India has been pushing to establish prior user rights on water of rivers that originate in China (Mint file)
India has been pushing to establish prior user rights on water of rivers that originate in China (Mint file)

With eye on China, India to push for setting up northeast apex water agency

  • The government's move comes in the backdrop of China’s ambitious $62 billion south-north water diversion scheme
  • NEWMA will be the apex authority for developing all projects related to hydropower, agriculture and biodiversity conservation in the region, among others

New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government will push for passing an Act for setting up the North East Water Management Authority (NEWMA) in the winter session of the Parliament.

The earlier plan to amend the Brahmaputra Board Act to set up NEWMA has been dropped to provide more teeth to the apex authority, that will also spear head India’s efforts to establish prior user rights on waters from the rivers that originate in China. This comes in the backdrop of China’s ambitious $62 billion south-north water diversion scheme.

“It would have required around 40-50 amendments to the Brahmaputra Board Act and make it confusing. Hence, that approach was dropped. We have had a meeting recently on the issue and the plan is to get the Act on NEWMA passed in the next session of the Parliament," said a senior government official requesting anonymity.

Mint reported on 23 September about NEWMA being set up to evolve a consolidated strategy for management of the region’s water resources. It will be the apex authority for developing all projects related to hydropower, agriculture, biodiversity conservation, flood control, inland water transport, forestry, fishery, and eco-tourism in the region.

The authority is being set up on the recommendations of a high-level committee headed by NITI Aayog vice-chairman Rajiv Kumar that included the chief secretaries of all the eight states of the region. The committee also comprised secretaries from the ministries of development of north-eastern region, power, water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, as well as officials of the National Disaster Management Authority and the departments of border management and space.

“We are going ahead with NEWMA," said another government official who also did not wish to be named.

This assumes significance given that India has been pushing to establish prior user rights on water of rivers that originate in China in an effort to fast-track projects in the North-East. Also, Japan has joined hands with India to aggressively develop infrastructure projects in the region with the setting up of the India-Japan Coordination Forum for Development of North East.

With one of the focus areas being hydropower, the strategy will help establish first-user rights to the waters of the Brahmaputra. The total hydropower generation potential of India’s northeastern states and Bhutan is about 58,000 megawatts (MW). Of this, Arunachal Pradesh alone accounts for 50,328MW - the highest in India.

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