh and handed over the project proposal to the BNP-led government of Bangladesh in 1979. After this the project could not proceed as usual course because of India's internal problems. The issue was raised again with the BNP-ruled government under Khaleda Zia in 1993. The Bangladesh government employed SNC-Lavalin International, Northwest Hydraulic Consultants to prepare a report. The report was given with the following observations : Due to the construction of dam at Tipaimukh : (i) "occurrence of flood will decrease in the Barak, Surma and Kushiara rivers", (ii) "the amount of floodwater will decrease by 20 percent" and (iii) "water level in the Surma and Kushiara will decrease by 1.60 metres during floods". India raised the issue of Tipaimukh dam with BNP government in the 35th and 36th meetings of Joint River Commission (JRC) in 2003 and 2005 respectively, where the then government did not oppose the idea. In 2009 when Bangladesh Awami League is in power, however, the same person (Khaleda Zia) raised severe objection against the construction of the dam, alleging it that would ruin Bangladesh. Begum Khaleda procured a number of experts and leaders to talk for her. At this time, various spokesmen of the government also explained the government's views. Various claims, predictions, explanations and comments given by the opposition and the government have profusely confused the common people. In such a context the objective of this article is to find out the affects of this dam on the neighbouring country, Bangladesh, causes that encouraged Begum Khaleda to take the abnormal and new stunt and related issues. POINTS OF DEBATE : From the data's so far received, (i) the dimensions of the dam will be : Height = 166 m, (or 180 m above sea level, 178 m maximum reservoir level and 136 m minimum draw down level), Length = 390 m, Water carrying capacity = 16 m cu m. It would submerge 266 families in 8 villages. The project would generate Electricity = 1500 MW. Estimated cost : App. Rs 1,078 crore.

The speciality of location of the project is, it is an earth-quake prone zone near the meeting point of two tectonic plates with possibility of earth-quake in the range 7.0 in Richter scale. That indicates that India would have to design it strong enough to withstand this hazard. Needless to mention that the failure of the dam would bring disaster first in the 100 mile stretched land inside India and then, vast area of Bangladesh.

Now we shall mention and clarify some of the points raised and confusingly explained by various leaders under Begum Khaleda's influence.

DAM AND RIVER WATER FLOW : Some people opine that the dam would reduce the flow of water in Barak river and its descending branches in Bangladesh. The fact is, after a dam for hydroelectricity project is commissioned, the authority would have to release all excess water from the dam for the safety of the dam and smooth running of the generators. So, it does not reduce water flow. The dam however, can give additional advantage of flood control by holding excess water in the rainy season and increase water flow in the winter by slowly releasing that water.

DAM AND SILTATION : Some leaders have opined that the dam would create siltation in the rivers of Bangladesh. Such statements may be given by people lacking in intelligence. In a hydro-electric project only silt-free water is fed into the turbines below, and the over-flowing water (spillway) on top cannot contain silt.

DAM AND EARTHQUAKE : Some leaders have opined that the dam would create earth quake due to weight of water or for drying of rivers. All these are wrong statement. Those who have little knowledge of geology and earth science know how huge and mighty the earth's tectonic plates are, and in comparison how tiny or insignificant the reservoir or weight of the water in it are.

DAM AND SALINITY : It is unfortunate that some of the leaders opine that the dam would result in increase of salinity in the region near the mouth of the river. Their ideas are erroneous. The salinity at the river mouth among many other factors depends upon the velocity of water emerging out through the river. In the rainy season it is pushed away due to rainy water from the origin and catchment area. The possibility of the same to move up may take place during the winter season when the flow is feeble. The release of water from the reservoir can improve the situation.

DAM AND DESTABILIZING THE NATURE : Some people always think that any new project in the nature is harmful because it destabilizes the balance of nature. It is well known that whenever the original setup of the nature is interfered, there may some problems. However, intelligent and sincere men have always been able to solve those. Only the fools may shout for keeping everything in nature "unchanged" for the sake of "stability". Had the intelligent men followed the principle of the fools, then the world would have still remained in the same primitive state. In case Kaptai dam was not constructed at the cost of many things including miseries for the tribal people, neither Bangladesh would enjoy the huge benefit of power nor the region would become free from the propensity of flood.

PROBABLE PROBLEMS OF BANGLADESH : In case the design and commissioning of the project does not take place by keeping in view the necessities of Bangladesh, then Bangladesh would definitely suffer from some evil consequences. It should however, be mentioned that before Bangladesh starts suffering from those hazards, the 100-mile long Indian region on both sides of the river would start tasting those. The most severe problem may occur during the period of first-time filling of the reservoir. The process may take several years even with the entire annual supply of water. In such a situation the dam authority should continue the filling-process at a slow rate, such that the rivers in the down stream do not get dry.

In the above situation Bangladesh should be kept closely associated with every aspects of the project. The river Barak flows in two countries such that both the countries have rights on its contributions like water, transport facilities, hydroelectricity etc. In case Bangladesh could contribute proportionate share of land and finance for the hydro-electric project, the country could claim the share of electricity. We know, the country is not in a position to do that.

