Tipaimukh – a new water trick!by Syed Muhammad Hussain
OVER the last several years I had sought fairly regularly to analyse the Indian moves in regard to Bangladesh’s rightful claims for the equitable and historic shares of waters from the common and trans-boundary rivers. Excepting the 1996 Ganges Treaty, which in my view was one of our rare achievements in obtaining an honestly dealt hand from India, the whole water-sharing talks and exercises till now have been in bad faith, if not total exploitation by a way more powerful and heartless neighbour.
In some of my articles published in the leading dailies, I had deliberately used blunt expressions to describe the deaths of our rivers. And that indeed was the title of one such write-up. I must add that there have been a very capable stream of contributions by many others on this and related issues that we seem to have with India without any significant forward movement. The other issues include the ever growing trade gap and, of course, the border fencing and killings and so on.
After I wrote the posts ‘Indian prime minister’s visit, September, 2011 — an assessment’ (November 10, 2011) and ‘Of Rumi’s Masnavi, Manmohan’s turban and Sukanta’s burnt moon’ (April 26), I thought I should not write any further on these matters. But like many others who follow the continuing devious and aggressive Indian moves, I am reminded of the adage that ‘in order for the evil to flourish, it is sufficient that the good people keep their silence.’
The two internet reports ‘India to discuss Dhaka equity in Tipaimukh project’ and ‘India would not build Tipaimukh without Bangladesh’s consent’, just published, indicate a new series of Indian water trick is about to land on the lap of our unsuspecting authorities. There is an abysmal feeling that with a quite a few helping hands on this side of the border, India’s interests at a massive cost to that of ours would perhaps be guaranteed.
In order to prevent that situation from coming to a pass and to safeguard our own legitimate national interests, let us have a closer look at these new moves that must come as shocking twists to the Tipaimukh project drama.
BANGLADESH has been voicing her genuine apprehension of the severe adverse impact of Tipaimukh project with ‘greater exposure to floods during monsoons and low flows during the lean seasons’. The Indian report of June 2 contains a deliberate misinformation that ‘in 2009, a team of Bangladesh parliamentarians was airlifted to the site to convince people that the project was for hydro-power and flood control and not irrigation.’
That late Abdur Razzak MP and his team could not land due to inclement weather and that they were never again allowed to go there, despite India’s assurance to that effect, which has been conveniently omitted from this version. The truth of the matter is that there has not been any on-the-ground verification done by Bangladesh till now. But one must remember that several Indian states in the region have also been protesting against this project as this would bring in unimaginable disasters, including possible seismic upheavals, in the entire region.
Apart from the obligation of India to clearly explain the real facts to meet the above concerns on both sides of the border, the following questions do need honest and comprehensive and verifiable answers.
The moot question that Delhi should address is how Tipaimukh project could on a long-term basis provide hydro-power and engage in flood control, without holding and releasing every season vast quantum of water and ensure non-manipulation of the downward flows of surplus waters to lower riparian Bangladesh during high monsoons as well as retaining huge volume of water during the dry months thereby reducing seriously the lean season flows.
There is a reprehensible attempt to force Bangladesh to participate in the project as India is offering to discuss ‘Dhaka equity’. One is stunned by the sheer audacity of an assumption that Dhaka is so gullible as to swallow such a ridiculous suggestion. We are documenting the serious adverse impacts of having the project there in the first place and we now have such a moronic scenario on sale.
THE reports show the mala fide intentions with a ‘good cop-bad cop’ Delhi drill to convince the victim to go along with the plan on offer. I feel insulted if not outraged by the impression conveyed that the Indian prime minister’s office and external affairs ministry are fighting in Bangladesh’s corner against all other ministries on this issue. It is all the more ludicrous when our memory is still jerked by a ‘rebel’ chief minister publicly humiliating her own prime minister while in Dhaka not allowing him to honour his solemn pledge to Bangladesh on the Teesta and Feni rivers agreements last November.
Bangladesh is increasingly being tied up with so many knots - one being our ‘darbar’ and any understanding with Delhi could be vetoed by any of the neighbouring states be that from Kolkata, Agartala, Patna and so on. And do mark the old Indian plan to equate Bangladesh with their states and sadly we feel very honoured by the empty awards these state capitals organise now and then for the highest level of this sovereign country.
Another knot is the pseudo-cultural one while our tangible resources are plundered under our very nose. These and other such blatant examples have been mentioned in earlier articles of mine and by many other analysts in theirs. Indian Chanakya neeti operates like a garlic — you go on peeling and at the end of it all your pleasant expectations are soured.
HOW does India think that with Bangladesh joining in, all the facts-based apprehensions would disappear and Tipaimukh would become all kosher? Apparently for 30 years (if Bangladesh High Commissioner in Delhi has got it right that in 1982 Bangladesh concluded that the project would be harmful), we have been hanging on and only now Indian water resources secretary Dhruba B Singh says that ‘no construction work has begun on the site’ and that India would not proceed ‘if Bangladesh does not come along with us’. He told our media team visiting Delhi further that ‘India offers Bangladesh to invest in this USD 2 billion project’. Presumably this is the Dhaka equity they refer to and about which we have a question or two.
