Saturday, June 27, 2009

The way forward in Tipaimukh dam controversy

Can anyone confirm if the World Bank will be financing the construction of Tipaimukh Dam in India?

Meanwhile, please read an analytical piece by Zakir Kibria, titled The Case of Tipaimukh Dam in India and Concerns in Lower Riparian.

Abstract: The construction of Tipaimukh dam by India on the international Barak river has raises a number of questions in relation to successful implementation of World Commission on Dams (WCD) recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance (GPA) for large dams. The government of India had never officially informed the lower riparian state of Bangladesh about the construction of the dam although experts fear that the dam would have adverse environmental impact on Bangladesh that share the same river basin.

This paper investigates the international nature of the river basin and possible impact on the Bangladesh in the light of co-riparian rights and evaluates some of the principles of GPA and searches for mechanism for participation of local communities in the process.

The context:
The under construction Tipaimukh dam - a 390 meter long, 162.5 meter high earthen core rock filled dam on the international river Barak at downstream of the confluence of Barak and Tuivai rivers near Tipaimukh village in Manipur state of India and close to Bangladesh border is supposed to produce an estimated 1,500 MW electric power. The dam will permanently submerge an area of 275.50 sq. km. in the state of Manipur. A large number of people, mostly belonging to indigenous Zeliangrong and Hmar communities, will be displaced permanently[1]. Indigenous communities, civil society groups and NGOs in northeast India have been campaigning years on possible adverse environmental effect, displacement, and inadequate public consultations in the construction of the dam[2].

Recently the Government of Bangladesh has also protested the construction of Tipaimukh dam and claimed that it will have adverse environmental impact on downstream Bangladesh[3]. Civil society groups and NGOs in Bangladesh have also been campaigning against the downstream impact of Tipaimukh dam[4]. It raises a number of questions in relation to World Commission on Dams (WCD) recommendations[5]. The WCD recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance for large dams proposes procedural mechanism(s) to address grievances within a national system. But what if a dam poses serious risks to people and communities living downstream in another country? This paper seeks to investigate the WCD recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance for large dam from the perspective of downstream Bangladesh[6].

International Nature of Brahmaputra-Barak-Meghna basin:
Rivers have no boundary. Only we humans draw lines and divide ourselves. Four-fifth of Bangladesh is made up of the combined delta of Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna and Barak river system. Barak River is part of Brahmaputra-Barak-Meghna basin - one of the largest river basins in the world. The mighty river Brahmaputra originates in Tibet and comes down to northeast India and then enters Bangladesh and finally empties itself towards Bay of Bengal. The Barak River is part of the Brahmaputra-Barak-Meghna river basin and the second largest drainage system in northeast India. Barak River originates from Lai-Lyai village in Senapati district of Manipur.

The upper Barak catchment area extends almost entire north, northeastern, western and southwestern portion of the Manipur State. The middle course lies in the plain areas of Cachar region of Assam state, while the lower, the deltaic course is in Bangladesh, where it is known as Meghna. Two important rivers in northeastern part of Bangladesh -Surma and Kushyiara - are fed by the flow Barak River[7].

Impact of Tipaimukh dam on downstream co-riparian Bangladesh
The construction of Tipaimukh dam will have serious adverse impact on the downstream part of the Barak river basin, which is in northeastern part of Bangladesh, and known as Surma-Kushyiara-Meghna river basin. Institute of Water Modelling (IWM), an autonomous research institute in Bangladesh has recently conducted a study on the impact of Tipaimukh dam on Bangladesh[8]. The study predicts that, the dam, once operational, will change the hydrological pattern of the Barak River. According to the report, the overall nature of impact can be summarized in six broad categories, like hydrological impact, impact on flooding pattern and on river-floodplain-wetland ecosystem, impact on morphology, impact on water quality, dam-beak and general.

Impacts on Hydrology
The IWM study estimate that once the Tipaimukh dam is fully functional, average annual monsoon inflow from the Barak River at Amalshid point to the Surma-Kushiyara-Meghna River system would be reduced around 10% for month June, 23% for month July, 16% for month August and 15% for month September. Water level would fall by more than 1 meter on average during the month July at Amalshid station on the Kushiyara River, while this would be around 0.25 meter, 0.15 meter and 0.1 meter at Fenchuganj, Sherpur and Markuli station, respectively. On the other hand, at Kanairghat and Sylhet station on the Surma River, average water level would drop by 0.75 meter and 0.25 meter, respectively in the same month.

During relatively drier monsoon year, dam would have more impact on the availability of monsoon water in the Barak-Surma-Kushiyara River than the average annual monsoon year. Like for the month July, August and September, flow would be reduced as much as 27%, 16% and 14%, respectively, 4%, 2% and 2% higher than the volume reduction found for average monsoon year.

Impact on Inundation Pattern and River-Floodplain-Wetland Ecosystem
Sylhet and Moulvibazar district in northeastern part of Bangladesh will be effected more due to the Tipaimukh Dam operation regarding their natural monsoon-flooding pattern. For Sylhet district, total inundated area would be reduced by 30,123 ha. (26%) during post-dam scenario than it actually happens in pre-dam average monsoon season. For Moulvibazar district, this would be around 5,220 ha. (11%). 71% of the Upper Surma-Kushiyara Project area would no longer be flooded during average monsoon season for post-dam condition. The Kushyiara River would cut its connection with its right bank floodplain for around 65 km. reach. As a result the river at this part will become 'reservoir river'; rather than a most valuable 'floodplain river'.

