A brief history of Tipaimukh: an analysis

- Wali-ur Rahman


Tipaimukh is in ChuraChandpur district of the Indian state of Manipur. The proposed Dam is to be constructed on the Barak River, 210 Km’s upstream of Bangladesh border. In the JRC meeting of June 1972, Bangladesh wanted a solution to control floods in Sylhet area. Portion of the minutes of JRC Meeting reads as follows: ‘The commission considered current flood situation in the eastern region and decided on a joint study group to immediately asses the flood situation in the Sylhet area in Bangladesh and Cachar and other adjoining areas in India and to formulate possible short term and long term measures for reducing the flood damage in this area.’Earlier the Krugg Mission visited us in 1956/57 and later on Hans Einstein (Albert’s son) also visited Sirajgonj, but nothing happened for this part of the country.

It may be mentioned here that the late Mr. BM Abbas AT, advisor to Ayub Khan, during the negotiations of the river Indus, Ayub Khan asked : ‘What could be done for East Pakistan with regard to the Farakka Barrage, which was in the process of  being built or the North eastern region of the Country. BM Abbas reportedly said : ‘Mr. President, the problem of East Pakistan is only flood water and inundation and nothing else.’ This reference is given to put things in perspective. Mr. Abbas continued to be the advisor of President Ziaur Rahman and President Ershad. The question of Tipaimukh project was again raised in 1978 in the JRC meeting. A part of the minutes is as follows : ‘with regard to the flood problem of Sylhet, Cachar and adjoining areas, the commission decided that

the concerned engineers of the two countries should jointly examine the scope of the Indian scheme of the storage dam by the Barak river at the Tipaimukh. They should study expeditiously potential flood control and other benefits in Bangladesh.’ The issue was again discussed in the 35th and the 36th JRC meetings in 2003 and 2005 respectively.

It is a hydroelectric multipurpose project to produce electricity and help in flood control. No barrage at Fulertala is proposed to be built, as the Indian Government has repeatedly assured the Bangladesh Government. Readers are requested to understand the difference between Barrage and Dam. A barrage can divert water for irrigation and other purposes, whereas a dam can’t do that. As the Indian government has informed the Bangladesh government, Tipaimukh project includes hydroelectric power generation, flood control and augmentation of water flows during the lean periods. The project is expected to benefit large stretches of flood plain and facilitate navigation in the non monsoon period of Bangladesh. In this connection I would like to draw the attention of an article by the former DG, Water Resources Planning Division, MA Kasem, published in the Prothom Alo (6th July 2009) : following the 1997 and 1988 inundations of Bangladesh, Flood Action Plan (FAP) were made and as many as 30 pilot studies were completed. Localand international experts participated in the studies. Under the FAP 6 studies North East Regional Water Management plan was prepared. In that plan on page 37, copious information has been given about the Tipaimukh project. These experts suggested : A. Dry season : In the dry season flow of water will be increased and the water level of river Barak at Amalshid, the water level of Surma and Kushiyara will increase in the month of February by 4.20 times on average. Total water flow will increas by 60% during dry season. And the water level as likely to increase by 5.5 feet. This increased level of water, in the dry season, will be helpful to irrigation, pisciculture and inland water transportation. B. In the monsoon season, the frequency of heavy floodings in the rivers Surma and Kushiyara will reduce. The peak flow report continues, in Amalsheed at the Indo Bangla border will reduce by 1/4th. In the same report the experts referred to the possibilities of earthquakes in the area. They concluded that ‘in today’s world with advanced technology, the fear of dam failure is almost reduced to zero because of the materials used in building the dam. But the report, however, suggested that allowances should be kept for earthquakes and operational failures. But such incidents are few and far between. These days even for building houses in Dhaka, allowances are being made  for possible earthquakes up to Richter scale 7. In the event of dam failure the ambient flood level will increase by 1 meter (3.14 feet). And the water might stay for 10 days or so. In the same report pages, 103-104, it has been emphasized that any investment to control water navigation upstream of Bangladesh would be in the interest of Bangladesh.’ Our national experts involved in the preparation of the report ‘inter alia’ were Dr. Ainun Nishat and Dr. Touhidul Anwar Khan.

We may remember in this connection that for the overall water management in Bangladesh, we had been talking about 7 reservoirs in Nepal in the past. Now the demand has come down to 3. To the best of my knowledge, India doesn’t disagree to the Bangladesh proposal. Time has now come for pursuing this project for increased availability of hydroelectric power and also overall water management in the region. If we oppose the Tipaimukh dam we should immediately think about Kaptai dam. True a large part has been submerged, true a considerable number of tribal people have been displace and inconvenienced, much to our regret. But we are getting 250-300 MW electricity per day. This power, is contributing to our economic development. But remember, no desertification has taken place in the region because of this dam.

