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Dhaka moots PM level talks if Indian dam found harmful

Bangladesh has said that if the parliamentary team visiting the site of an Indian dam finds it "harmful", it would demand a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC), to be attended by the prime ministers of the two countries.

world Updated: Jul 20, 2009 12:45 IST

Bangladesh has said that if the parliamentary team visiting the site of an Indian dam finds it "harmful", it would demand a meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC), to be attended by the prime ministers of the two countries.

JRC is the official forum at which the two countries discuss issues relating to rivers.

Bangladesh Water Resources Minister Ramesh Chandra Sen told a seminar on Sunday that should there be anything to indicate negative impact of the dam India proposes to build on the Barak river at Tipaimukh in Manipur, the JRC would need to be attended by prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Manmohan Singh.

His assurance came amidst rising protests in Dhaka against the Indian project as main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has joined a section of environmentalists and NGOs who allege that the dam would deny Bangladesh its share of water and adversely impact the environment in the northeastern Sylhet region.

The two prime ministers met in Egypt last week when Manmohan Singh assured that India would not "do nothing" that would hurt Bangladesh's interests.

This assurance itself has added to the rival demands as the issue gets politicised and tempers among the protesters are running high, political analysts said.

BNP chief and two-term prime minister Khaleda Zia asked India to abandon the project, while Hasina on Saturday called for "national unity" to be able to "bargain better" with India.

India mooted in May that Bangladesh send a team to visit the proposed dam's site. The formation of the team of parliamentarians has also become controversial with the BNP withholding nomination of its two lawmakers on the team till "neutral" water resource experts are included.

Sen again asked the BNP to give the names for the team that will be headed by Abdur Razzak, a former minister who is the chairman of parliament's standing committee on water resources.

The delegation will leave Dhaka on July 29 to make a preliminary assessment of the impacts the proposed dam may have on Bangladesh.

"We are going to visit the dam site and submit a report to the government upon returning from the six-day visit," Razzaq announced on Sunday.

"The government and experts will analyse information in the report and decide the next course of actions," he said was quoted by The Daily Star as saying.

Razzaq criticised Zia for "hiding" a survey report on the Tipaimukh project prepared during the rule of BNP in 1993. SNC-Lavalin International, Northwest Hydraulic Consultants and four consultant firms of Bangladesh prepared the report and the World Bank funded the survey.

Zia did not mention the findings of the survey that says the "occurrence of flood will decrease in the Barak, Surma and Kushiara rivers because of the Tipaimukh dam".

Quoting from the survey report, Razzak said that because of the dam the amount of floodwater will decrease by 20 per cent and water level in the Surma and Kushiara will decrease by 1.60 metres during floods.

Part of the Brahmaputra system that flows from China, Barak divides into Surma and Kushiara upon entering Bangladesh and eventually merges into Meghna.

In an editorial on Monday, The Daily Star newspaper said Zia was "pre-judging" the issue by asking India to abandon the project, while Hasina, by calling for "national unity", had added "an element of obscurity" to the controversy.

Since the upper riparian country China is reportedly planning to "utilise" Brahmaputra waters, the lower riparian India stands to be affected. Unilateral exploitation of a common river basis could harm everyone, the newspaper warned.

The Dhaka team as of now includes three lawmakers of the ruling Awami League, one of ally Jatiya Party, and one lawmaker of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, which is part of the Zia-led opposition alliance.

Monwar Hossain, dean of water resources department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, is the only water expert in the team.