Dhaka parties spar over Indian river project


Dhaka : Bangladesh’s political parties continue to spar over a river valley project India is planning in its northeastern region as New Delhi awaits a parliamentary team accompanied by experts to visit the project site.

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Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith Friday urged “all to be aware” of any movement against the Tipaimukh dam project “by a certain quarter to gain its political interest,” Star Online web site said.

Muhith criticised the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for not protesting against the Indian plans although the latter had completed the design and detailed studies and floated an international tender during the BNP-Jamaat rule (2001-06).

Addressing the “National Tipaimukh Dam Conference 2009”, the finance minister, among the most experienced ministers in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government, said public opinion could have been mobilised earlier.

India is planning to build the dam over the Barak river in Manipur state, upstream of Bangladesh where the river, part of the gigantic Brahmaputra river system, is called Meghna.

The minister joined the debate as opposition parties, environmentalists and NGOs are building up protests that are similar that raged for long over India’s dam over the Ganga at Farakka.

The two South Asian neighbours signed a bilateral treaty in 1997 that provides for India releasing more water to the lower riparian neighbour, particularly during the summer months.

The BNP, led by opposition leader and two-term prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, has accused the Hasina government of a “sell-out” and working against the national interest – a common refrain on projects and issues pertaining to India.

BNP secretary general Khandaker Delwar Hossain last Tuesday asked people to raise their voices against the Hasina government “as it is mum about the Indian plan”, the website of the Daily Star newspaper said.

Tipaimukh is linked to the Asian Highway, an United Nations – Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) project that Dhaka is preparing to join, upturning the earlier policy of the Zia government.

Hossain alleged that the Hasina government “is now trying to help (India to) complete them (the projects)”.

India has in the last four years “refrained from sharing technical information” with Bangladesh, “triggering public uncertainty and outcry over its possible negative impact on the neighbouring country” (Bangladesh), the website said.

The proposal for a visit by a parliamentary team was made last month by New Delhi and accepted by Dhaka.

While India has not started construction, it floated an international tender in 2005 and opened the bid in 2006.