India and Bangladesh: Will the dams "damage" the relationship?

by Badrul Islam Badrul Islam is a Freelance writer from Bangladesh. He worked formerly worked for various United Nations agencies in
Bangladesh,Somalia and Uganda.

Environmentalists and academics called for a greater movement at national and international levels to resist what they said "India's conspiracy" to construct Tipaimukh dam without sharing information with Bangladesh. They also slammed the government's role in dealing with India about water issues. India has neither ensured water flow in the Ganges as per the Ganges Treaty nor shared information about Tipaimukh Dam, which is sheer violation of the treaty.( The Daily Star,July08,2009).

Remonstrance over the Farakka Barrage , first in 1965 , led to Indo-Pak war, but in 1975, Bangladesh in good faith , agreed to allow its friend, India to " test-run " its feeder canal for fourteen days only. India guaranteed Bangladesh that actual operation will commence after an agreement is signed detailing terms of operation and share of water. Rest is a history of non-compliance from India, resulting in desertification of many rivers inside Bangladesh. Next is India's move to construct the Tipaimukh Dam ignoring strong protest from Manipur, as well as Bangladesh as it threatens the North-East section part of the Country. Isn't both, faith and friendship, being compromised?

So why is India so obsessed with its Dam projects? In April 2001 David Barsamian, Director of Alternative Radio in Boulder, Colorado interviewed Arundhati Roy and here is what she said, "the myth of big dams is something that's sold to us from the time we're three years old in every school textbook. Nehru said, "Dams are the temples of modern India", the dam will serve you breakfast in bed, it will get your daughter married and cure your jaundice. People have to understand that they're just monuments to political corruption, and they derive from very undemocratic political institutions. You just centralize natural resources, snatch them away from people, and then you decide who you're going to give them to. When I was writing "The Greater Common Good," what shocked me more than the figures that do exist are the figures that don't exist. The Indian government does not have any estimate of how many people have been displaced by big dams. The reason that there aren't these figures is because most of the people that are displaced are again the non-people, the Adivasis and the Dalits. India doesn't mow down its people. It doesn't kill people who are refusing to move. It just waits it out. It continues to do what it has to do and ignores the consequences. Because of the caste system, because of the fact that there is no social link between those who make the decisions and those who suffer the decisions, it just goes ahead and does what it wants. The people also assume that this is their lot, their karma, what was written. It's quite an efficient way of doing things. Therefore, India has a very good reputation in the world as a democracy, as a government that cares, that has just got too much on its hands, whereas, in fact, it's actually creating the problems."- ( The Book is an eye-opener for Citizens to understand the system in India ; its corruption, the obnoxious nexus with World Bank that offers the funds and the International Community that implements the projects robbing the poor to pay the rich. Tipaimukh Dam will be no exception to this system.

Now I wish to present an example of how arrogant attitude of "Government" over demands of the "Governed" breeds violence and terrorism. Water First by Kunta Lahiri-Dutt and Robert J.Wasson has a chapter on The Regional Politics of Water Sharing written by Douglas Hill.

In 1976 Central Government of India passed a ruling settling how much water should be available to each state. Punjab disagreed and filed a case in the Supreme Court challenging its validity. Meanwhile construction of 112 km Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal began in 1982 to divert waters to farmers in Rajasthan and southern Harayana(khurana2006). Construction was immediately met with opposition from Punjab unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Shriomani Akali Dal(SAD). The SAD section of protest eventually reverted to violent agitation and terrorism culminating in the events of 0peration Blue Star at Amritsar, 1984(where Indira Gandhi ordered the killing of hundreds of Sikh separists) and arguably resulted in her assassination in 0ctober. New Prime Minister Rajib Gandhi and Akali Dal leader Harcharan Singh Longowal met in 1985, set up a tribunal under Justice Eradi to re-examine appropriate allocations for Rajasthan,Punjab and Haryana. The findings of this tribunal was disputed by Punjab in 1987 on grounds that sufficient water to cover the recommended allocation was not available.Violence caused the closure of this tribunal in 1988 and construction of the Punjab section of SYL canal ceased in 1990. Again tribunal re-opened in 1997 and ruling passed in favour of Harayana in 2004. This triggered political crisis and the Punjab Government passed a Bill that nullified all previous agreements related to sharing of the Ravi and Beas (khurana2006): -( Did India learn any lesson from this?