Let me frame two questions that the media may seek to have answers to in addition to the ones outlined above. One, if what the Indians are saying about this not being an irrigation project is true, then what exactly is proposed to be done with the mind-blowing vast quantum of water ( 9 billion cm spread over 22,000 hectares of land) that is more than six times the Kaptai lake.
And presumably, for Tripura, such a huge loss of arable land would be unacceptable. Every monsoon the storage would get filled up and water has to be released to safeguard the integrity of the barrage/reservoir either adding to the new monsoon flood flows downwards, to the detriment of lower riparian Bangladesh and/or channelling the excess to irrigate the surrounding land in Tripura in the winter months.
It is also confirmed that the project aimed at having a total of 1,500MW capacity. Two, the other pertinent question in this context is how can Bangladesh benefit from its power generation as the supply/transmission lines have to cover more than 210km to reach even the Sylhet border. And on top, the typical Indian smash and grab mentality was again on display with Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar telling Dhaka journalists that power generation in a Tripura plant would cater to his needs and the small surplus would first go to nearby states and if Bangladesh wanted she could try to talk to Delhi. One must note that Sarkar was speaking just after being honoured as a ‘Friend of Bangladesh’. One cannot be faulted if one thinks that Bangladesh does not really need any enemy.
ANOTHER aspect of the Indian plan is to set Bangladesh up as the villain of the piece as we are certain to say no to the participation in Tipaimukh, giving Delhi the excuse to cancel or postpone sine die the project to have a continuing clout on a recalcitrant region. And we are also given to understand that there are some other offers of similar nature for us to invest in water/hydro-power schemes in Sikkim as a part of Indian inter-river linking project. This massive water withdrawal project from the upper reaches of all the major/trans-border/international rivers to the permanent detriment to the co- and lower-riparian countries, has been examined elsewhere by me and other more knowledgeable analysts with the common conclusion that this would lead to a mega-devastation of Bangladesh in not too distant a future.
The other intriguing feature of Tipaimukh, Sikkim projects on investment participation offers, that these are all within Indian territory and control. And India does not pay any heed to Dhaka’s frequent calls for inclusion of Nepal and Bhutan in the development and equitable sharing of the Himalayan region’s water resources. And for India to expect
that we would invest in, or even agree to, these projects adds a bizarre and insane dimension.
In order to avoid facing some very unpleasant but true facts, India has consistently negated the treaty/agreements provisions and refused to hold meaningful meetings of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) over the past 40 years. Against the stipulated 160 meetings only 38 JRC meetings had taken place from 1972 to 2012 and most intriguingly, only one JRC meeting has been held during the long 2009-12 period (as revealed by Bangladesh High Commissioner in New Delhi to our media team).
One would wonder why the issues like the Ganges water flows, seven common rivers water-sharing, Teesta, Feni and related issues, the Tipaimukh project (and Jaldoba, Phultali) and now the Sikkim projects could not be in the JRC agenda for review and discussion during the incumbent government’s on-going tenure. Probably the national media would be bold enough to urgently undertake some in-depth investigative exercises in our nation’s interest. At least they ought to ask some searching and in all possibility, embarrassing questions and demand unequivocal
THE classic Chanakyya neeti advocates the maintaining of the status quo and no change if the present cannot be bettered still and the most preferred scenario is to maximise current consumptions and utilisation of resources from other sources. Even Machiavelli would have been perturbed by the piling up of the skeletons of broken Indian promises and the un-honoured assurances in this region.
It is high time Bangladesh becomes aware of India’s own blue-print for the obvious regional hegemony and for a sizeable piece of the global cake playing the China card. These Indian dreams (a la ashamudra himachal/Pax Indiana) overwhelm the legitimate interests, people’s welfare and the essential needs of the small states like ours. India, as a friend of mine put it with a wry smile, believes all her resources are hers and all our resources hers too.
India’s generosity (?) to their small neighbours is legendary and their timing and accountability admirable (?). Bangladesh at one stage received a gift of six horses (in one of my write-ups at the time I recalled that one Trojan horse led to the surrender of proud Troy and what would be the price we have to pay for the six Indian horses, is something we should do well to ponder over). The Indian media headlined the price paid by them for this gift at Rs 76 lakh, if I remember right correctly. Mind you, before we could even look into the mouths of these gift horses, Indians reminded us about the price they had paid. (By the way one is curious as to what has happened to these horses? I will not be at all surprised if they have gone to the barracks — in India!).
Then there was much fanfare of the promised gift of building all infrastructures in one of the Aila-devastated villages by India — nothing much has been heard about it. Then the recent Pranab Mukherjee visit and a promise of a write-off of USD (or is it Rs/Tk) 200 million of Indian loan and the setting up of a fund of some amount to enable central banks to borrow from - these amounts are so minuscule as to smack of a hardly passable gift for one’s very poor relative. I feel hesitant to compare the millions of dollars the Indians have been saving transporting all their heavy consignments/oversized plants/equipments/hardwares and so forth to their northern states enjoying the courtesy and generosity of that very poor neighbour. Then a quick reminder might just be in order about their ever-growing gift of trade gap that has increased from $4,057 billion in 2010-11 to a mind boggling estimate of $4,437 billion in the current, about-to-end year.
We have a long list of such legends.
But so far, we have truly followed a rule that India is our friend. Do we then remind ourselves that when the reason for a rule ceases, so should the rule itself?
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