Protests mount in Dhaka against Indian river project

June 14th, 2009 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Sheikh Hasina Dhaka, June 14 (IANS) Bangladesh’s main opposition has threatened to move the United Nations as the Sheikh Hasina government has called for talks over a river valley project India is planning in its north-eastern region.
Protests are gaining momentum even as a Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation, accompanied by experts, prepares to visit the planned Tipaimukh project on the Barak river in India’s Mizoram state later this month. India had proposed the visit last month.

Part of the larger Brahmaputra river system, Barak flows into Bangladesh, where it is called Meghna, making it the lower riparian state.

The issue has echoes of Farakka, the project India executed over the Ganga — another major river system that the two neighbours share — on Bangladesh’s western flank, as political parties engage in blame-game and press the government for a diplomatic offensive.

The main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia Saturday said it will seek intervention of international community including the United Nations to hold back India from constructing a dam on upstream Meghna at Tipaimukh threatening its water supply.

BNP secretary general Khandaker Delwar Hossain told media Saturday that his party would “go for an all out movement against the Tipaimukh project,” New Age newspaper said Sunday.

While in office, Zia had moved the UN on the Farakka issue in the early 1990s and now blames the government of her arch rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for remaining “silent” on the new project.

Hasina, during her earlier tenure, had in 1997 signed the Ganga Water Treaty that envisages sharing of river water, with more water flowing into Bangladesh during the summer months.

Bangladesh’s traditional stand is that any construction of a dam by India, the upper riparian state, leads to “desertification” of its land.

However, the Hasina government is trying to retain the initiative.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said: “If Tipaimukh dam, or any similar structure, threatens Bangladeshi interests, the matter will be solved by discussion with India.

“The Indian government has assured us that they will in no way act to harm Bangladesh,” she told news agency Saturday.

However, Moni said that the BNP, in power during 2001-06, had failed to take up the matter with India when the Tipaimukh plans were drawn.

BNP denies this and cited its opposition to the Farakka project and the Indo-Bangladesh treaty that it alleges is a “sell-out” by Dhaka.

The movement gained momentum earlier this week after The Daily Star newspaper ran a report on Indian plans that it said were ’secretive’.

“If India keeps giving us Farakkas, we must rethink our friendship with India. We must rethink our foreign policy,” A.J.M. Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan, a Dhaka University teacher wrote in The Daily Star Sunday.

Bhuiyan said rather than confront India, Dhaka should resort to “omni-balancing”.

“Omni-balancing could be the best strategy for our foreign policy. Small countries in many parts of the world pursue this strategy for protecting their national interests.

“Omni-balancing suggests that a small country should have equally friendly relationships with all the regional powers so that it could play one power against the other whenever necessary,” Bhuiyan said.

Related Stories

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Politics |