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Tipaimukh Dam

Tipaimukh Dam is not an isolated project; it is part of a comprehensive plan regarding use of rivers that India shares with Bangladesh, and hence needs to be viewed in the broader context of sharing of international rivers by these two countries;

 

2. In general India has been using its upper riparian position and its economic and financial strength to take unilateral steps with regard to the flow of these international rivers;

 

3. Most of these unilateral steps have been of diversionary character, diverting the flow of water to other destinations inside India and thus reducing the flow of water into the rivers of Bangladesh. Glaring example of such diversionary interventions are the Farakka Barrage on the Ganges and the Gozaldoba Barrages on the Teesta. The Farakka diversion has drastically reduced the flow of Padma, drying up south-western Bangladesh. Gozaldoba barrages on the other hand have drastically reduced the flow of Teesta in Bangladesh;

 

4. The diversionary projects of India go against the international norms regarding sharing of international rivers. In particular they violate Bangladeshís right to prior and customary use of the river water. The entire economy and life in Bangladesh have evolved on the basis of the rivers. Any major change in the volume and direction of flow of these rivers seriously disrupt the economy and livelihood in Bangladesh;

 

5. There is a pent up emotion among Bangladesh public against Indiaís unilateral river intervention projects. They perceive Farakka as unjust. Similarly, they perceive Gozaldoba and other intervention projects as unjust and as proof of Indiaís hubris. These unilateral river intervention projects are a thorn in the Bangladesh-India bilateral relationship, which should be not only good neighborly and mutually beneficial, but also particularly warm given Indiaís crucial help in Bangladeshís Liberation War;

 

6. After many years of hiatus, in 1996 Bangladesh and India signed the Ganges Water Treaty specifying the sharing of the Ganges water at Farakka. Though Article 10 (?) of this Treaty enjoins India not to undertake intervention project in international rivers unilaterally, India in practice has not shown much respect to this provision of the Treaty. Instead, it is proceeding on a more or less unilateral basis with many major intervention projects in rivers shared by Bangladesh.

 

7. Tipai is one such unilateral intervention project to be undertaken on the Barak river that flows into Bangladesh from India. Not only that India did not seekBangladeshís consent and cooperation at the stage of conception and designing of this project, it went all the way to floating international tender inviting bids for construction of the project without sharing the DPR (Detailed Project Report). Only now (in May 2009), when the news of construction of Tipai has generated a lot of civic protest in Bangladesh, the Government of India (GoI) has apparently sent to Bangladesh foreign ministry some information about Tipai;

 

8. The Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has proved to be ineffective in dealing with India with regard to Tipai, as it is generally true with regard to sharing of rivers in general. The GoB did not take up the Tipai issue seriously with India in time. The parties who are in opposition now did not play their expected role when they were in power during 2001-2006, the period when India moved Tipai from conception to implementation stage;

 

9. Even now, various ministers are giving out contradictory messages, with the water minister often saying that Tipai can be beneficial for Bangladesh. When the Prime Minister has told that Bangladesh reserves its right to express opinion on Tipai on the basis of the finding of the fact finding mission of the Bangladesh Parliamentary delegation, such preemptive statements on the part of the water minister are not warranted. The government is yet to make public the information on Tipai that it has received from India

 

10. The GoB has decided to send an all Party delegation to visit Tipai site, look into all the information, and make recommendation;

 

11. There is the possibility that the Tipai dam with its reservoir can be helpful in stabilizing the Barak flow across seasons, as has been pointed out by some water experts and also has been the basis for water ministerís statements. However

 

First, Bangladesh does not yet have the necessary facts to assess the changes in Barak flow that Tipai will bring about.

 

Second, dams can also be a source of destabilization of river flow, not only in the extreme situation of dam break, but in the often recurring situation when the excess water needs to be released in order to protect the Dam leading to unseasonal floods or floods of unusual depth and extent. For example, the unusual 2008 floods in Bihar were caused by such release of water by the dams that India has constructed in the Ganges tributaries near the border with Nepal.

 

Third, rivers not only bring water, they also bring in sediments, and sedimentation is an important part of Bangladesh as a delta. One major impact of Tipai will be on the sediment volume of the Barak flow, and this impact is likely to be detrimental for Bangladesh.

 

Fourth, for Bangladesh to benefit from stabilization of Barak flow, it has to have a say or control over the release of water at Tipai. In other words Tipai should then be put under joint control of India and Bangladesh. As of now, Tipai will be totally under Indian control and the water release decisions will be made by India on a unilateral basis. Hence, Bangladesh will be always at the mercy of Indians operating the sluice gates at Tipai. Such a helpless situation is not in Bangladeshís interests.

 

Fifth, Bangladesh has to assess the costs and benefits for her economy the seasonal changes in the Barak flow that Tipai will bring about. For example, current Boro is the main crop for many in the Surma-Kushiara basin. It is cultivated in the haors or other low lying areas which become dry due to the low winter flows of the rivers. If now the low winter flows increase due to Tipai, cultivation of Boro may become impossible in many areas, disrupting the economy and livelihood. Will these losses be offset by gains in other respects? Studies are needed to answer these questions.

