India clears hydropower project on Brahmaputra to counter China?
By Ranjana Narayan, New Delhi, Feb 10 : With China seemingly on a dam-constructing spree over the Brahmaputra, including one near the point where the river enters India, the government has given the go-ahead for a big hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh to mark India's stake in a river that is in many ways a lifeline of the strategic northeast.
The government has given clearance to the 800 MW Tawang-II hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh this week, paving the way for its implementation, according to officials. The project had been pending clearance a long time.
The hydro power project would help to mark the stakes of India, a lower riparian country, in a crucial river, especially in the absence of a water sharing treaty with China, according to officials.
Officials said China's 510 MW capacity Zangmu dam, being built on the Brahmaputra bend section, "will be completed in three-four years" and India needs to push its project to counter China even as it has taken up the issue of Beijing's "flurry of dam-building" at the "highest level".
The Zangmu dam, said to measure over 100 m, would supply water to China's dry regions in the north, but it would starve the Indian state of Assam and neighbouring Bangladesh of water in the summer months, water officials and experts said.
China has announced plans to build three dams Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu on the river last month - part of its aggressive planning to provide for energy and water needs of its 1.3 billion people. Beijing has assured New Delhi that the new dam projects will not affect water flow to India.
"India has for a long time been aware of the Zangmu dam. We have seen Google Earth images and have got information from our agencies about ongoing dam construction," one official told IANS, declining to be named.
According to the official, China is also going ahead with work on some other big dams and many smaller dams on the river, which originates in the Mansarovar Lake in Tibet.
The Brahmaputra originates in the Himalayas in Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo river and flows for about over 2,800 km across southern Tibet through the Himalayas and into India and Bangladesh before merging with the Ganges and emptying into the Bay of Bengal.
"China has 25 other dam projects in the pipeline (on the Brahmaputra)," the official revealed.
Seven rivulets originating from the glaciers in the Tibetan plateau feed the Brahmaputra. Damming of the river upstream would starve India of water from these snow-fed rivulets during the summer months, he added.
Ashokananda Singhal, president of NGO Jana Jagriti, spearheading an awareness campaign against China's hydro-projects on Yarlung Tsangpo, said China is building 26 hydropower dams on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra. Once the projects are completed, "85 percent less water will come from China to India" during the summer months, he said.
One water official blamed "lack of coordination" among government departments on working out an effective way on how to tackle the "urgent" issue, implying that the government, particularly the external affairs ministry, may be downplaying its adverse repercussions on India.
"One day the dam will be ready, what then are we going to do?" the official asked. "We need to create our own resources," he added.
China has gone about very systematically in creating the dams, despite the inhospitable terrain. "They have created a railway network and a road network -- at a height of 4,000 mt above sea level -- with numerous bridges close to the dam site.
Indian security agencies have got photographs of these and have also got information from local contacts," the official said.
Sanjoy Hazarika, Director, Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia University, said: "What China is doing is unscrupulous, without a care for the downstream community."
Hazarika told IANS that the Chinese "have not been telling the truth about projects for many years. It is part of the fuzziness of what they are up to."
C. Uday Bhaskar, Distinguished Fellow, Society for Policy Studies, told IANS: "China's official position is that its activities will not affect India, but it can always exercise its rights as an upper riparian state.. India should engage with China to make it aware of its obligations so that it does not affect India's interests."
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)