Confluence claims unity

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Anti-dam activists in Bangladesh and India have come together to protest against the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur, reports Teresa Rehman

Damming evidence Villagers protesting against the proposed Tipaimukh dam in Manipur
Damming evidence Villagers protesting against the proposed Tipaimukh dam in Manipur

IN MANIPUR’S HMAR dialect, the name for Tipaimukh is ‘Ruonglevaisuo’, meaning ‘the confluence of two rivers’. The two-decade-long struggle against the proposed 1,500 MW Tipaimukh dam project, to be located 500 metres downstream of the confluence of the rivers Trivia and Barak, in Manipur’s Churachandpur district has brought about another union – that of anti-dam activists of India and Bangladesh. Activists from both countries, who are regularly in touch through emails and meetings held in Bangladesh, are extremely sceptical of the visit made to the controversial crossborder site by a 10-member Bangla deshi delegation of lawmakers and water resources experts in July this year.

According to activists, this first-time visit to the dam site by a Bangladesh team could become a turning point. If construed as a green signal for the dam from the Bangladesh side, it could overturn the long-drawn people’s movement against the dam. Activists from both countries came together at the National Tipaimukh Dam Conference (NTDC) organised in Bangladesh this year by an environmental NGO called the Angikar Bangladesh Foundation and are now planning a concerted effort to fight the 163 metre high dam.

“Ecology doesn’t observe national boundaries. Pakistan and India haven’t abrogated the 1960 Indus Treaty despite three wars,” says Darryl D’Monte, Presi – dent, International Federation of Envi – ronmental Journalists. Commending activists who are planning to form a joint co-ordinating committee to oppose the Tipaimukh project, D’Monte says, “It makes great sense for environmentalists to join hands across borders — something that politicians seem incapable of doing, because they always see opposing, rather than common, interests”.

The project will take 12 years to complete and will submerge 309 sq km of land

Ramananda Wangkheirakpam, a coordinator of the Manipur-based Citizen’s Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD) told TEHELKA that activists’ main worry is that the two countries may come to a hurried water-and-powersharing pact, without taking into account the real issues: reduced water flow in the Barak river, destruction of wetlands and farmlands, increased seismicity and destruction of tribal territories in Manipur.

“We would like to meet the team from Bangladesh and apprise them of what is happening to other rivers in the Northeast,” says Wangkheirakpam. Identified as India’s ‘future powerhouse’, the Northeast is the site of 168 proposed large dams, with a cumulative capacity of 63,328 MW.

Activists in Bangladesh draw lessons from the disastrous effect of the Farakka Barrage, built in 1974. Bangladeshi activist Habib Siddiqui refers to the November 1999 Report made by the South Asian Network on Dams, River and People to the World Commission on Dams, which has details about the massive damage the Barrage caused in Malda upstream and Murshidabad downstream.

Siddiqui feels that while the initiative to send a delegation is encouraging, it would have better if it included some technical experts as well as members of the opposition party, the BNP. Siddiqui told TEHELKA, “If this dam is constructed, Bangladesh’s ecology, agriculture and environment will be severely affected. It must be resisted.”

Meanwhile, the project has changed hands yet again. On July 15, the Centre replaced power giant North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) with the National Hydro-electric Power Corporation (NHPC) as the implementing agency. The project will now be a joint venture between NHPC (69 per cent), the Shimla-based Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (26 per cent) and the Manipur Government (5 per cent). Earlier with the Brahmaputra Board, the project was awarded to NEEPCO in January 2003.

The proposed mega-dam will be the largest hydroelectric project in Eastern India. The project will have a 6 X 250 MW powerhouse. It will take at least 12 years to complete and will submerge 309 sq. km of land. Its consequences have alarmed anti-dam activists. Wangkheirakpam is firm, “We want the project scrapped.”

Activist mohammad Hilaluddin of Angikar thinks that the Bangladesh delegation’s visit highlights the complexity of Bangladesh-India relations. “In April 2009, the Indian foreign secretary visited Bangladesh, which was then reeling from the BDR mutiny and pushed the contentious issue of the Tipaimukh dam construction upon the newly-elected government,” he says. The dam-building madness prevailing in the policy-making centres of China and India, says Hilaluddin, must be replaced by collective efforts to prevent a water war.

teresa@tehelka.com

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