Manmohan to Chair Tipaimukh Meeting
Wednesday, 13 October 2010

With its environment minister Jairam Ramesh wanting to hold off till a comprehensive impact assessment, it is likely that the Indian government will review the controversial Tipaimukh Hydro Electric (Multi-Purpose) Project.

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is expected to chair a high-level meeting to review the Tipaimukh HEP and other proposed projects in the country's north-eastern region, particularly in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The meeting may take place on Oct 18.

Sources said that Singh had convened the meeting in the wake of a row between the environment and power ministries of India's central government over hydro-electric projects in the region.

Ramesh recently sent a note to the prime minister's office seeking review of all proposed hydro-electric projects in North-East. He also proposed moratorium on all such projects in Arunachal Pradesh, stating that any move on those would trigger protests in neighbouring Assam.

On the Tipaimukh Hydro-Electric project, the environment minister suggested that it should be put on hold "till a comprehensive downstream impact assessment study has been undertaken".

Ramesh's note triggered a row between the country's environment and power ministries.

Power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said: "Once the project implementation has begun, it cannot be stopped by anyone's whims and fancies. The government is committed to protect environment, but the proposed power projects or those under construction are also equally important."

India's government-owned NHPC Limited on April 28 last floated a joint venture company with the Manipur government and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited for implementation of the Tipaimukh Project.

The NHPC Ltd – formerly known as National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited – will hold 69 percent share in the joint venture; while Manipur and SJVN will have 5 percent and 26 percent equity in it respectively.

During prime minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi in January; her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh had assured her that 'India would not take steps on the Tipaimukh Project that would adversely impact Bangladesh'.

Apart from Shinde and Ramesh; India's external affairs minister S M Krishna, water resources minister Pawan Bansal and deputy chairman of the planning commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, are expected to attend the meeting on Wednesday.

The 1500 MW Tipaimukh Project was conceived as a multipurpose storage project on the Barak River in Churachandpur district of Manipur, with the main objective of hydropower generation along with flood mitigation in downstream area. The project is likely to be completed within seven and a half years after the clearance from the Indian cabinet committee on economic affairs.

A section of environmentalists both in Bangladesh and India are opposed to the Tipaimukh Project. They believe that the dam over Barak would significantly bring down flow of water in its tributaries Surma and Kushiara in Bangladesh. As hundreds of canals and major rivers, which are lifelines for people in greater Sylhet, are totally dependent on the water flow in Surma; there are apprehensions in Bangladesh that the Tipaimukh project of India could spell doom for a large part of the country.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had turned it into a major political issue after the Awami League-led government took office on January 6, 2009.

A delegation of Bangladesh parliament travelled to India in July 2009 at the invitation of the Indian government to see the site of the Tipaimukh Project.

The parliamentary team on their return told journalists that the dam did not exist and India had assured them of not doing anything on Tipaimukh Project that would hurt Bangladesh.

Indian prime minister reiterated the same assurance to Hasina in January.

New Delhi made the same commitment once again, when water resources minister Ramesh Chandra Sen and his Indian counterpart Pawan Bansal met for the Joint River Commission meet from March 17 to 20 this year.

Highly-placed sources in the Indian government said that the environment ministry would propose a moratorium on all proposed dams as well as suspension of ongoing work on some existing dams till a cumulative impact assessment, a comprehensive biodiversity impact assessment and a downstream impact assessment were conducted.

While indigenous communities in Manipur and Mizoram have been protesting against the Tipaimukh Dam; the stir against the project in the recent months gained momentum in southern Assam, where social organisations are concerned over its downstream impact.

"The Tipaimukh project would seriously affect the livelihood of 38 lakh people in Barak Valley," said Pijush Kanti Das, the general secretary of the Committee of Peoples and Environment (COPE) – a conglomerate of several NGOs in southern Assam. He said that the construction of the dam of the Tipaimukh Project would result in acute shortage of water for human consumption as well as for agricultural purposes.

Social organizations in Assam are also protesting against about 135 proposed hydro-electric projects in Arunachal Pradesh. Most of these projects are being conceived on the tributaries of Brahmaputra, which flows from Tibet to Bangladesh through Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

Ramesh's note to the prime minister's office reflected concerns of civil society organisations of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh aired in a public consultation held last month.


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