Governments works intricately through "Mama" system, to do their dirty work. Chetan Bagat in his book "The 3 Mistakes in My life" describes "Mama", a local tout but ambitious to climb up the ladder of" Power". He asks his political Guru to get him an election ticket. The Guru informs Mama that ambitious people like him are required in the party and since he is good and committed, he (Mama) to get to the next top level, needs to do work that gets him noticed. India has such "Mamas" for operations.

"Mamas", on behalf of India, bribed officials to make temporary settlement through promises that 10-12% of the electricity will be received free of cost and the rest of it will be given to NEEPCO for distribution to other states. Will other states not demand the same deal? Besides the "Citizens Concern for Dam and Development" (CCDD) and Environmentalists don't care about this temporary settlement and are continuing with the protest and if the Marxists and Maoist insurgents joins there is great possibility that protests could turn to violent agitation. How will India contain this violence? What would be the world's reaction to this? Will Bangladesh be pressurized to facilitate India?

And now, Bangladesh. India without moral and military support from the then USSR (Russia) couldn't have assisted Bangladesh in the war of Liberation. During liberation India was selectively aiding groups from Awami League (Mama Factor) though other political groups worked in tandem to achieve the common goal of Independence. Former Foreign secretary,Late Mr.J.N.Dixit in his comments to the Foreign Affairs Committee, said "We helped in the liberation of Bangladesh in mutual interest, it was not a favor. He also said that 90% of the problems could be resolved if Bangladesh exported gas to India. India subsequently made a list of other items to demand from Bangladesh. Friendship is being tested harshly.

Additionally, (1) India is ignoring clauses 2 and 3 of the Dublin Principles, 1992. Clause 2, stipulates Water Development and Management should be based on a participatory approach involving all users, planners and policy makers and Clause 3 stipulates that women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water. (2) India never agreed to the proposal to discuss with Nepal to solve the problems of Bangladesh due to Farakka Barrage. Why is India acting so mysteriously ?

Will the Bangladesh Parliament team that has been invited to visit Manipur be able to find solutions? The answer is a straight NO. In the absence of full details from India and the Funding Agency and subsequent analysis by local experts by all three states, free from political influence, the team wouldn't be able to distinguish any controversial points. Rather there is danger that the name of Bangladesh will be mis-utilized politically to pressurize Manipur and Mizoram.

What then is the solution? Following is my four step solutions: (1) Barrister Harun ur Rashid's suggests the construction of Ganges Barrage at Pangsha (90 miles west of Dhaka) to offset the adverse effects of Farraka Barrage. (Ref: Daily Star, May 31, 2008). It was first conceived in 1963 and next in 1984 and after feasibility report of 1997 the Joint River Commission approved it. Immediate steps must be made to implement this and next Bangladesh experts should undertake another study to construct another similar Barrage in the Sylhet region to offset the Tipaimukh Dam effect. Only after an agreement is made with India for construction of these two Barrages, should our Government think to cooperate with India. (2) Dr.Aiun Nishat suggests that positive politics, mutual understanding and the Prime Ministers of both India and Bangladesh should be involved. (Ref: NewAge Xtra June 12,2009). (3) From all three states, Women's participation must be ensured and their opinions recorded and taken into consideration. (4) I fully endorse the suggestions, the Non-resident Bangladeshis in Los Angeles, have forwarded to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina through the Consul General; they recommended that a team comprising of five countries be formed: Bangladesh, India, China, Nepal and Myanmar to find the right solution(.Ref: reading memorandum sent to Sheikh Hasina).

At the sidelines of NAM Conference, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has confirmed to Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina that India won't take any steps that might affect ties. Earlier in an exclusive interview Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh had stated "It is my sincere belief that a strong and prosperous Bangladesh is in India's fundamental interest."(Ref: Daily Star, Nov.15,2005). Let the Honorable Prime Minister prove his intentions. It would be great if Sonia Gandhi also takes a keen interest and joins Dr.Singh in this venture. I am confident that Bangladesh and India Relations will greatly improve.

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