Tipaimukh Dam: Facts Current Position

Tipaimukh Dam: Facts  Current Position

The planned construction of Tipaimukh dam on the common Barak River has caused deep antagonism against India by the people of Bangladesh. Protest marches in Bangladesh at various times were launched to stop the construction of the dam.

Tipaimukh is located on the river Barak in Manipur state of India. The proposed construction of Tipaimukh embankment dam will be 390-metre (1,280 ft) long and 162.5 metre ((534 ft) high. Its crest elevation will be at an altitude of about 180 m. above mean sea level with a maximum reservoir level of 178 m. It is constructed for generating hydro-power 1500MW on the trans-boundary Barak River. The planned dam will submerge a wide area of Manipur.

The Barak River enters Bangladesh near Amalshid of Sylhet from Assam. At Amalshid the river bifurcates. The right hand branch is the Surma River and the left hand branch is the Kushiara River. Both the rivers unite in Habiganj district and flow down as the Kalni River.

The Kalni River meets with Ghorautra River near Bajitpur of Kishoreganj district to become the Meghna River which meets with Padma River near Chandpur district and falls into the Bay of Bengal, constituting a big estuary in Bangladesh..

Brief history of the Project:

The Tipaimukh dam entered the lexicon of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission in 1978, when it was decided that “the concerned Superintending Engineers of the two countries should jointly examine the scope of the Indian scheme of storage dam on Barak River at Tipaimukh.”

It further added that the “potential flood control and other benefits (particularly power) to Bangladesh should be studied expeditiously.” But in the following two decades, Teesta and Ganges and Tipaimukh took a back seat.

Indeed, as Rao Birender Singh, India’s former Agriculture, Rural Reconstruction and Irrigation Minister, pointed out in a Review Meeting of the Ganges Waters Agreement held at New Delhi on January 7, 1981, as follows:

“The unfortunate part, however, has been that Bangladesh has not come forward to study the data on scientific and rational basis to discuss the scheme and then come to its conclusions.”

This statement revealed that India had carried out detailed explorations and investigations on the Tipaimukh dam.

After an interregnum of almost 25 years, Tipaimukh once again reared its head in 2005 at the Joint Rivers Commission.

Concerns on the Dam:

In the interim a lot had changed—internationally and domestically. For instance, a very interesting development has been the global movement against dams, which highlighted the social and environmental costs of multi-purpose projects.

These concerns have been fully articulated in a report released by the World Commission on Dams in 2000, which, in addition to highlighting social and environmental issues, also emphasised upon people’s participation in decisions related to dam building activities.

Such concerns were raised in the case of the Tipaimukh dam as well. For instance, a paper on the Tipaimukh Dam was presented to the Dams and Development Project (DDP) in 2005 by Zakir Kibria, Executive Director of the Bangladesh-based NGO BanglaPraxis, titled “Gaining Public Acceptance (GPA) for Large Dams on International Rivers: The Case of Tipaimukh Dam in India and Concerns in Lower Riparian Bangladesh.”

Kibria flagged additional issues on Tipaimukh dam like
• Hydrological impact,
• Impact on flooding pattern and the river flood plain-wetland ecosystem,
• Impact on morphology,
• Impact on water quality,
• Possibility of dam break.

Tipaimukh Dam rests in an ecologically sensitive region in one of the most seismically volatile areas on earth. In the light of broader ecological, hydrological and social costs of large dams gaining prominence and being increasingly highlighted by various institutes, academics, affected peoples’ groups and civil society at large in Bangladesh expressed categorical concerns on the adverse downstream impact of the dam.

Since then, the issue of Tipaimukh has been surrounded by controversies leading to an implementation-lag, and consensus-deficit at various levels.

India’s assurance:

During the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister to India in January 2010, Prime Minister of India “reiterated the assurance that India would not take steps on the Tipaimukh project that would adversely impact Bangladesh (paragraph 31 of the Joint Communique).
While the Indian official position emphasises that the Tipaimukh dam would be a “hydro-electric project with provision to control floods”, it explicitly states that the project would not involve “diversion of water on account of irrigation.” Furthermore India argues that rock-fill dams are suitable on a geotectonic fault such as on Tipaimukh location and Japan has built more than 2000 dams though the country is highly earthquake prone.

While India has been emphasising upon the hydro-electric and flood prevention benefits of the project, Bangladesh has been concerned about (a) the impact of such activity on the river regime, (b) capacity of the dam to control floods, (c) impact on hydrology, particularly the water drainage on crop lands and (d) dam break because of an earthquake area.

The civil society in Bangladesh has questioned the nature of the dam in restricting water availability to the Kushiara and Surma rivers as well as the capacity of the dam to generate 1500 MW.

Bilateral steps to resolve the issue:

There has been a lack of transparent communication and sharing of knowledge between the two countries. However, records reveal that at the official level since 2009, both countries have shown interest in solving the issue bilaterally.

For instance, in 2009, a 10-member Bangladesh parliamentary delegation led by late Abdur Razzak MP, former Water Resources Minister of Bangladesh attempted to survey the proposed dam site by helicopter but could not do so because of the inclement weather.

After the Promoter’s Agreement between the Government of Manipur, NHPC Ltd. and Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd (SJVN) on 22 October 2011, Dr. Mashiur Rahman and Dr. Gowher Rizvi, Advisors to Sheikh Hasina, paid a visit to New Delhi, to discuss their concerns.

In the wake of this two day visit in early December 2011, Dr. Gowher Rizvi wrote an editorial page article in the Daily Star (13 December 2011), in which he did not express concerns on the impact of the dam on Bangladesh.. Rizvi’s article had drawn critical comments from members of civil society in Bangladesh as being misconceived.

Tipaimukh has become a high-profile issue in India-Bangladesh relations and has a huge potential to be a thorn in bilateral relations. For the sake of friendly bilateral relations, a comprehensive technical study relating to the project needs to be jointly undertaken by both countries.

India has sought to allay these concerns and also invited Bangladesh to become a partner in the project, which would also facilitate the sharing of power to be generated.

Given this background, the assessment of impact on Bangladesh has been finally incorporated into the agenda of the Indo-Bangladesh Joint Rivers Commission. Significantly, a sub-group of the Joint Rivers Commission had been set up in May 2012 to examine the impact of the project on Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has constituted its team of experts to conduct a joint study which has been duly notified toIndia.. According to media, these experts are primarily government officials drawn from the Ministries of Water Resources and Foreign Affairs, the Water Development Board, the Centre for Environment and Geographical Information Services and the Institute of Water Modelling.

The first meeting of the sub-group on Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Project under the Joint Rivers Commission was held in New Delhi on August 27-28, 2012.

The second two-day meeting of the sub-group ended in Dhaka on 2nd February 2013 and Dhaka asked Delhi to provide more information and data on the water flow of the Barak River to assess the possible negative impacts of the planned dam on the common river on Bangladesh.


Some experts suggest that at least two years would take for a comprehensive joint study on the impact of the Tipaimukh project. Thereafter the two countries will examine the report of the joint study and decide on the dam. Any unilateral decision by India to build the dam would be a breach of the 2011 Indo-Bangladesh Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development signed in Dhaka by the two Prime Ministers on 6th September 2011.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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