 

Sixth, apart from economy there is the issue of ecology to consider. The ecology, flora, and fauna of the Surma-Kushiara basin have developed on the basis of a certain seasonal pattern of the river flow, and this is going to get disrupted by major changes in the flow. Detailed studies are necessary to gauge the impact.

 

All these reasons cast considerable doubt about the arguments favoring Tipai on the basis of its potential to stabilize Barak flow across seasons.

 

12. Tipai project cannot be separated from the other project in the offing, namely the Fulertal barrage project, meant to divert Barak water for irrigation of Kachar area inAssam. The fact that Tipai will cost about $1.8 billion making the cost of per unit power generated irrational. Such irrational expenditure can be justified only if Tipai is viewed jointly with water diversionary project at Fulertal or some other point. Combined with such diversionary project, Tipai is completely unacceptable to Bangladesh. In such combination, Tipai-Fulertal will be a repetition of Farakka only now on the eastern border of Bangladesh.

 

13. Worldwide experience shows that large scale interventions in the volume and direction of river flows do not prove to be beneficial in the long run. The hydro power generated often proves meager and costly. The irrigation carried out proves wasteful and leads to salinity and deterioration of soil. Meanwhile, the reservoir submerges huge amount of land, destroying the ecology and displacing thousands of (often most vulnerable and adibashi) people, destroying their culture, causing permanent problems of alienation and insurgency. The reservoir also becomes a sources of methane undercutting the emission reducing potentiality of hydro-power generated. Dams also destroy the natural rhythm of the river flow, obstructs the free movement fish stock movement, obstructs the sediment flow. Finally while these damages prove to the permanent the dams themselves expire their life, become obsolete due to sedimentation and filling up of the reservoir, etc. The reservoir and the upstream flow becomes a cesspool of pollution. The diversionary projects end up harming not only the basin from which water is withdrawn but also the basin or area to which water is redirected and transported (at a great cost). The experiences of Amy Darya and Syr Darya are examples. In view of all these negative consequences BEN is skeptical about Dams, barrages and other large scale river intervention projects. BEN is therefore skeptical about the long term utility of Tipai too (even for India).

 

14. Many in India are opposed to Tipai. NEEPCO has been able to purchase the consent of state government by offering various ďbribes.Ē But many continue to oppose.

 

15. Worldwide there is a move away from the Commercial Approach to river that degrades and destroys rivers, increases conflict and animosity among countries of the river basin, and a move towards the Ecological Approach that preserves the natural volume and direction of river flow and helps to foster friendly neighborly relationship among the countries of the river basin. Instead of being a source of discord, as the case with the Commercial Approach, rivers under Ecological Approach become a bond of friendship and good neighborliness.

 

16. World wide there is a move away from unilateral approach toward multilateral, basin wide approach that includes all countries of a river basin in decision making regarding the use of the river.

 

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Message body

There has been a lot of discussion and debate about the potential impacts of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam on economy and environment of Bangladesh in general and on haor region in particular.  For the lack of field-based data and paucity of cooperation between India and Bangladesh on information about the project, it is difficult to make sound judgment on the impact of this project.  However, based on other experience and track record on impacts of large dams on environment and ecosystem in downstream region some inferences can be made.  The following points about potential negative impacts of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam on downstream region in Bangladesh have been formulated based on hydrologic theory and published information in the electronic and press media.

(1).  Tipaimukh is not the only dam in preparation, there are many (at least 72 in NE India) and Bangladesh Govt. need to negotiate a long term integrated water resources management (IWRM) plan with India, where all studies are conducted as a joint venture project before any of these dams or diversionary projects will be implemented - not after the fact, as is the case for Tipaimukh Dam. 

(2).  The dam will retain about 15 billion cubic meter 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 is completely unacceptable to Bangladesh that India will have unilateral control over 31% of the water in a shared river.

(3).  Many people (Gawhar Rizvi, Water Minister Ramesh Shil, Dipu Moni, etc.) in the government claim that they have all the necessary information on Tipaimukh Dam and Indian government (including Monmohon Singh) reassured them on numerous occasion that they (India) will not do anything to harm Bangladesh.  This logic is unacceptable for many reasons:
(a).  India should not decide what is good for Bangladesh and her people without taking them in confidence.  If India's intension was to help Bangladesh then they would have studied all environmental and economic  impacts jointly with Bangladesh before initiating this project.
(b).  India did not even inform Bangladesh about this project before they signed an agreement on Oct. 24, 2011.  They are in clear violation of all laws, policies, and agreement that are practiced on shared (international rivers).  The article IX in the Ganges Treaty clearly demands such co-operation and prior consent from all stakeholders.  If Bangladeshi news media did not raise this issue, then India would not even bother to mention it to anyone (including the government) about the project.
(c).  Indian government has issued the environmental clearance certificate on December 3 and they are going ahead with the project despite serious objections from Bangladesh and Indian environmental groups (as well as indigenous people in Monipur and Mizoram).  In their environmental analysis, they never carryout out any environmental study in Bangladesh, especially in the Haor region to understand the natural ecosystem that exist and depend on natural flow of water in Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna it their numerous branches.  How can India assume (without any study in Bangladesh) that they will not cause any harm to environment and ecosystem in downstream region in Bangladesh?  This assumption is not based on science - it is pure guessing game.  How can 40 million people living in Haor regions of greater Sylhet and Mymensingh rely on Indian assurance that is not based on any scientific study?

