War for Water..??

“The plum blossom is delighted — the sky is full of snow” – Mao Zedong on Tibet

Mao's view on nature has not yet gone the way his views on politics went. Momentum is a powerful force in a country the size of China. Once started, engineering schemes are difficult to terminate. Once locked into a certain technology, more spending is often required to deal with the unforeseen consequences. Dams are a case in point. – Extracted from When A Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts

The Asian powerhouse is aggressive in pursuing the goal of a safe and ‘green’ future. People’s Republic of China (PRC), in its 11th Five Year Plan, made a significant and farsighted decision to improve basic amenities in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). According to the plan, it has been decided to improve power connectivity and regular supply of ‘clean’ water in the region. If things go according to the plan, a host of other development projects including 28 dams over prominent rivers, the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway line, the Qinghai-Tibet Power Grid Interconnection Project and other such infrastructure projects will be completed by 2015.

River Linking Plan
As Mao Zedong visualised way back in the 1950s, better co-operation with Tibet region would integrate the people of Tibet and the majority Han Chinese. Recalling Mao’s vision, he was right in predicting the perfect future of Tibet region as a part of China.

Often called ‘The roof of the world’, Tibet region has numerous rivers and lakes, making it a rich ecosystem, albeit with an inhospitable terrain. The Yarlung Tsangpo River (reputed to be one of the few un-dammed rivers in the world) also known as the ‘Everest of Rivers’ originates here.

Tsangpo River makes a great bend near Namcha Barwa Mountain creating the biggest and longest gorge in the world. It enters India through the North East Frontier (NEF) state of Arunachal Pradesh crossing the Mac-Mohan Line.

Late 2008, the dam building controversy has intensified by a propaganda campaign by the Indian Government, targeting the Chinese Government’s vested interest in building an array of dams downstream of the Yarlung Tsangpo River. Various rounds of talks at various levels saw no improvement. The Indian Government maintained a façade of status quo with its own people, but many in the Indian civil society were aware of the reality of the situation across the border.

Persuasion and provocation by India over the years at various International fora forced China to reveal the truth in April 2010. The Union Minister of External Affairs, S.M. Krishna said, “Chinese authorities had finally admitted what the Indian government had long suspected: Beijing is building a massive, power-generating dam on China's Tsang Po river, which also runs through India – where it is known as the Brahmaputra –and Bangladesh.”

To evade from the Chinese improvements across the border, India started to show its economic prowess in the sub-continent. However, India was keen on revealing the truth. But the Chinese silently started the groundwork by building a power transmission station for the $1.2 billion Zangmu Dam-cum-Substation project.

One can notice the sheer aggressiveness China is showing towards the Tibet region which reflects in its policies and governance. On the other hand, India once built Farakka Barrage over the Ganges, restricting the flow of water to Bangladesh, causing major ecological changes affecting the river system. When it comes to the current controversy with China, ‘the shoe is on the other foot;’ India is left with no chance to compromise the mighty Chinese. A reduced water flow in the Brahmaputra plains would drastically affect agriculture on the cultivable plains of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and other areas downstream.

As per the reports, China started formulating the South-North Water Transfer Project in the early 1950s, under the vision of Mao. Later reports by Zhang Boting, the Deputy General Secretary, China Society for Hydropower, reveal that a massive dam on the great bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo - the Tibetan name for the river - would benefit the world, despite the likely concerns of downstream nations, India and Bangladesh, which access water and power from the river.

One must understand the geo-political game played by China, which is meticulously crafted, garnering support from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, though ignoring some issues of political concern in India. Following the timeline of events from the early 1950s, China had simultaneously led the race against India in all aspects – with Hydropower being no exception. Union Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh has accepted the fact that India is lagging behind China in developing hydroelectric projects.

Farakka Barrage
Politically, India once played a messy game with its neighbours in the sub-continent in the name of water sharing agreement. Now it’s time for our neighbours to retaliate. Till date, there is no policy framework for a comprehensive water sharing deal in the case of Brahmaputra. The crux of the issue is still overlooked; the dam will have a continuous impact in the downstream region for the years to come. Though the Government is fooling the ‘aam aadmi’ by presenting a rosy picture, it has not yet taken concrete steps on this issue.

Finally, as mentioned in the Upanishads, “What you do is what you get.” So ironically, the Chinese will continue to dominate over the rivers, which no country in this world is ready to fight.

Zangmu Dam Report on Aaj Tak


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