Calcutta, Nov. 24: Former Bangladesh Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Begum Khaleda Zia, has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, expressing concern over the signing of an agreement to construct the Tipaimukh hydroelectric project on the Barak along the Assam-Manipur border.
In her letter, delivered to the Indian high commission in Dhaka yesterday, Khaleda stressed on a joint technical study and exchange of data to ascertain the ecological, social and economic impact of the project on Bangladesh before proceeding with it.
A letter to Singh from the leader of an Opposition party may have surprised many in the foreign office but BNP sources said the act was not out of protocol. She is a former Prime Minister. They have discussed the topic on several occasions. If she can meet him, why cant she write to him? a senior BNP leader asked. Khaleda had called on Singh on September 6 during his visit to Bangladesh.
The multipurpose project is expected to reduce the impact of floods in south Assam, increase the irrigated area in Assam, Manipur and Mizoram and produce 1,500MW hydel power.
The project has always been a bone of contention between the neighbours with a section in Bangladesh arguing that it would have adverse consequences for that country.
BNP loyalists have alleged the dam would jeopardise the interests of Bangladesh by diverting the Baraks water.
During his Dhaka trip, Singh had tried to assuage these concerns. Concern has been expressed from time to time on the Tipaimukh dam project in India. I wish to make it clear that India will not take — and I repeat India will not take — steps that will adversely affect Bangladesh, he had said in his address at the Dhaka University.
Tipaimukh, however, hit the headlines again in Bangladesh and became a political issue after reports of a promoters agreement between the Manipur government, the NHPC and the Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam to set up a joint venture company became public in Bangladesh.
The Indian government has now confirmed that the deal was signed on October 22. The Indian Prime Minister had met Sheikh Hasina as late as November 10 in the Maldives, but people of Bangladesh did not know about the agreement till the recent reports appeared in the media, the BNP leader stated.
The party has launched a nationwide protest against the government for its failure to protect the interests of Bangladesh despite Hasina saying that her government has sought details about the developments and was sending an envoy to Delhi.
The BNPs Sylhet district unit has called for a 12-hour bandh in Sylhet division from 6am on December 1 against the proposed dam, its president M. Illius Ali said. The unit had taken out a motorbike rally last month.
Hasina faced severe criticism after Delhi and Dhaka failed to sign an agreement on the sharing of Teesta water during Singhs visit to Bangladesh. A fresh round of attacks on Hasina, who is known for her pro-India stand, can jeopardise Delhis attempts to forge a stronger bond with the neighbour.
Following the attack on the Hasina government, the ministry of external affairs clarified that the only recent development pertaining to the project had been the signing of the promoters agreement.
The agreement has raised voices of dissent at home, too. We have been objecting to the project. We will not allow it until the parties involved fulfil the protocol and procedures of the World Dam Commission, R.K. Ranjan Singh, an environmentalist and adviser to the Manipur-based NGO Citizens Concern for Dams and Development, said.
He said the protocols of the commission require that the affected people should be consulted before proceeding with the construction of any dam.
By going ahead with this project, without taking Bangladesh into confidence, India will lose all moral grounds to complain against any Chinese dam in the upstream of Brahmaputra (Yarlung-Tsangpo), Ramananda Wangkheirakpam, co-ordinator of the Northeast Peoples Alliance, said.