(4).  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 is a flawed logic because: 
(a).  They will have to fill up the reservoir that holds 15 billion cubic meters (BCM) of water, out of which about 8 BCM will be dead storage (i.e. will remain behind the dam permanently to maintain needed pressure to run turbines.  If this 8 BCM water is released over 365 days in a year then it amounts to about 17000 cusec, which is a huge amount in dry season.  As result of the dam, the flow characteristics and water release schedule each day will be different from what it was before the dam.  Now the question is, how do anyone in Bangladesh know what that water release schedule will be after the dam is completed?  No one in Bangladesh (maybe even in India) really knows how much water will be released on a daily basis.  Can the Haor people live with this uncertainty to grow their crops?  The answer is obviously NO.
(b) the life, livelihood and ecosystems in Haor region has established an equilibrium with natural flow of the rivers, and farmers prepare their field in harmony with this natural flow regime.  Now, if this natural flow regime is altered then farmers will not be able to prepare their land for Boro cultivation on time and the whole agricultural production may be jeopardized.  On the other hand, if India release way too much water in dry season then farmers will not have access to their land since these lands will be under unusual water.  In the rainy season, the opposite may happen.  If the dam completely full, then they will release water at their own will to save the dam.  One can argue that there are Indian people in downstream region in Assam, Nagaland, and Monipur and India will not release extra water to cause flooding for them.  It might be true, but we will not know the extent of flooding in India and how many people will be affected if no joint venture research is do!
ne.  Besides, Indian government can make plan to remove their own people beforehand because they will make the decision about water release beforehand, which they may or may not share with Bangladesh.
    
(5) India has offered Bangladesh to invest in the project and to buy electricity from the project, which is not acceptable on the following counts:
(a).  If India was serious about a joint venture project then they would not sign an agreement with three Indian entity and set a deadline of 87 months for completion of the project.  They would not issue the environmental clearance with involving environmental study in Bangladesh first.  So, they are just doing the lip service - they are not serious about any joint venture project.
(b).  There is no treaty between India and Bangladesh about joint management of water resources in Barak-Surma-Kushiyara.  If even Bangladesh invest money in the project, India will decide unilaterally how much water they will release and when.
(c).  Since Barak-Surma-Kushiyara is an international river, Bangladesh don't have to pay for electricity, India should provide a fair share to Bangladesh for free as they agreed to provide some electricity to Monipur for free.  More importantly, Bangladesh should find other means to produce electricity - not by destroying the agriculture and ecosystem in the haor region.

(6).  Gawhor Rizvi recently (December 12) wrote that since the Tipaimukh Dam is 140 miles away from Bangladesh border its impact will be minimal on Bangladesh.  The truth couldn't be far from this.  Barak-Surma-Kushiyara is a continuous river and it empties in Bay of Bengal through Meghna. Therefore any interference with water flow will be felt all the way to 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, drying up of Gorai and other rivers in SW Bangladesh is a documented fact.  A similar situation will happen in the greater Mymensingh and Sylhet districts should water is diverted from Barak through any dam (such as the proposed Fulertal Barrage in Assam).  Salinity will encroach up the Meghna-Kalini-Kushiyara-Surma-Gorautra rivers, impacting agriculture and fisheries in parts of Habiganj, Kishoreganj, Netrokona, Sunamganj, Sylhet districts.

(7).  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, and if even they do have a tentative schedule then it is not clear when and how they shared it with Bangladeshi authority.  Therefore the FAP-6 is carried out based on many assumptions, which may or may not be true assumptions.  In fact. Dr. Ainun Nishat (who was involved in the FAP-6 study) clearly admitted that their study was done based on many unknowns and assumptions.
(b). As mentioned before, any departure from natural flow regime will mean adjustment for farmers and fishermen in the Haor region in terms of their preparation of fields, planting of seeds, and harvesting the crops.  There is no guarantee that this disturbance in natural flow will bring positive feedback for the Haor region.  Most importantly, the people of Bangladesh will have to rely on the mercy and decision of Indian authority for the fair share or necessary amount of water needed for their life and livelihood.  The natural flow of the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna should be warranted for well being of the people and existence of Bengal delta which has been fed by water and sediments of Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system during its entire existence throughout the geologic time.


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Q:    Why are people in Bangladesh upset about the India's construction of the Tipaimukh Dam.

A:    Because the dam is on the Barak-Surma-Kushiyara river, which goes

 

 

 

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