Northeast frets, but India can do little on China's Brahmaputra dam

Last Updated: Sat, Oct 17, 2009 05:05 hrs

New Delhi: While concerned officials of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have asked for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's intervention, India may not be able to make much noise over China's hydro project on the Brahamaputra in Tibet, said officials.

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Sources said Friday that it was India's assessment that the Zangmu hydropower project would be a "run of the river" hydro project, which will not violate any international laws.

On Thursday, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said, in response to a media report, that India will be trying "to ascertain whether there are recent developments that suggest any change in the position conveyed to us by the government of China".

The spokesperson said at earlier meetings of India-China experts on trans-border river issues "the Chinese side has categorically denied that there is a plan to build any such large-scale diversion project on the Brahmaputra river".

According to the sources, India will be inquiring about the Zangmu project at the next bilateral meeting of water experts. China's reported plans to build a dam across the Brahmaputra river and divert water to its arid provinces have been opposed by the Assam and Arunachal Pradesh governments.

"Large-scale diversion of water would adversely hit the state's economy and could even lead to environmental problems and affect the surface water table in the (Indian) northeast," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said on Friday.

The 2,906-km long Brahmaputra is one of Asia's largest rivers that flows the first stretch of 1,625 km in Tibet region, the next 918 km in India and the remaining 363 km through Bangladesh before converging into the Bay of Bengal.

"We are going to seek the prime minister's intervention to ensure that China does not construct the dam. It would have devastating impact on Assam," the chief minister said.

"It would be a gross violation of international protocol if China arbitrarily constructs the dam," Congress MP from Arunachal Pradesh Takam Sanjay said. Experts feel that a dam on the Brahmaputra would have a cascading impact in the northeast and even in Bangladesh.

"We are worried as many areas in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and even Bangladesh would go dry if the Chinese went ahead with their plans. This move would severely affect water flow to the region which in turn would adversely affect agriculture," said Sapna Devi, a geologist.

According to media reports, China was planning to divert 200 billion cubic metres of water to feed the Yellow River in an attempt at easing acute water shortage in Shaanxi, Hebel, Beijing and Tianjin.

The Brahmaputra is the lifeline for a vast majority of the people in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Bangladesh. Most of them depend on the river to irrigate their fields, fishing and transportation of goods.

Agriculture forms the backbone of the economies in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh with nearly 80 percent of the 28 million people in the two states eking out a living through farming.

There has been no official reaction from Beijing to India's concern about damming the Brahmaputra.