In the past 2 weeks, two contributions appeared in the weekly Courier on Tipaimukh dam. Both are useful. But instead of a holistic approach, the articles may have taken a narrow view on the issue. Instead of bringing in Manipur and Mijoram in our national debate, we would rather concentrate on the effects on Bangladesh. Manipur and Mijoran can be taken care of by India.

When we know that truck loads of arms have been in the past transitted through Bangladesh to the IIGS in India, we tend to keep mum. When heinous murders are  committed, killing Kibria and Ahsanullah Master, we don’t act; rather the BNP Government brought in extraneous issues and blamed the AL Government for those murders! When the opposition leader Sheikh Hasina was targeted to be killed (20 were killed including the wife of President Zillur Rahman), BNP Government framed one Judge Miah from Barisal as the main accused! Now Mufti Hannan has bared warts and all. Reference has been made in one article about the UN convention on the law of the non-navigational usage of the international watercourses adopted in the UNGA in 1997. Neither Bangladesh nor India have signed or ratified the convention. But that is not the point. Regardless of not ratifying the convention, Bangladesh has signed the GWT on December 12, 1996 guaranteeing 30 years of uninterrupted flow of water at Farakka. Till today, schedule II has been scrupulously followed by two countries. In May of this year, while we received about 32890 cusecs we could use only 1700 cusecs for GK projects. Rest of the water went down to the sea. That’s the reason why Govt. of Bangladesh decided to build a barrage on the Ganges for better management of the water. The shoals and silts on the Padma is entirely due to absence of capital dredging. Look at Gorai, AL Govt dredged two third of the river, with one thirds left when they lost election in 2001. The BNP having come to power didn’t dredge the rest and the amount of Taka 1 Crore 67 Lac went abegging. The result was that the entire Gorai river was silted up to status quo ante.

Contrary to the author’s remarks Japan has built 50000 dams, which is the most earthquake prone area in the world, China 30000, India 4000 and US 4000 dams. Not long ago, China has built 3 Gorges dam on Yangtze river producing 27,400 MW power.
What we need today is a meeting at the highest level. The technical experts can meet after the two PM’s meeting. India is ready to negotiate with us. During Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni’s visit to India along with PM’s advisor Mr. HT Imam, Indian Foreign Minister and Finance Minister have both assured us that the Govt of India will not do anything nor will they plan anything which will be harmful to Bangladesh. I am pretty sure that the assurances notwithstanding, the naysayers will continue agiatating against a non-issue : because they have no issue at hand to put spanner in the works. Nation has not forgotten the kneejerk reaction of BNP-jamat leaders before the GWT (Dec 12, 1996) and CHT Accord (jan 2, 1997) and their vows to repeal and renounce the agreements and renegotiating the treaties once they come to power. Low and behold after 2001 October, the BNP-Jamat did not only not renounce the agreements, they started doing business with India as usual. Because they knew that anti-India politics may sound like music to their ears, but what AL did was the best possible agreements that any Govt could negotiate.

We have to remember that India and Bangladesh has a long history of relationship including their historic support to Bangladesh in 1971, during our glorious war of liberation. Besides, a rising economic superpower by 2030 as the Golman Sachs reports, Bangladesh should bring into play its diplomatic virtuosity and negotiate with India on all the issues including border management, water management, transit with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Asian Highway along with TAR to the mutual benefit of the two countries and the region. Remember what Henry John Temple, III Viscount Palmerston said : ‘Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.’
Instead of agitation BNP-Jamat should have come to the Parliament and raised these issues to lend more credibility to their arguments. But that is not be. They boycotted the Parliament on a flimsy issue of one ‘extra’ seat or Begum Zia’s sprawling house in the cantonment, which are not national issues at all. Joint agreement with Carter is still crying in the wilderness; and Lord Bryce or John Bright or John Garrat’s bodies are turning in their graves at the boycott, because no arguements or protestation can justify BNp boycott of the Parliament. The boycott is not a mistake, it is a blunder. They must rethink the strategy and return to the parliament and give the nation its due.

Concluding remarks : Our approach should be neither maximalist nor minimalist. It should be based on our best national interest. As Cromwell once said rather metaphorically,  ‘pray to God, but the powder dry!’ And for that the opposition should join hand with the government and help the country reach a win-win situation.

(Wali-ur Rahman: Former Secretary, GoB. Can be reached at wali.heritage@yahoo.com)


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