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Insights into Editorial: We Need to Talk About the Brahmaputra

Insights into Editorial: We Need to Talk About the Brahmaputra

27 October 2015

China recently operationalized its Zangmu Hydropower Project on the Yarlung Zangbo River (Brahmaputra River). The Hydropower Station is located in Gyaca county of the Shannan prefecture in China, and is considered to be Tibet’s largest such facility. It has also raised fresh concerns in downstream India, especially in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. There are also other upcoming projects such as Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu in different stages of planning/construction, which have further raised concerns in India.Zangmu Hydropower Project

India had prior information about China’s plans of developing hydropower on the Yarlung Zangbo. However, India and China do not have any formal river water sharing agreements. India is worried mainly because these projects could be used to regulate and control water downstream, leading to scarcity in the northeastern states.

What should be done to reduce the mistrust?

  • India and China need to move towards a framework of engagement and dialogue on the Brahmaputra, as a precursor to any negotiation.
  • The dialogue needs to be inclusive, providing a platform to various stakeholders and identify new approaches to address the common problem.
  • The dialogue must address the concerns of various stakeholders and sub-national units within the respective riparian countries (China, India, Bangladesh and Bhutan).
  • An attempt must be made through the dialogue to bring together the interconnected research on rivers, infrastructure building and other related aspects, ranging from politics, engineering, geology, economics, social scientists, hydrologists, environmentalists, activists forums, local stakeholders, which is now missing.
  • Expert-Level Mechanisms currently existing between India and China on hydrological data must be revived.

The success of the internal dialogue processes will mainly depend on the voice of sub-national units such as Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

Zangmu Hydropower Project chinaConclusion:

Given the huge population growth in China, India and Bangladesh, the water may become even scarcer in the coming years. Hence, India and China need to engage purposively in co-managing the rivers of the region, and thereby ensure that the development of the region is not impeded by unnecessary posturing on the sensitive issue of water, which can impact other bilateral issues. Sub-regional cooperation groupings such as the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Cooperation Framework can also create an enabling environment for mutually inclusive sub-regional participation and water resources sharing.