Brahmaputra jitters from China project
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (Kolkata, Telegraph, 31 March 2008)
New Delhi, March 30: Hints have emerged from China that it may be gearing for a project on the Brahmaputra that threatens drought in India’s Northeast, environment experts and Indian officials claim.
Delhi, however, has decided to ignore the developments and instead volunteered to pay Beijing for help in avoiding floods in the region, government sources here said.
China, despite official disclaimers, has long been suspected of planning to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra — which originates in southwest Tibet as the Yarlung Zangbo or Tsangpo —to its thirsty northwest.
Experts have warned that such a project could trigger an ecological disaster in India’s Northeast and Bangladesh.
In recent weeks, a flood of technical articles has appeared in China backing the diversion plan, indicating Beijing is setting the stage for the project, Indian officials said. They said the Chinese government had also built an airstrip on the river’s banks close to a potential diversion point where a dam could come up.
Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, an NGO, said the Chinese project could divert 200 billion cubic metres of water annually to the Yellow River, leaving Assam dry during the lean season.
However, the Union water resources ministry secretary, Umesh Narayan Panjiar, said: “There are no concrete developments. We are watching.”
Other government sources said from all indications, Delhi had no plans to respond till detailed project reports came out in China. “Then it could be too late,” an official said.
The Centre has not carried out any study on the possible magnitude of the impact of a Chinese diversion project, or worked out a contingency plan for Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the states that would be hit the worst.
Delhi, however, is happy that Beijing has agreed to add two more monitoring stations to its array of three on the Tsangpo/Brahmaputra to forewarn against floods. India has decided to fund the maintenance of the two new stations. China shares weather forecast data from its three existing stations with India.
“They have not asked for money, but at least one of the stations is in a very remote area, so we don’t mind paying for maintenance. It’s a goodwill gesture,” an official said.
Some like the Asom Gana Parishad MP from Assam’s Lakhimpur, Arun Sarma, feel that the government knows something about the Chinese plans but has been “covering it up”. He had asked water resources minister Saifuddin Soz for a clarification but the answer did not satisfy him.
In his reply on December 17, 2007, Soz had quoted a Chinese spokesperson telling a PTI correspondent that Beijing had no plans to divert the Brahmaputra’s waters.