China's Great Dam a threat to millions in India

Mumbai: According to a high level meeting held at Beijing in January 2010, China has made plans to achieve leapfrogging development and lasting stability in the Tibet Autonomous Region in a bid to ensure China’s development as a whole.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and other senior leaders attending the fifth meeting on the work of Tibet, from January 18-20, 2010 agreed that more efforts must be made to greatly improve living standards of the people in Tibet, as well as ethnic unity and stability.

According to reports, a dam is being constructed at a place called Namcha Barwa on the eastern plateau of Tibet. It is at this point in Tibet that China is reportedly building the world’s largest dam, with 26 turbines, expected to generate 40 million kilowatts per hour of hydroelectricity.

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the Zangmu hydroelectrical project was inaugurated on March 16 2009 and the first concrete was poured on April 2 2009. A consortium of five top Chinese power companies is overseeing the 1.138 bn Yuan project.

For the first time in May 2011, the State Council (the Chinese Cabinet) acknowledged the mega project of Three Gorges Dam at Tsangpo/ Brahmaputra River and also the possibility of diverting the river towards northern China.

Wang Guangqian, a scholar of the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained the Chinese rationale: “Faced with severe challenges brought by reduced water resources and a severe drought that has affected a large portion of the country, China has started to consider diverting water from the Brahmaputra River, the watercourse that originates upstream from south-western Tibet and finally enters India.”

The last time India officially heard about the diversion of the Brahmaputra was in November 2006 when President Hu Jintao was going to visit India. China had decided to assuage the legitimate worries of the Indian government.

The unpleasant development has irked New Delhi, which earlier expressed its grave concern over reports of a dam being built by China in 2006. However, the Chinese government had then categorically dismissed claims that Beijing plans to divert the Brahmaputra River that flows from Tibet into India.

There is a big difference between 2006 and today: with the opening of the tunnel to Metok (Motuo) in December 2010, the Chinese engineers now have the possibility to start the mega power plant which could provide the necessary energy to the diversion scheme, planned a couple of hundred kilometres upstream the Brahmaputra.

Offering their support to the project, some Chinese engineers have reportedly suggested that the dam could provide cheap electricity for India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and that the dam could facilitate flood control in the Brahmaputra-Ganges basin.

However, it is also believed that the diverted water from the river would irrigate the north-western part of China’s Gobi desert in Xinjiang and Gansu, up to 400 miles away, and refill the dying Yellow River, which now runs dry for much of the year.

River Brahmaputra is very important for India and Bangladesh. The Brahmaputra River basin in India is gifted with water wealth that accounts for nearly 30% of the total water resources and about 40% of the total hydropower potential of the country.

Several organisations in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have aired grave concern over the reported move by China to construct a dam on the main channel of Brahmaputra in the upper reaches of Tibet, to generate electricity and also divert its water towards drought hit areas of Tibet.

This move is bound to jeopardise the flow of the Brahmaputra, the lifeline of the Assam valley, causing devastating floods during the rainy season. It will also dry up during winters.

The National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) recently confirmed that construction was on at the Zangmu site on the Chinese side of the Brahmaputra River, prompting the government to take up the matter with China at a “political” level.

The dependability of the Chinese on such issues is doubtful, hence India and Bangladesh must jointly take up this issue firstly with the Chinese Government to safeguard the interest of their countries.

If the results of the negotiations are not fruitful, which are likely, the issue must be raised at the UN Security Council as the lives of millions of people from India and Bangladesh are endangered once the dam is completed and water diverted into Tibet.

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