Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Tipaimukh Dam

Neepco has received the go-ahead from the Indian central government to build the dam at Tipaimukh on the Barak River. But this is an international river and the source of the 350-kilometer-long Surma and 110-km-long Kushiara rivers and the lifeline of Bangladesh's north-eastern region. A diversion barrage, including an irrigation project, is to be built downstream of the dam at Fulertol in Lakhipur in Assam. The 1,500-megawatt Tipaimukh hydroelectric project located 500 metres downstream of the confluence of the Tuivai and Barak Rivers in Manipur, near the Manipur-Mizoram border, will be one of the largest in India.

When our environment and agriculture experts are saying this is a catastrophe waiting to happen we should pay attention because the dam will heavily reduce and dry up Surma and Kushiara in winter and trigger river erosion and flood in the rainy season, displacing thousands of people of greater Sylhet. The dam will also affect the Meghna River and turn Bangladesh's mid-east and north-eastern regions into desert. Water and agriculture experts said Tipaimukh will create a severe water crisis in Bangladesh's north-eastern region turning vast arable farm land into arid land, greatly affecting agriculture and threatening food security.

Initially proposed in 1954 to reduce annual flooding, the Indian Central Water Commission presented a report in 1984 that was turned down because it didn’t have a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA). The EIA was completed twenty years later but the report was never shared with Bangladesh. Now that the go-ahead has been given to Neepco, it is a serious political issue and unless someone knowledgeable is prepared to face this head-on and try to work out an integrated solution, things will soon start to become worse. Problems like this are already dragging Bangladesh into severe environmental and economic crises and if this one is not resolved immediately, the nation could be crippled.

For more than four decades the people of Bangladesh have experienced numerous environmental disasters due to the construction of dams/barrages on the Ganges, Teesta and some other common rivers. Before their construction and commissioning the magnitude of the problem did not reveal itself, but now, with knowledge gained from hindsight, we know well what can happen. The Farakka Barrage is the direst example that comes to mind because, though India managed to write an EIA that identified the effects on the Ganges River, the evaluation went only as far as the site of the Farakka Barrage.  After that – nothing.  As far as our neighbouring country was concerned, Bangladesh did not exist!