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India’s World – China commissions dam on Brahmaputra

India’s World – China commissions dam on Brahmaputra



China recently operationalized its 510 MW Zangmu dam in Tibet on the Brahmaputra river. The commissioning of this dam and the possibility of other dams coming up on the Brahmaputra has raised concerns in India. These relate to the likely impact on water flow in the lower reaches of river as well as the apprehension about China using water during times of conflict to create flooding downstream. Three of the other proposed dams are about 500 Kms away from the Indian border. Any significant diversion or retention of water will impact hydroelectric projects downstream. India and China do not have any river water sharing agreements.

The Zangmu dam construction began in 2010. It sparked off panic among China’s southern neighbors, including India. The fear was that China might actually drain this river of water, just as it had done with the Mekong river. The 4,350 km long Mekong is the 12th largest river in the world, the 7th largest in Asia. It originates from Tibet (China) and flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Today, all the downstream countries of the Mekong River accuse China of starving them of water.

India has been worried about China’s hydropower projects in the Tibet Autonomous Region and is apprehensive these projects could be used to regulate and control water downstream, leading to scarcity in the northeastern states. The sharing of river waters has been discussed by the two countries, with China maintaining that it has no intention of obstructing flows into India. China has always contended that the hydropower schemes are not strategic and only aimed at tackling energy shortages in the region. China says that such projects will alleviate the electricity shortage in central Tibet and empower the development of the electricity-strapped region. It is also an important energy base in central Tibet.

China seeks to ally Indian fears saying that they are the run-of-the-river projects which were not designed to hold water. India has been taking up the issue with China for the past few years. Under an understanding reached in 2013, Chinese side agreed to provide more flood data of Brahmaputra from May to October instead of June to October in the previous agreements river water agreements in 2008 and 2010.

India must make the sharing of waters from the Himalayan Rivers a priority issue with China, along with the boundary dispute and the trade imbalance. India has negotiated successful water sharing agreements with Pakistan and can repeat this with China. This would not only help build confidence on both sides for much bigger deals, including one that involves settling the boundary dispute, but will also diffuse the possibilities of waging new water wars as the scarcity of the resource intensifies in the coming decades.