New Delhi: The Planning Commission has said India must set up more hydropower projects in the North East on rivers originating in China to counter Beijing’s plan to divert water from them.
“We should really develop our hydel resources as quickly as possible, particularly in the North East,” said Kirit Parikh, member, energy, at the Planning Commission. “Unless we establish a certain degree of prior use claim, China might say that as you are not using the water, why are you complaining?”
“A broad strategic vision is required,” Parikh added.
New Delhi is concerned about Beijing’s plan to divert water from rivers that flow into the Brahmaputra to the arid zones of Xinjiang and Gansu, through its ambitious $62 billion South-North Water Diversion Scheme.
“According to international laws, there is a question of having a prior user commitment, which gives a certain amount of right. We need water from all the rivers which are fed off from tributaries from there (China),” Parikh added.
A senior official in the ministry of water resources, who did not want to be identified, said: “We are trying to address this. We are discussing how to go about it diplomatically. And we have to establish our rights.”
The Chinese embassy in New Delhi did not reply to email queries from Mint on the issue.
The North East has a hydropower generation potential of about 58,000MW . Of the seven northeastern states, Arunachal Pradesh alone has a potential of 50,328MW—the highest in the country, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) the country’s apex power sector planning body.
“We have to work with the state governments to develop these projects,” said a senior official at the Union power ministry, requesting anonymity.
Hydropower projects are, however, difficult to build as construction requires more specialized technology and design compared with thermal power projects. They also have to deal with delays in environmental clearances. A power sector review panel headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier said that a “long time was being taken for environment and forest clearances and there was a need to shorten the time frame for grant of the clearance”.
The relocation and resettlement of affected people is another issue which has thwarted many projects. A case in point is NHPC Ltd’s 3,000MW Dibang hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh. The foundation stone for the project was laid in January 2008, but the public hearing, required by law before an environmental impact assessment report is prepared, couldn’t be held due to local opposition.
“It is true that action has to be taken. We have to keep in view the international laws and ramifications. There is an urgency in developing storage projects in the North East in a sustainable manner by taking into account the environmental and social impacts in the long run,” said K. Ramanathan, distinguished fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute.
The government is worried that the share of hydropower segment in India’s power generation basket has fallen from 40% to 25% in the past 20 years. The hydropower sector accounts for only 32,000MW of the country’s 147,000MW power generating capacity. The country, which has an installed hydropower capacity of 32,326MW, plans to add another 16,501.17MW by 2012.