On Friday 31 July, Stephen Timms, Member of Parliament for East Ham and Financial Secretary to the Treasury attended a meeting held by the Newham Bengali Community Trust to discuss the building of the Tipaimukh Dam. The dam is due to be built on the River Barak in the Indian state of Manipur. The project has sparked controversy both in Bangladesh and amongst the Bengali community in Newham, many of whom have family and friends living in the region.
The meeting was held at the Trust’s headquarters on the Barking Road and included a presentation from Dr Hasan Shaheed, a Lecturer at Queen Mary University, London. Dr Shaheed highlighted the environmental, social and political impacts that the dam would have on villages in India and in Bangladesh. After the presentation, over a dozen members of the Trust, including Cllrs Kazi and Chowdhury, told Mr Timms what they wanted him to do in his capacity as local MP and as a government minister, in a series of short 2 minute speeches.
Mr Timms addressed the audience and promised to write to the Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (DfID), the Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP. Addressing specific concerns raised by the audience, Mr Timms said he would raise three specific questions with the Secretary of State, namely:
1) What assessment has DfID made of the impact of older Indian dam projects on poverty in Bangladesh?;
2) What assessment has been made of the impact on the Sylhet region of Bangladesh of the Tipaimukh Dam?; and
3) What mechanisms are there for ensuring that reassurances being given by those supporting the project will be honoured?
Speaking after the event, Mr Timms said: “I would like to thank the Newham Bengali Community Trust for inviting me today. The meeting was very useful and allowed members of the local community to air their concerns regarding the Tipaimukh Dam directly to me.
It proved to be a highly constructive dialogue and I hope that my letter to the Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP will help in clarifying the action of the British Government and help push this matter further up the agenda. This is a matter of great importance, not just to those who live in Bangladesh but also the sizeable Bengali community here in Newham.”