India Concern Over China's Upstream Brahmaputra Intentions

4 Feb 2021 by The Water Diplomat
DELHI, India

Any attempt by China to build a mega dam upstream of the Brahmaputra River would be an “encroachment on the entitled rights of lower riparian states like India and Bangladesh,” the government of India has said.

A 20 January statement released by the Jal Shakti Ministry (India’s ministry for water) and widely reported in the Indian media following a meeting of the nation’s Central Water Commission added that such a move would “adversely affect the availability of water in the Brahmaputra basin during the lean season”.

India and China have agreements in place relating to the provision of hydrological information during the flood season. There is also the Expert Level Mechanism set up in 2006 to discuss issues related to transborder rivers. However, it does not appear that any consultation on the plans has taken place between the two nations to-date.

This leaves India concerned that its water interests may be compromised, particularly during the winter, when 80 percent of the Siang River is fed by glaciers upstream of the proposed site. During the monsoon season, the Brahmaputra receives 90 percent of its water from tributaries in India.

The issue arose in November, when the Power Construction Corp of China announced plans to construct up to 60 GW of hydropower capacity on Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo River, which becomes the Siang River on entering India and the Brahmaputra River further downstream.

For its part, China insists that it has a legitimate right to develop hydropower on the river and that it “will continue to maintain communication with India and Bangladesh through existing channels.” It also sought to assuage concerns by stressing that the plans are still at a preliminary stage.

Meanwhile, India has responded with its own plans to build a 10 GW reservoir in Arunachal Pradesh to offset the impact of the dam upstream in Tibet by taking excess water discharge and storing water in the event of a deficit.

However, experts are calling the “dam-for-dam” response “short-sighted”. In an article on, Partha Jyoti Das, head of the Water, Climate and Hazards Programme of non-profit Aaranyak and co-author of Damming Northeast India says the ecological costs of such an approach would be high and unlikely to “mitigate the adverse impact of the Chinese dam project”.