Farming, ecology at stake
When built, the Tipaimukh dam will result in damage to Boro production in the Sylhet region, causing a loss of over Tk 1,000 crore a year, experts have said.
In addition, the dam would be disastrous for the riverine ecology and biodiversity of the region, according to environment impact assessment reports, including the Sixth Flood Action Plan (FAP), prepared by Bangladeshi experts.
A document titled "Comparison of discharge at Tipaimukh dam site (pre-dam and post-dam)" prepared by National Hydroelectric Power Company, India, shows water supply during lean season will increase from 282 to 537 cubic metres per second (cumec) at the India-Bangladesh border point after the construction of the dam.
Prepared in 2009 and officially handed over to Bangladesh parliamentarians, the document also shows the average discharge of water during the monsoon will decrease to 481 cumec from 854, which will improve the flood situation in the Sylhet region.
Bangladeshi experts, however, differ and say the 390m long and 162.8m high dam across the Barak River in the Indian state of Manipur will automatically release extra water after a certain level.
The flood control project will have an installation capacity of 1500 MW, documents show.
Gowher Rizvi and Mashiur Rahman -- advisers to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina -- went to India in December last year to inquire about the project. They, however, returned home with an offer from the Indian prime minister that India would like Bangladesh to become an equity partner in the project.
Contacted, eminent environmentalist Atiq Rahman said, “If India really wanted us to be an equity partner, they [India] should have involved us while designing the dam so that we could raise our concerns."
Even if Bangladesh accepts Indian's proposal of becoming a partner in the project and get a share of the electricity, it will not compensate for the agricultural and ecological damage the dam will spell on the country.
“The haor region grows about 180 lakh tonnes of Boro rice a year, nearly 10 percent of the country's total Boro production,” M Inamul Haq, former director general of Bangladesh Haor and Wetland Development Board, told The Daily Star.
A rise in the water level in winter will significantly reduce the extent of arable land there, he said.
The dam will block the drainage system of croplands in haor areas from December to February and lack of irrigation might hamper the Boro yield by at least Tk 1,000 crore per year, he added.
Boro rice is the single crop of the haor region.
“Increasing water flow in the rivers would not help the agriculture in the region. It would help if it were in the northern districts of the country,” said Inamul Haq.
The environment impact assessment part of the Sixth Flood Action Plan done in the 1980s says the dam will affect the ecology of the Sylhet region, including causing a change in crop patterns.
Also, sediment deposition in the channel and adjacent floodplains will adversely affect fisheries and navigation.
Similarly, a 1995 report prepared by the Water Development Board says the water flow in the rivers Meghna, Surma and Kushiara will decrease should India construct the dam.
Another survey on the potential impact of the project finds that 100 percent of the randomly selected people living in the haor region think the dam will cause environmental and economic damage.
Conducted by Anwar Hossain, programme officer of development organisation Action Aid, the survey was done among the people of Sylhet, Habiganj, Sunamganj, Kishoreganj and Moulvibazar.
Though India did not inform Bangladesh about forming a company that would construct the Tipaimukh dam, the Indian prime minister had offered to share all the information about the project with Bangladesh.
The former director general of Bangladesh Haor and Wetland Development Board said an independent committee should do an environment impact assessment before going for such construction.
However, the Indian government has conducted its own assessment. Bangladesh was excluded from the assessment.
Against this backdrop, the Bangladesh government has sent a list of experts for purposes of a visit to the site for an assessment, said sources in the water resources ministry yesterday.
Officials could not give a timeline for the visit but said it would happen soon.