After the project is complete we shall find two new phenomenons. These are : (01) At present the country suffers from the varying flow of water in the river due to nature's act on which no one has any control. After the construction of the dam, the control of water would depend up on human control, which will be in the hands of the operators in India. When the control is with the nature, Bangladesh cannot censure anyone for hazards. But after it would come to human hand, they can always hold the operating country responsible for genuine or fictitious reasons. (02) The huge quantity of sand, stone, fish etc. flowing from the Indian rivers is enjoyed by Bangladesh absolutely free. The construction of the dam would stop that possibility.

In the above situation, there remain ethical reasons for Bangladesh to ask for a share in the generated electricity and India should consider the same, if not for logical reason, but as a gesture of goodwill.

KHALEDA'S ABOUT-TURN : Those who do not have clear idea about Begum Khaleda and her party might find her recent attitude quite mysterious. The gentleman-like question is, why does the person who knew everything so well since 1993, who employed experts and got their positive comments, who were kept informed in 2003 and 2005, suddenly turns furious in 2009. In order to understand this mystery one needs to have in-depth knowledge of Begum Khaleda and her party.

Begum Khaleda Zia, the ex-prime minister and now leader of the opposition is not highly educated, a harsh truth that compels her take advice from others in complicated matters. She however, fails to get advice of honest and superior quality persons, because the nature and principle of her party are not conducive for them. She does not have proven records of honesty, religious un-biasness or patriotism. Also she is renowned for short memory, anti-Indian and pro-Pakistani mentality. In addition, right now she is having extreme problems in organizing her party, rehabilitating her two sons, handling legal cases against the party members etc. Naturally she desperately looks for a platform for bargaining with the government.

Brief descriptions of Begum Khaleda's problems are mentioned here under : (i) Honesty : During the period of the caretaker government she whitened huge money. The amount is such as can never be earned honestly by the prime minister of this country. It has been reported that she sent over 300 boxes of valuable items to Saudi Arabia. No body still what materials or documents those boxes contained. She allowed her two sons to earn unlawful money. Part of this money has been detected in foreign banks. (ii) Religious biasness : She is well remembered for her statement that "Hindu religious sounds will be heard from the mosques if Awami League wins". During her regime the minorities were treated as no class citizens. Her government and party's atrocities on the minorities after her win in 2001 nearly shattered the world. (iii) Patriotism The people of Bangladesh are aware that before the 2001 election one ex-president of an influential country offered the Awami League chief to extend assistance in winning election in lieu of "gas deal". The chief did not agree. Few months ago prime minister Sheikh Hasina disclosed this incident. She also disclosed that Begum Khaleda agreed to that proposal and won the election. (iv) Short memory : During her past regime, on one occasion she visited India and discussion on sharing of water at Farakka was one of the issues. After return she replied that did not do that because she "forgot". (v) Anti-Indian mentality : Begum Khaleda is well known for her extreme anti-Indian and pro-Pakistani mentality. During her regime high officials allowed 10 truck-loads of arms and ammunitions to use Bangladesh territory to reach ULFA, one of the worst terrorist organizations of India. Also, during her tenure many top-grade culprits working against the interest of India and patronized by Pakistan got safe asylum in Bangladesh. These are being revealed now and there are ample reasons to believe that her government was associated with such incidents. (vi) Party problem : At present Begum Khaleda is entangled in serious problem with her party. The party could not do the most essential "Council" in 16 years and she has recently requested for extension of time for the same.

CONCLUSION : In case Tipaimukh dam is constructed as per proper design and with due consideration of the interests and requirements of Bangladesh, then Bangladesh can be immensely benefitted from it. While the common people may think in this way, BNP, Begum Khaleda Zia's opposition party however, may think differently. They are aware that good achievement or success of the present government would push away the possibility of their win the future elections. So, it is natural that they would endeavour their best such that the present government cannot do anything praiseworthy. In such a situation only the future can say, whether this project would at all be materialized.

In the above issue, however, Bangladesh Awami League has committed the blunder at the very beginning by appointing one Hindu minister in the concerned ministry. They should have known that all the water related issues would have to be settled with India and a Hindu minister can never be the right choice for this job. Begum Khaleda, however, took full advantage of their mistake. The government should immediately appoint a Muslim minister in this position.

As mentioned earlier, Prime minister Sheikh Hasina disclosed that she was proposed to sell gas to outsiders in lieu of assistance in election. She added that she declined, while the other party agreed and got elected. This time, however, before any foreigner could approach Begum Khaleda Zia her she sent a letter to the prime minister of India explaining her position in this issue. Does she expect the "same old proposal" from that corner? By all means, what is taking place in Bangladesh with the issue of Tipaimukh project of India is purely political. From what we have explained in extremely simple language, even a child with good knowledge of science would understand that, if properly designed and commissioned with due consideration of the interests of Bangladesh, what this dam can do for this country is complete control over flood due to some rivers and to increase water level during the winter months, what the experts have reported long ago.

Bijon B. Sarma, Professor (on LPR), Khulna University, Khulna. Bangladesh.

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