In contrast to >China’s unilateral move to construct dams on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, India has taken a different route with respect to dams on rivers it shares with Bangladesh.
India and Bangladesh have identified several projects including the controversial Tipaimukh hydel project in which Dhaka could have equity participation. Over time, some portion of the electricity generated by projects on common rivers could accrue to Bangladesh, said official sources.
“We have identified the projects and Bangladesh can come and participate in them, including the Tipaimukh project. They had raised some queries to which we replied. We are waiting to hear from them,” added the sources.
‘Take Dhaka into confidence’
According to the proposal, a copy of which is with The Hindu , the Ministry of External Affairs has informed Indian power companies about adverse reactions in Bangladesh over the Tipaimukh project on River Barak and advised them that any development, however insignificant, should be taken up after taking Dhaka into confidence.
The sources said that after the power companies decided to share technical details and the environment plan with Bangladesh, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon advised them to take the extra step by inviting Dhaka to participate in the Tipaimukh project.
Subsequently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh felt that as a first step, a delegation could be invited to India to discuss the possibility of Bangladesh taking a stake in the project.
Bangladesh has now shown interest in jointly developing nine hydroelectric projects in the North East and Sikkim. Of them, three are under construction — Subansiri (2000 MW), Myntdu (84 MW) and Teesta-III (1200 MW). Dhaka is also interested in six other projects that are at the planning stage including Jadukata (345 MW), Tipaimukh (1500 MW) and Teesta-IV (495MW).
Testing the waters
The offer of a joint stake in Tipaimukh, which is located in India on the Manipur-Mizoram border but on a river common to Bangladesh, will be the first move to test the waters in terms of various wrinkles that are likely to appear in a joint hydel project with a huge capital outlay. The project had led to agitations in Bangladesh where people feared that the dam would lead to floods during monsoons and lean flows during the rest of the year.
Public reactions in Bangladesh became more adverse after a promoters’ agreement was signed between two public sector companies and the Government of Manipur.
With the Prime Minister cracking the whip, the three original partners in the Tipaimukh project are ready to re-work their equity holding to accommodate Bangladesh as a stakeholder.
Sources said a part of the electricity that would be generated could be transferred to Bangladesh. India has a similar arrangement with Bhutan which is working satisfactorily — India buys about 1,200 MW of power from Bhutan and pays for it. India is constructing projects in Bhutan that are expected to yield an additional 10,000 MW provided funds don’t fall short.
India has already taken small steps in this regard with Bangladesh. A transmission line is nearing completion and, by this summer, India should be supplying 500 MW to her eastern neighbour.
The two sides are now working on an East-West connectivity project under which electricity generated in the North-East will be evacuated to eastern India by taking transmission lines across Bangladesh.
If all goes according to plan, officials say Bangladesh’s share from the projects could be transferred from this grid.