AGARTALA, July 10 (IANS): The Indian government is going ahead with the proposed 1,500-MW Tipaimukh hydel power project in Manipur despite objections from NGOs in India and opposition parties in neighbouring Bangladesh, says an official.
"All apprehensions are baseless. The mega hydel power project would be commissioned despite opposition within the country and outside," Prem Chand Pankaj, chairman-cum-managing director of the state-owned North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd. (Neepco), told IANS in an interview.
A section of environmentalists and activists in Manipur and Bangladesh fear that rivers in that country could be adversely impacted by the project.
Originally conceptualised and awarded to Neepco in 1999, the giant power project was handed over to a consortium comprising National Hydroelectric Power Corp (NHPC) and Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) and the Manipur government last year.
Pankaj said: "We would soon ask the government to hand back the project again to Neepco for its early commissioning. The delay in execution of the vital power project would create numerous problems."
"Some so called environmentalists and NGOs for the past few years have been campaigning against the project and misleading people," said Pankaj, who took over as Neepco CMD last month.
Setting aside fears, the senior electrical engineer said only 74 families would be rehabilitated elsewhere due to the implementation of the Rs.8,138-crore ($1.7-billion) Tipaimukh project.
The project, located on the Barak river under Churachandpur district in western Manipur, is under attack from opposition parties and environmental groups in Bangladesh, which say it could cause desertification in their country.
Part of the Brahmaputra river system, the Barak bifurcates into the Surma and Kushiyara rivers on entering Sylhet district in eastern Bangladesh.
Bangladesh's opposition leader and former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia in a letter also asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stop construction of the project.
Incidentally, at the end of the three-day India visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January last year, a joint communique by the two countries had said:
"The prime minister of India reiterated the assurance that India would not take steps on the Tipaimukh project that would adversely impact Bangladesh."
Additionally, a 10-member Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation conducted an aerial survey of the Tipaimukh dam in July 2009 after opposition over the hydel project's possible ecological impact intensified in Dhaka.
India's Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde had then told the delegation that the Tipaimukh project was not an irrigation project or a water diversion scheme.
"He said it was a hydel project and in no way would harm Bangladesh's interest," an official of the Manipur power department told journalists in Imphal quoting union power minister.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna is also understood to have told his Bangladeshi counterpart Dipu Moni that India would not harm its neighbour's interests.
The project, said T.C. Borgohain, a senior Neepco engineer associated with it, will regulate excess water and help control floods in Sylhet district of Bangladesh as well as western Manipur and southern Assam in India.
"It will open a new waterway from Haldia port in West Bengal to landlocked northeastern India via Bangladesh," Borgohain told IANS, and added that water used for generating electricity would be released back into the river.
The Tipaimukh project, one of the largest in northeastern India, is also facing opposition in Manipur over fears of displacement of hundreds of families.
Many NGOs and civil society organisations based in Manipur have been organising rallies and protest demonstrations against the project and demanding abandonment of the venture.
Imphal-based Sinlung Indigenous People Human Rights Organisation said: "The process for choosing the project ignored both the indigenous people and the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams."