CONCERNS OF BRAHMAPUTRA
The Brahmaputra also called Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, is a trans-boundary river and one of the major rivers of Asia.With its origin in the Chemayungdung glacier, located on the northern side of the Himalayas in Burang County of Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo River, it flows across southern Tibet to break through the Himalayas in great gorges (including the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon) and into Arunachal Pradesh (India), where it is known as Dihang or Siang. It flows southwest through the Assam Valley as Brahmaputra and south through Bangladesh as the Jamuna (not to be mistaken with Yamuna of India). In the vast Ganges Delta, it merges with the Padma, the popular name of the river Ganges in Bangladesh, and finally the Meghna and from here it is known as Meghna before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.
The waters of the River Brahmaputra are shared by China, India, and Bangladesh. In the 1990s and 2000s, repeated speculation was mentioned about China building a dam at the Great Bend, with a view to divert the waters to the north of the country. This was denied by the Chinese government for many years. At the Kathmandu Workshop of Strategic Foresight Group in August 2009 on Water Security in the Himalayan Region, which on a rare occasion brought together leading hydrologists from the basin countries, the Chinese scientists argued that it was not feasible for China to undertake such a diversion.However, on 22 April 2010, China confirmed that it was indeed building the Zangmu Dam on the Brahmaputra in Tibet,but assured India that the project would not have any significant effect on the downstream flow to India.
In a meeting of scientists at Dhaka at 2010, 25 leading experts from the basin countries issued a Dhaka Declaration on Water Security calling for exchange of information in low-flow periods, and other means of collaboration. Even though the UN Convention on Trans-boundary Water of 1997 does not prevent any of the basin countries from building a dam, customary law offers relief to the lower riparian countries. Also, potential exists for China, India, and Bangladesh to develop hydroelectricity projects and transboundary water navigation.
Concerns of bramaputra
As China’s largest hydroelectric dam on the Brahmaputra, or Yarlung Tsangpo, became fully operational this month, it has once again evoked concerns in India. The $1.5 billion Zangmu hydroelectric dam has stoked a virtual paranoia over China’s resource choices and their likely downstream impact. But the debate has generated more heat than light. It has also unwittingly ended up being a single-issue debate, fixated on water diversion and its likely impact.
- An overwhelming focus on diversion has moved attention away from other critical issues such as water quality that India needs to raise with China.
- There are growing concerns over worsening environmental degradation facing Tibet’s ‘Three Rivers area’ comprising the Yarlung Tsangpo, Lhasa river and Nyangchu basins in central Tibet.
- One of the most intensely exploited areas in this region is the Gyama valley, situated south of the Lhasa river, with large polymetallic deposits of copper, molybdenum, gold, silver, lead and zinc. Studies by Chinese scientists are pointing to the possibility of a high content of heavy metals in the stream sediments and tailings that could pose a potential threat to downstream water users.
- Global warming could further accelerate the movement of these heavy metals besides projected spatial and temporal variations in water availability.
- By 2050, the annual runoff in the Brahmaputra is projected to decline by 14 per cent. This will have significant implications for food security and social stability, given the impact on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture.
- These also raise the larger question about the cumulative impact of massive dam-building projects across the entire Himalayan region and the consequences of such intensive interventions in a region that is ecologically fragile.
- The dangers of water accumulation behind dams could also induce devastating artificial earthquakes. In the geo-dynamically active Himalayas, earthquakes are an ever-present danger with a recorded history going back to the 13th century.
What sort of normative bargains should we be mindful of while designing data-sharing protocols between India and China?
- While India provides flood-forecasting data to Pakistan and Bangladesh free of cost, it pays to receive the data from China. India pays China Rs. 82 lakh annually to receive advance flood data as per MOUs reached in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
- These provide flow data from May to October on the water level, discharge and rainfall from three measuring stations on the Brahmaputra, namely Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia.
- The justification for payments is being advanced on the premise that downstream users are disproportionate beneficiaries of data flows
It is in India’s interests to start a serious conversation with China on some of the larger questions of benefit sharing, risk allocation and trade-offs on the Brahmaputra