India to discuss Dhaka equity in Tipaimukh project
Despite objections from Central Ministries fearing delay and undue veto power to Bangladesh
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), backed by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), has overruled the demurring among other Central Ministries over giving Bangladesh a stake in the mega Tipaimukh multipurpose hydel project in Manipur. But India is playing it safe and would first like general discussions to be held with a team from Bangladesh that is expected to arrive soon to discuss the possibility of Dhaka acquiring equity in the project, said government sources.
The project had given rise to misgivings in Bangladesh, which fears greater exposure to floods during monsoons and low flows during the lean season. As a result, in 2009, a team of Bangladeshi Parliamentarians was airlifted to the site to convince people that the project was for hydropower and flood control, and not irrigation.
Talks on Tipaimukh could lead to discussions on joint partnership in hydel projects in Sikkim on the Teesta, whose water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh was blocked at the last minute by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. This caused diplomatic embarrassment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his first visit to Dhaka last year, during which pacts on Teesta and Feni were to figure prominently.
But the Prime Minister had assured his counterpart Sheikh Hasina that India would not take any steps on the project that would adversely affect Bangladesh. The MEA too has been telling the stakeholders that any development on the project, however insignificant, should be communicated to Bangladesh as a confidence-building measure.
Bangladesh has been flagging its interest in nine hydel projects under construction or being planned in the north-east and Sikkim. Besides Tipaimukh and Teesta III and IV, these include another mega project, Subansiri, and a host of under-100-mw projects.
Highly-placed Bangladesh diplomatic sources expect collaboration in hydel projects on common rivers flowing from the Himalayas to subsequently lead to tri-nation initiatives (Sikkim-India-Bangladesh) on common basin management. This could in due course be expanded to include China and Nepal and thus remove misgivings of lower riparian countries about the intentions of upper riparian ones in building hydel projects.
During Bangladesh Prime (Foreign) Minister Dipu Moni’s visit in early May, India had said it would not take any unilateral decision on the Himalayan component of the proposed river interlinking project which may affect Bangladesh. It had also welcomed Bangladesh’s intentions to collaborate on hydel projects common rivers. On Tipaimukh, India and Bangladesh had agreed to set up a sub-group that would go into all its aspects.
But before the government decided to invite Bangladesh to discuss a stake in Tipaimukh project it had to overcome opposition from other Ministries. They were against holding discussions as they felt the project, which will take at least seven more years, will be delayed and Dhaka could make similar demands on other projects.
After two meetings chaired by National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, the PMO invoked the Prime Minister’s name to rule out opposition to a proposal that could improve bilateral ties in other areas.
“The Prime Minister has approved that as a first step, a Bangladeshi delegation could be invited to India to discuss the possibility of Bangladesh taking a stake in Tipaimukh project. This would be the preferred course at present rather than getting into formal or semi-formal mechanisms that may give Bangladesh a veto on this and a number of similar projects,” said a missive.
Progress in power
India and Bangladesh have recently made progress in cooperation in the power sector. The two sides have agreed on a road map for supplying 500 mw of power to Bangladesh. A joint venture will set up a 1,320-mw coal-fired plant near the Sundarbans. An agreement on Tipaimukh would lend another dimension to cooperation in the power sector.
The Daily Star May 31, 2012
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday voiced her strong resolve to work together with India for mutual development of the two countries and insisted that the neighbour needs to move forward quickly on some pending issues.
“India needs to move forward quickly on some pending issues so that the two countries can work to implement various agreed decisions,” she said.
The premier made the remarks when a 16-member Indian delegation comprising Chief Minister of Meghalaya Mukul Sangma and Chief Minister of Arunachal Nabam Tuki met her at her official residence Gono Bhaban in the afternoon.
Stressing the importance of cooperation, Hasina said it is the only way to tap the potentials of both the countries for mutual benefits in this globalised world.
She also told the Indian delegation that there is a high expectation about the Teesta water sharing deal.
PM’s Deputy Press Secretary Bijan Lal Dev briefed reporters after the meeting.
Underlining the need for bolstering trade relations with the northeast states of India, Hasina said both the countries could take more business-friendly steps to boost trade.
On import of hydroelectricity from Arunachal, the premier said
Bangladesh could import power from them or could go for joint-venture power production there.
She also said there are many ways to cooperate with each other.
Hasina said Bangladesh attaches the highest importance to its relationship with India as this relationship has reached a new height following her landmark visit to India in January 2010 as well as the historic return visit of Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh in September 2011.
She noted that the exchange of visits enabled the two sides to work out a matrix for the evolution of the bilateral relations harnessing the available synergies for mutual benefit.
Hasina mentioned that the scope for cooperation is immense and both sides should not only limit themselves to physical connectivity.
She said Bangladesh is keen to explore investment opportunities in the power sector in the northeast and expressed her satisfaction that the officials have agreed to explore grid connectivity for transmission of power from the northeast to Bangladesh.
The prime minister also recalled the support and contributions of the people and the government of India and particularly the neighbouring states of the northeast during the War of Liberation in 1971.
The Indian delegation members apprised the prime minister that the bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh have expanded and there has been socioeconomic development of the people of the northeast states.
They noted that there are more scopes of cooperation between the northeast states and Bangladesh in the fields of energy, tourism, horticulture, food processing and education.
They also requested the Bangladesh government to increase the number of border haats for strengthening the bondage between the two countries, and emphasised on sub-regional cooperation.
The Indian delegation also stressed the need for expanding the existing road connectivity of Dhaka-Agartala-Dhaka.
Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Sheikh Md Wahid Uz Zaman, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pankaj Saran, PM’s Special Assistants Abdus Sobhan Golap and Mahbubul Haque Shakil were also present.