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Days after Wen visit,India notices 24 new projects on Brahmaputra

No data-sharing mechanism; India hopes these are run-of-the-river projects

Written by Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi |
December 21, 2010 3:30:49 am

Within days of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India,intelligence agencies have reported 24 new projects (believed to be hydro-power projects) along the Brahmaputra river and its tributaries on the Chinese side.

Till over a year ago,the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) had identified only over half-a-dozen locations along the Chinese side of the Brahmaputra where potential hydro-power works were coming up.

Intelligence indicates that the 24 projects now discovered are relatively small compared to the Zangmu project,the biggest identified so far by India on the Brahmaputra on the Chinese side. However,with limited means of verification,Indian officials can only hope that these are small run-of-the-river projects for local populations.

The issue of these additional works was discussed today at a meeting of the Committee of Secretaries looking into the diversion of Brahmaputra waters,under Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar,where officials stressed the need to constantly monitor the situation.

While there is a flood-season data-sharing agreement between India and China on the Brahmaputra river,there is no such agreement on sharing information related to projects on the river. India,therefore,has to rely on its own sources regarding the project activities. In fact,Zangmu project became the subject matter of the Committee of Secretaries only after it was brought to the notice of the government by intelligence agencies.

This is unlike the case of the Indus river basin,where the 1960 Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan entails regular sharing of project details by both sides.

While India and China renewed a pact regarding flood-season hydrological data-sharing on the Sutlej river during Wen’s visit,there was little exchange of information on the projects on its side of the Brahmaputra. China only offered to exchange flood-season data and and made a verbal assurance of no harm to Indian interests.

While the Indian establishment does not appear alarmed at the limited information available on the 24 locations that have now been noticed,water experts have been urging the government to undertake hydro-power projects on its side of the Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh to create “user rights” on the waters to checkmate Chinese designs.

However,there has been little progress on the Indian side on creating storage projects. Even its run-of-the-river hydro-electric projects in Arunachal Pradesh have attracted criticism from the Ministry of Environment,that has sought review of the projects on environmental grounds.

China has only recently officially confirmed the “formal start of construction” of a 510 MW hydro-power project at Zangmu,about 540 km upstream from where the Brahmaputra enters India from the Chinese side,beginning mid-November. The plan is to have six power generating units with 85 MW installed capacity each,with the first unit slated for commissioning by 2014.

Even the flood-season hydrological data-sharing between India and China is different from that with Pakistan. While India,as the upper riparian state in case of Indus,supplies data for free,China charges fee for data-sharing on the Brahmaputra and Sutlej. Still,Wen had flaunted the hydrological data-sharing between the two sides as a big gesture from the Chinese side.

“Over the years,in order to help downstream areas with disaster prevention and mitigation,the Chinese technical personnel have defied the hostile natural conditions in the upper reaches,overcome tremendous difficulties and even risked their lives to handle emergencies and to collect flood-season hydrological data that are shared with India,” Wen said during his visit.

He had also promised to “improve” the mechanism of data-sharing and to undertake upstream development activities with “scientific planning” to address Indian concerns.

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