The Kushiyara-Bardal haor (wetland) on the left bank of the Kushiyara River would become completely dry during average monsoon year dry due to Tipaimukh dam operation. The Kawardighi haor (wetland) would also lose around 2,979 ha. (26 %) of its usual inundated land during average monsoon year. Impact on Damrir haor and Hakaluki haor would be relatively less in comparison to other haors of the Sylhet and Moulvibazar district. The above impacts on the river-floodplain-wetland would destroy the natural integrity of the ecosystem involved within these physical system, thereby, the consequences of that will be the loss of riverine habitat and species, lack of enrichment of land with the nutrient full silt leading to the ultimate decline in the natural productivity of the two most abundant resources of Bangladesh - land and water.

Impact on Morphology
The erosion just downstream of the Tipaimukh Dam would be excessively high and this erosion would continue as long as hundred kilometers downstream or more. This excessive erosion in the first 100 or 150 km. of Barak River downstream of the dam would increase the overall deposition in the lower Barak River, thereby, in the Surma- Kushiyara River system. Low flow during late monsoon and post-monsoon will accelerate this deposition in the region.

The probable deposition during late monsoon and post-monsoon season will raise the overall bed level of the rivers, and for an extreme case it would block the mouth of certain tributaries originating from the Kushiyara River. Bed level would rise and that will induce the average monsoon flood to become a moderate to sever flood in the floodplain of the Surma-Kushiyara. There would be possibility of increasing erosion in the upper Kushiyara River, and this will cause more deposition in the downstream of Kushiyara River and in Kalni River.

Dam Break and Its Consequences
The communities living in the downstream of any dam remains in a constant threat of catastrophe being occurred by dam-bursts and dam induced other floods. The apprehension like this is intensified further when the very seismic characteristics, its activities as well as the instability of the Tipaimukh Dam site and the region as a whole is taken into the consideration. The claimed Reservoir Induced Siesmicity (RIS) is another important feature of any large dam project that should be considered in the analysis of safety ground of Tipaimukh Dam Project[9].
Construction of Tipaimukh dam is violation of co-riparian rights.

India and Bangladesh share many rivers and water resources. The rivers that flow across the northern parts of India are mostly international rivers or their tributaries. In the North Eastern region, the Brahmaputra River and the Barak River are both international rivers. The joys and sorrows that these two rivers mean for the peoples of Bangladesh and northeastern India are shared. This issue has been well recognized and many efforts are in place to address this unhappy state of affairs. International water treaties have been made and even a Joint Rivers Commission was set up to examine and settle disputes[10]. The Tipaimukh Dam project was entirely developed and approved without once informing the government of Bangladesh or involving its people in any meaningful exercise to assess the downstream impacts of the dam. This is clearly a gross violation of co-riparian rights of Bangladesh. The unilateral construction of Tipaimukh dam on an international river is also violation of UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International watercourses[11].

Tipaimukh dam and WCD recommendation on Gaining Public Acceptance
Gaining public acceptance (GPA) of key decisions is essential for equitable and sustainable water and energy resources development. GPA has been recommended by WCD as the first strategic priority. Recognition of rights and assessment of risk to identify stakeholders, full access to information, negotiated agreements as the basis of demonstrable public acceptance of key decisions and guidance on projects affecting citizens of diverse social, ethnic, cultural and economic background by their free prior and informed consent are the underlying policy principles.

The first Dams and Development Forum meeting acknowledged the need to have transparency in decision-making. The opportunity for all stakeholder groups to participate, fully and actively, in decision-making process should be enabled. In this process, the definition of stakeholders, establishment of norms for consultations and involvement of all stakeholders and means of dispute resolution is necessary[12]. This whole process has an implicit assumption that all these happen within a national system. What if a dam is built on an international river and the impacts are also downstream in another independent state, like the case of Tipaimukh dam?
The first known official investigation on the possibility of Tipaimukh dams conducted in 1977-78 by NEC, CWC and report was ready in 1984[13].

Till now, the Government of India has never officially informed the Government of Bangladesh or the people and communities living downstream about the construction on Tipaimukh dam. The Tipaimukh Dam project was entirely developed and approved without once informing the Government of Bangladesh or involving its people in any meaningful exercise to assess the downstream impacts of the dam. This is clearly a gross violation of co-riparian rights of Bangladesh. The experience of Tipaimukh dam raises a number of questions, which has to be answered if we are to develop mechanism(s) and policies for gaining public acceptance of large dams.

The way forward?
Any meaningful and effective policy and mechanism for GPA have to redefine the category of stakeholder to incorporate the idea that dams in one country could have impact in another country and stakeholders could be international. Access to information is essential for GPA and international stakeholder should be informed in all stages of construction of dams. Informed participation of international stakeholders, not only governments, but also, communities and citizens to be adversely affected should be made part of GPA mechanism. How do we ensure that is a question that still remains to be answered.

One international mechanism that we can use is the UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. But, only 17 states ratified it, and no country with riparian advantages is among those 17 signatories. 35 countries have to ratify an international convention in order for it to be effective. So the UN convention is still not an obligatory convention.

In the case of riparian tension and conflict over large dams on international rivers in South Asia, including India and Bangladesh, the failure of existing bilateral and regional system is evident[14]. We need to go further if we are to ensure sustainable development and meaningful peoples' participation in development. May be we need to develop an international clearinghouse of information and dispute resolution on dams, probably UNEP and take a lead in this.