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Bangladeshi delegation visits Manipur to assess hydel project

Imphal, July 31 (IANS): A 10-member Bangladeshi parliamentary delegation visited the Tipaimukh dam in India's Manipur Friday following the opposition in Dhaka over the hydel project's possible ecological impact.
The delegation, led by parliament water resources standing committee chairman Abdur Razzaq, held a meeting with Indian Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde in New Delhi Thursday before arriving in Manipur Friday.
"The Indian power minister told the visiting delegation that the Tipaimukh project is not an irrigation project or a water diversion scheme, it is a hydel project and in no way will harm Bangladesh's interest," an official told journalists here.
The Tipaimukh Multipurpose Hydel Project on the Barak river, some 200 km upstream of the Bangladesh border, is under attack in Bangladesh with opposition parties and environmental groups saying it could cause desertification downstream.
"We will ask the Indian authorities not to implement any project that diverts or withdraws water from the Barak river," Razzaq said.
He said they proposed to request India to launch a joint survey on the proposed Tipaimukh multi-purpose dam before beginning construction.
The delegation, comprising of six lawmakers, three officials and a water expert, during its five-day tour was scheduled to meet Indian officials associated with water resources, power and environment.
The state-owned National Hydro-electric Power Corporation (NHPC)is developing the Rs.81.38 billion ($1.7-billion) hydel project to generate 1,500 MW of power.
Part of the Brahmaputra river system, the Barak bifurcates on entering Sylhet district of eastern Bangladesh into the Surma and Kushiyara rivers.
Bangladesh's opposition leader and former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month, urging him to stop construction of the project.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna is understood to have told his Bangladeshi counterpart Dipu Moni at a meeting in New Delhi earlier this month that India would not harm its neighbour's interests.
"It will regulate excess water, control floods in Sylhet district of Bangladesh, western Manipur and southern Assam, and open a new waterway from Haldia port in West Bengal to northeast India via Bangladesh," said T.C. Borgohain, a senior engineer associated with the project.
"The project would also lead to the development of two national highways - NH 53 and NH 150 - and thereby improve the connectivity among Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura," Borgohain told IANS.
"Water used for generating electricity will be released back into the river."
The project, cleared by the Manipur government, is awaiting approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) of the central government. "The project is scheduled for commissioning within 87 months from the date of the CCEA clearance," Borgohain said.
The project, one of the largest in northeastern India, is also facing opposition from within the country over fears of displacement.
Citizens Concern for Dams and Development (CCDD), Committee on Land and Natural Resources (COLNAR) and Action Against the Tipaimukh Dam Project (ACTIP), in a joint statement on the visit of the Bangladesh parliamentary committee to the dam site, said: "The Tipaimukh project must be scrapped."
Meanwhile, following the Manipur government's request, the central power ministry last month appointed the state-owned NHPC as the implementing agency for the multi-purpose Tipaimukh hydro-electric project replacing power giant North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) which had earlier been awarded the project in January 2003, but the construction work had failed to take off for various reasons.

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