Saturday, October 13, 2012

Race for Dams May Trigger Water Disputes Between India, China

Despite the prevailing calm along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh since the end of India-China war in 1962, anxiety still prevails among the people of Arunachal. However, the apprehension is not about another impending war, but this time it is about the dam-building spree on both sides of the LAC.

While over 100 large and small hydroelectric projects were being planned in almost all the tributaries of Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh, it is believed that China also has similar plans on the river which originates from Jima Yangzong glacier of Mount Kailash in Tibet. 

Brahmaputra in Tibet is called Yarlung Tsangpo. China had earlier announced construction of a 1.2 billion dollar run-of-the-river hydroelectric power project known as Zangmu dam on Yarlung Tsangpo. Strategic analysts here said that as China has plan to exploit the water resources of Yarlung Tsangpo in a big way, India needs to be well-prepared to assert its rights over Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh.

"Water of Brahmaputra remains a major concern for India and China. To my view the future dispute between the two countries will be on water. Both the countries should sort out the differences on exploiting water resources amicably before the dispute reaches a flashpoint," said Ashokanand Singhal, president of Jana Jagriti, a Guwahati-based NGO spearheading against China's hydro-projects on Yarlung Tsangpo. Last year Jana Jagriti came out with coordinates and maps of China's purported plan to construct hydroelectric projects and water reservoirs on the river.

Singhal is a votary of India's plan to tap water resources of Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh, saying that the country needs to establish user rights over the river before China goes full steam ahead.

Of the 100-odd projects in Arunachal Pradesh, 13 are planned in Tawang alone, the birthplace of VIth Dalai Lama. China claims Tawang as southern extension of Tibet.

People of Tawang, who predominantly belong to Monpa tribe, have opposed the hydroelectric project as they claimed many of the projects were located in Buddhist sacred sites. Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), a Tawang-based NGO, said that the discontent caused by the proposed projects would only benefit China which has not yet given up its claim over Tawang.

Even as China denied any plan to divert water from Yarlung Tsangpo last year, strategic analysts here are of the view that India should go ahead with hydroelectric project constructions in Brahmaputra's major tributaries to counter China's similar move. They said that the hydroelectric dams on Brahmaputra tributaries should be looked as strategic projects.

In 2010, during a public consultation on dams here, the former environment minister Jairam Ramesh said that construction of dams in major tributaries of Brahmaputra is necessary for India to have a "negotiating position" with China.

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