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Why China’s hold on Brahmaputra bothers India


Within days of India announcing plans to assert its right within the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan, China said it was building a dam on a tributary of the Yarlung Zangbo, as Brahmaputra is known in Tibet. This will be its ‘most expensive hydel project’. Here’s all about the project, the tributary and why India worries about the project.

Why India sees red

1. China’s dam building overdrive is a concern because there are no bilateral or multilateral treaties on the water

2. China believes dam building on the Brahmaputra helps it assert claim over Arunachal Pradesh

3. India believes China’s projects in the Tibetan plateau threaten to reduce river flows into India

4. Dams, canals, irrigation systems can turn water into a political weapon to be wielded in war, or during peace to signal annoyance with a co-riparian state

5. Denial of hydrological data becomes critical when the flow in the river is very high

6. China is contemplating northward re-routing of the Yarlung Zangbo.

7. Diversion of the Brahmaputra is an idea China does not discuss in public, because it implies devastating India’s northeastern plains and Bangladesh, either with floods or reduced water flow

8. In 2013, India complained to China about its hydro projects on the Brahmaputra

9. India and China signed two pacts in 2008 and 2010 which facilitated India with data on water levels and rainfall twice a day from June 1 to October 15 at three hydrological stations in Tibet

10. In 2001, an artifical dam in Tibet collapsed and killed 26 people and damaged property of Rs 140 crore along the river Siang in Arunachal Pradesh

The Lalho project

The Lalho project on the Xiabuqu River in Xigaze (close to Sikkim) is under way at an investment of $740 million. Xigaze is a few hours from the junction of Bhutan and Sikkim. It is also the city from where China intends to extend its railway towards Nepal

China’s first dam on the main upper reaches of the Brahmaputra was built at Zangmu in 2010

Three more dams at Dagu, Jiacha, and Jeixu (small-scale projects) are under construction

In 2015, China inaugurated the Zam Hydropower Station, largest in Tibet, the highest dam built on Brahmaputra.

The Tributary that was blocked

 The Xiabuqu river, 195-km long, flows from Bainang in Tibet northwards and joins the Yarlung Zangbo near the region calledXigaze, also known as Shigatse

This tributary was blocked for the Lalho hydel project that launched in June 2014, scheduled to be completed in 2019

The river’s mean discharge is 25.8 cubic metres per second (cumecs), less than 0.15 per cent of the Brahmaputra’s mean discharge

when it enters India

Its reservoir was designed to store up to 295 cumecs and it will irrigate 30,000 hactares, control floods and generate power.

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