New Delhi, April 17:Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon made an “unannounced” 24-hour long visit earlier this week to Dhaka to ostensibly allay Bangladeshi concerns about the negative fallout of a dam India proposes on the Barak/Meghna river in the northeastern state of Manipur. Choosing to play down the visit, Menon told the media that the matter needed to be discussed and sorted out as is normal “between friends.”
While the Indian foreign ministry refused to talk about Menon’s visit, government sources said Menon’s visit to Dhaka on Monday, just days before the first phase of Indian elections, was also meant to urge the recently-elected Awami League government to keep its pledge to curb terrorism and maintain vigil along its borders to prevent any possible infiltration by those wishing to disrupt the poll process. India has been extremely concerned after the ‘mutiny’ by the former Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) force in late February. The ‘mutiny,’ it is now increasingly apparent, was an attempt to dislodge the Awami League-led government, seen as far less anti-Indian and more secular than the previous BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami government headed by Khaleda Zia.
During his brief visit, Menon met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Chief of Army Staff General Moeen U Ahmed, besides discussing the Tipaimukh Dam and other bilateral issues with Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and his counterpart Touhid Hossein.
During his meeting with the Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Menon invited a high-level Bangladeshi delegation to visit Manipur to study the plans of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam, which is to be located 500 metres downstream from the confluence of Barak and Tuivai rivers, and lies on the south-western corner of Manipur. The earthen dam was originally conceived to only contain the flood water in the Cachar plains of Assam, but emphasis was later placed on hydroelectric power generation, with an installed capacity to generate 1500MW of electricity.
The river Barak, also known as the Meghna and shared by the two South Asian neighbours, is the third-biggest river system in the region and is the principal source of water for eastern Bangladesh. Dhaka is concerned that construction of the dam would deprive Bangladesh of its due share of waters and create possible drought-like conditions. There have also been concerns that the dam would negatively impact the environment. Bangladesh has urged India not to construct Tipaimukh dam in the upper riparian until the negotiations on sharing of Meghna waters are closed, the Dipu Moni told the Bangladesh parliament after Menon’s visit.
As India looks to harness its natural resources to generate electricity to power its development initiatives, it is increasingly confronting neighbours, including Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are wary that constructing dams on international rivers could create problems for them.
Until the Ganges Waters Treaty was signed, the Farakka Barrage near Malda also caused simmering discontent with Bangladesh initially objecting to the dam. Similarly, construction of the Baglihar dam by India on the Chenab river created tensions with Pakistan.