SILCHAR, Jan 5: On the eve of Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India, the opposition party of Bangladesh led by Begum Khaleda Zia and various fundamentalist forces active in Bangladesh are actively staging an anti-Barak Dam tirade. Thousands of people from Bangladesh participated in a “long march” from Dhaka under the banner –– Islamik Aikya Manch who en route Sylhet assembled at Athgram across Kushiara opposite Jalalpur in Cachar and were shouting anti-India diatribes, opposing the construction of the dam.
It was followed by a huge rally organized by the youth front of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) at Dhaka addressed by Begum Khaleda Zia. The BNP supremo cautioned the Awami League led 14-party alliance of Hasina and said if the agreements on issues related to both the countries went against the interest of Bangladesh, her party and other alliances would launch a nationwide agitation.
From all accounts, the protest rallies and vitriolic oratory were aimed at creating an atmosphere of surcharged emotion to derail the long awaited talks of Hasina with New Delhi. In fact, Bangladesh sent a 15-member Parliamentary delegation led by Abdur Razzaq to inspect and study the construction site in the remote Tipaimukh village in Churchandpur district of Manipur in the early part of last August. The helicopter with the delegation however could not land on the site due to adverse weather. The multipurpose project is to be built on river Barak on the confluence of Tuivai and Barak on the border of Manipur and Mizoram. It is designed to contain flood water in Barak Valley, generate 1,500 MW power and to facilitate irrigation and pisciculture.
The anti-dam rhetory in Bangladesh stresses on the disturbance of seasonal rhythm of the river with adverse effect on the agriculture and fisheries of the country, the opposition observed. It will also affect two rivers of Bangladesh located 100 km away from Tipaimukh –– Surma and Kushiara and argued that the mega project will make the down stream areas dry during the lean season, the opposition added.
Significantly, China has advised dialogue between India and Bangladesh over the issue, obviously to offset India’s objection to its decision to build a dam over Brahmaputra in Tibet. Encouraged by China, Bangladeshi campaign against Barak Dam has become an international issue. Harun ur Rashid, former ambassador of Bangladesh to the UNO, voiced his concern over its location in “a geologically sensitive zone” that would cause disaster in downstream Bangladesh in the event of dam failure.
In the context of these apprehensions, it would be quite relevant to examine records and observations for an objective appraisal of the projects, sources said. Manipur University organized a seminar on “Prospects and prognostic of Tipaimukh dam project” on January 12, 1996, that was participated by officials concerned, intellectuals, chairman of Tipaimukh area development committee, Barak dam area affected committee as well as 15 chiefs of the affected villages who appreciated the project.
Experts in the Brahmaputra Board and the Ministry of Water Resources, on the other hand, pointed out the 16.80 lakh cusecs capacity reservoir of the dam which will not only contain water during rains and spates and check floods both in this country and across the border in Sylhet but, the experts said, the dam will also release enough water during the lean season through Barak and its tributaries –– Surma and Kushiara –– which meander across Sylhet district of Bangladesh.
In fact, the experts added, once the project is commissioned, the Northeastern region and Bangladesh as a whole will benefit as the dam will meet the power need of the region and the neighbouring country since Delhi and Dhaka have agreed to power sharing. If the opposition to Barak dam at home is on imaginary grounds, in Bangladesh it is simply the traditional anti-India stance of BNP, Jamat-e-Islam and fundamentalist forces. THE SENTINEL