New Delhi: India has set up a panel to study ways of tapping the Brahmaputra river, in a bid to strengthen its claim over tributaries that China reportedly plans to divert, two senior government officials said.
The committee under cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar will work to establish India’s “prior use claim” on the waters that flow into the Brahmaputra. Under international law, a country’s right over natural resources it shares with other countries becomes stronger if it is already putting them to use.
Sharing protocol:The site of a proposed hydel project on the Arunachal Pradesh border. Under international law, a country’s right over natural resources becomes stronger if it is already putting them to use. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
“The committee is considering options through which India could claim its rights on the river. The options include building dams or using necessary navigation through the river to claim riparian rights,” one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“According to the Central Water Commission, while 60% of the water in the Brahmaputra comes from India, 40% comes from Tibet. This committee will study the impact and look at the way forward,” said the other government official, who also did not want to be identified. Tibet is an autonomous region of China.
China has set in motion a $62 billion (Rs2.85 trillion) scheme to divert the tributaries of the Brahmaputra towards the arid regions of Xinjiang and Gansu, according to media reports. India is worried hydroelectric projects planned in Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state parts of which are claimed by China, may be affected by the diversion. Geopolitical concerns over the sharing of river waters make hydropower projects a major challenge.
Mint had reported on 21 March that India’s apex planning body, the Planning Commission, had recommended the pace of construction of hydropower projects in the North-East on rivers originating in China be quickened to establish a prior use claim.
But hydropower projects are 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.
India’s seven north-eastern states have a combined hydropower generation potential of around 58,000MW. Arunachal Pradesh alone has a potential of 50,328MW—the highest in the country, according to the Central Electricity Authority, the country’s apex power sector planning body.
China has repeatedly denied the reported plans to divert rivers. “This is baseless. China is a responsible country and will not do anything harmful to other countries,” a Chinese embassy spokesperson in New Delhi said.
Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said on 4 November that China had denied building a dam on the Brahmaputra. She was responding to a question on the reported construction at the Zangmu site on the Chinese side of the river, which was confirmed by the National Remote Sensing Agency, according to media reports.
“This matter has been taken up not just once but on a number of occasions with China, and China has consistently denied that it is engaged in any such construction activity on the Brahmaputra,” Rao had said.