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TipaimukhIndia’s unilateral decision to construct Tipaimukh Dam on an international river caused uproar of criticism both in Bangladesh and India. There have been a lot of discussion and debate about the potential impacts of the proposed dam on the economy and environment of Bangladesh in general, and on the haor region in particular. This debate has intensified following publication of an article by Adviser Gawher Rizvi in two dailies in early December of 2011 in which he called for a science-based analysis of the proposed project and its potential impact on Bangladesh.  A series of articles/talk shows were published/held in various news media in Bangladesh following the plea by the adviser. Various political parties and civil society organizations have been very critical of the Indian decision to build this massive structure on the Barak River.

Apparently, taking heed into such a wide-spread opposition and apprehension against the dam, both the governments of Bangladesh and India have announced to carry out a joint assessment of potential impacts of the dam on the environment and ecosystems in months to come.  An expert committee has been formed in Bangladesh with 10 members representing various government-run organizations.

Recently, during a visit by the Indian minister, Jairam Ramesh, announced that the joint experts group will meet on August 27 in New Delhi to discuss the concern.  The composition of the Indian expert team has not been made public yet.  Although higher authority in the Indian government has maintained that they will not do anything that will harm the interest of Bangladesh.  In this backdrop, it is expected that in dealing with the Indian counterparts the members of the Bangladesh expert committee will keep the following points in mind and should demand documentation from Indian authority to substantiate the promises made by them at various occasions.

The Tipaimukh Dam is designed to retain 15 billion cubic meters (BCM) of water at peak level, which is about 31% of the total flow of water that enters Bangladesh through Barak into Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna rivers.  Therefore, it cannot be acceptable by Bangladesh that India will have unilateral control over 31% of the water in a shared river unless there is treaty with guarantee clauses that ensure integrated water resources management plan that will protect the interest of all stakeholders in basin.  Indian government has already issued the environmental clearance certificate on October 24, 2008, and they are moving forward with the project despite serious concerns raised by Bangladesh and Indian environmental groups, as well as the indigenous people in Monipur and Mizoram.  In their environmental analysis, India never carried out any study inside Bangladesh, especially in the haor region to study the ecosystems that exist and depend on natural flow in Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna rivers and their numerous tributaries.  It is expected that the joint expert committee will share historic data on river-flow at various locations along the basin and will study the ecosystems in the haor region during varied hydrologic and climatic conditions.

India claims that the Tipaimukh Dam is a run-of-the-river project and no water will be diverted for irrigation, and therefore, no harm will be done to Bangladesh.  This argument should be challenged on the following grounds: (a) India will have to fill up the reservoir that holds 15 BCM of water, out of which about 8 BCM will be dead storage.  If this 8 BCM water is released over 365 days in a year then it amounts to about 9,000 cusec, which is a huge amount for the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna  rivers in dry season.  As result of the dam, the flow characteristics will be different as compared to the flow that existed prior to the dam.  What will be the basis of daily discharges from the dam?  Will the discharge decision be made jointly? If not, can the haor people live with this uncertainty to grow their crops? (b) The life, livelihood, and ecosystems in haor region have established an equilibrium with the natural flow of the rivers, and the farmers prepare their field in harmony with this natural flow regime.  How will the boro cultivation and other ways of haor life will be affected?

Will India be prepared to discard the planning of the dam should the findings by the joint expert committee do not favour construction of the dam?

India has offered Bangladesh to invest in the hydro-electric project. This proposal should be vetted on the following counts: (a) Three Indian entity have already signed a joint venture project with a deadline of 87 months for completion of the project.  What will happen to this agreement and the environmental clearance that are already in place? (b) There is no treaty between India and Bangladesh about joint management of water resources in Barak-Surma-Kushiyara basin.  If Bangladesh invests money in the project, will India decide unilaterally how much water they will release and when they will release it, or will there be fresh agreement about the ownership of the project? (c) Since the Barak-Surma-Kushiyara is an international river system, Bangladesh should not pay for electricity, India should provide a fair share to Bangladesh for free as they agreed to do so for free for Manipur State as a stakeholder.  Similarly, will India provide an equitable share of electricity to Bangladesh for free?

Adviser Gawher Rizvi argued that since the Tipaimukh Dam is 140 miles away from the Bangladesh border its impact will be minimal on Bangladesh.  The truth couldn’t be far from this.  Barak-Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna is a continuous river system that empties in the Bay of Bengal. Therefore, any interference with the water-flow will be felt all the way to the Bay of Bengal.  For example, the Farakka Barrage is over 100 miles from the shoreline in Bangladesh, but its negative impacts on the salinity intrusion and the water level in the Gorai and other rivers in SW Bangladesh are documented facts.  A similar situation is likely to occur in the greater Mymensingh and Sylhet districts should the water is diverted from Barak River through any barrage (such as the proposed Phulertal Barrage in Assam).  Salinity will likely encroach up the Meghna-Kalini-Kushiyara-Surma-Gorautra rivers farther inland, impacting the agriculture and fisheries in parts of Habiganj, Kishoreganj, Netrokona, Sunamganj, Sylhet districts.  What kind of computer simulation model will they run to make sure that salinity intrusion will not intensify in Bangladesh following the dam?

As a part of FAP-6 study, it was concluded that if the Tipaimukh Dam is completed then the flow in Bangladesh will increase in summer months and will decrease in rainy season.  This finding is questionable on the following accounts: (a) Since India has not completed the dam they don’t have any water-release schedule yet. The conclusions in FAP-6 are based on many assumptions, which may or may not be true.  In fact, one of the researchers involved in FAP-6, Ainun Nishat, admitted that their study was done based on many unknowns and assumptions; (b) As mentioned before, any departure from the natural flow will mean adjustments for farmers and fishermen in terms of the timing for preparation of agricultural fields, planting of seeds, and harvesting the crops.  Most importantly, without a joint ownership of the project, the people of Bangladesh will have to rely on the mercy and decision of the Indian authority for their fair share of water.

