Joint group's first meeting in Delhi today
The Bangladesh-India joint sub group on the proposed Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Project on the Barak river sits for the first time today in New Delhi in a bid to work out the terms of reference (ToR) over a joint study of the dam's impacts.
Though Delhi has not conducted any impact studies, it has been assuring Dhaka that the dam would not cause any harm to downstream Bangladesh. That view, however, is in contrast to how local experts see the issue.
Ministry of Water Resources sources say an 11-member team of Bangladesh led by Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) member Mir Sajjad Hussain left for New Delhi yesterday.
The Bangladesh team was formed on February 29 this year.
Debendra Sharma, a member of the JRC, India, is expected to lead the Indian team, officials say.
India intends to build the dam at Tipaimukh on the tri-junction of Assam, Manipur and Mizoram. It expects the dam to generate not only 1,500 MW of power but also retain 16.8 lakh cusecs of water that hits the Barak valley annually and causes flash floods.
Two major rivers -- the Surma and the Kushiara -- are fed by the Barak river. Experts fear the dam will affect both the rivers and the surrounding ecology and agricultural pattern adversely though the dam site is 100 km away from the Bangladesh border.
While assessing the impacts of the dam, the joint team will examine the location of the dam and its relation with the seismic zone, impact on the catchment areas and upper reaches as well as downstream habitations, flora and fauna, biodiversity, ecology and also the economy of the country.
The Tipaimukh dam project sparked much debate in Bangladesh as local experts expressed concerns, saying it would cause unusual water flow in the river and hit the production of rice, the single crop of the vast haor region in Bangladesh.
The dam project also faces huge protests in India's northeast, particularly in Manipur and Assam's Cachar district.
The six-decade old multipurpose Tipaimukh dam project involving Rs 7,600 crore could not take off due to opposition from environmentalists and naturalists as well as delayed clearance from the Ministry of Forest and Environment.
During a visit to Dhaka in September 2011, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking at Dhaka University, assured Bangladesh that India would not take any step regarding the dam that would adversely affect its eastern neighbour.
However, the Indian government formed a joint venture company comprising the National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam to build the dam without informing Bangladesh.
Later the prime minister's International Affairs Adviser Dr Gowher Rizvi visited India and said India had proposed Bangladesh's investing in the Tipaimukh dam and getting its due share of the 1,500 MW electricity.
He said he was happy with the Indian explanation that the dam would not harm Bangladesh.
At the invitation of the Indian government, so far two teams, a parliamentary delegation and a group of journalists, have visited India to see the progress of the Tipaimukh dam and check the dam site.
But the teams could only get a bird's eye view of the 'dam site' and none of the team could land at the site due to 'bad weather'.
The members of Bangladesh delegation include former director general of Water and Resource Planning Organisation (WARPO) MA Kashem, chief engineer of the Water Development Board, director of WARPO economist Md Shahjahan, Centre for Environment and Geographical Information System (CEGIS) Deputy Executive Director Mominul Haque Sarkar, Soil and Agriculture expert Anil Chandra Aich, senior experts of the Institute of Water Modelling Md Sohel Masud, Munaz Ahamed from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Dewan Ali, chairman of the Department of Fisheries, University of Dhaka and a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Some quarters and green campaigners have widely criticised the team of experts of Bangladesh as many renowned experts on the sectors were left out.