In essence, only the natural flow in the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna river system can assure the well-being of the life and livelihood of the people and the environment.  Anything less than the natural flow will mean a compromise for the environment and ecosystems in the haor region of Bangladesh.

Md. Khalequzzaman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Geology, Lock Haven University, USA.

8 Responses to “Expectations from the Joint Experts Group on Tipaimukh Dam”

  1. Barry

    There’s no alternative to joint discussion between India and Bangladesh as regards Tipaimukh Dam.

  2. Akram Ullah

    Like the article, the comments by the readers are also very valuable. Those in power must read this piece and pay heed to what’s been demanded in it.

  3. AK Shamsuddin

    India’s Farakka barrage, Teesta diversion, Tipaimukh dam and proposed NRLP (National River Linking Project) to divert flow of Bramahputra are tied in one string. It is to reap maximum benefit through unilateral use of transboundary Himalayan rivers. India can also use them as a political tool against its neighbour.

    As far as Tipaimukh is concerned, India’s assertion of labelling it as a Run of the River project (ROR) is misleading. A ROR is generally considered as a small hydel project with a maximum capacity of 100 or so megawatts without any ponding or storage. Proposed diversion of Barak at Phulertal can not be ruled out in the future either. Therefore, as far as Bangladesh is concerned this dam is going to cause known and unknown sufferings for the people of Sylhet area in particular and in the lower Meghna basin in general.

  4. Albelee Haque, CLP

    Per the expectation of Prof. Khalequzzaman, the joint experts group may benefit from being open-minded and examining the downside of mega dam projects from a global/historic perspective. Reservoir and river water quality above/below dams (that are responsible for high nutrients proliferating algal toxins like microcystins, cylindrospermopsin under warmer weather condition) and natural stream flow requirements for sustainability are matters of grave public health concerns nowadays.

    Rippey et al. (1997) indicated that lakes with water residence time about 1 year could be more susceptible to fast eutrophication due to dry climate and sudden increases in the rate of internal phosphorus (nutrient) release. Sedimentation of phosphorus is accelerated by dams and could be a precursor for toxin-production later in a reservoir (Makhera et al. 2011). Aquatic toxin management and fisheries protection call for low impact dam removal or eco-hydrological operation in many parts of the world.

    Innovation and eco-hydrological operation of dams can help with spawning/cold water fisheries. Conversely, very large dams may change water temperatures or isolate the main channel from floodplain (Poff and Hart 2002). Socially adaptive rethinking, socio-psychological impact study of raising dams and efforts to offset fisheries impact/habitat loss are admirable.

    Unilateral project decisions by India or operation of mega hydropower dams (e.g., Tipaimukh dam) without considering basic water right of downstream human population and aquatic ecosystem can hurt both Indian and Bangladeshi taxpayers and only worsen the widespread malnutrition problem afflicting innocent children in south Asia. Note: An overwhelming 40% children in India are malnourished; dams are barriers to fish passage, spawning and natural biodiversity. Extinction of a socially important fish species is not in anyone’s best interest!!! Right?

    USDA NRCS link – http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1046665.pdfNRCS talks about transfer of technology and computerized irrigation scheduling using Irrigator Pro Software –

    “every inch of water saved on 53,000 acres is a savings of more than 1.4 billion gallons of water; if half is pumped with electricity and half with diesel, the energy cost savings per inch of water saved is approximately $290,000”.

    Furthermore self-assessment tools to reevaluate energy use/renewable energy potential may negate any necessity of the foolhardy Tipaimukh dam construction (reservoir-induced climate warming gas emissions/water vapor in the atmosphere is of serious concern to some scientists) — “The tools for evaluating renewable energy potential include assessments of biogas, biomass, solar photovoltaics, solar water heating, water pumping, and wind. The tools..maintained by the University of Wisconsin on an external Web site and will be transferred to a USDA server in 2013”.

    What’s not acceptable for Bangladesh cannot be good for India.

  5. Syed Imtiaz Ali

    Sorry to say, Gawhar Rizvi is NO expert in such hydro-projects or geological issues. He is purely a history teacher and foreign policy expert.

    Only those who have the required training and understanding of such projects must be BD team members to Tipaimukh joint discussion. If required let the BD Govt invite our experts abroad and join local members.

    Let politics be kept aside and a fact-based decision taken by both the Govts.

    In such crucial, national survival issues only facts are FACTS and nothing else, no verbal assurances will have any place.

    I wish all participants on both sides will base every aspect on facts alone and nothing else.

    How is the river flows ‘shared’ in Europe? If they are using the resources sane fully and gain fully, why are we not doing so?

    I hope along with so many other PLEAS and more quantitatively analyzed postings, this write-up also have some impact on our joint talks and findings.

  6. russel

    Well articulated piece from the writer. I hope Bangladesh’s expert committee members will keep it in their mind that they are the “HOPE” of Bangladesh people. So they should be well prepared and concerned over the controversial issue. I wish them all the success.

  7. Kalam Ahmed

    Advisor Gawhar Rizvi thinks the people of Bangladesh are stupid since he calculates they will swallow anything he makes up regarding the dams. During the time he has held foreign policy advisory post he has never gotten public support for any of his position. Even political figures from Menon to Ershad have said that they find it mysterious as to why this advisor always supports Indian positions while being paid by Bangladeshi taxpayers. Now Professor Khalequzzaman in his article strongly has shown how Gawhar Rizvi is wrong in his basic thinking about the dams.

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