India will not accept any plans by China to divert the Brahmaputra river waters, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here on Sunday even as he urged the Government of India to expedite hydel projects along the river in Arunachal Pradesh.
China is building a 540 MW ‘run of the river' power generation project on the Yarlung Tsangpo, as the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet. While there are, at present, no plans to divert the river, Mr. Ramesh warned that any project “would be difficult for India to accept.”
“The great fear in India has been that China would divert waters from the Brahmaputra to feed its arid southwest region, thereby impacting India as a middle riparian [country on the middle reaches of the river],” he told journalists. “It would be very difficult [to accept diversion plans] both politically and also ecologically, particularly because of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. And not only India, but also Bangladesh as a lower riparian would be badly affected.”
Last month, Chinese officials, for the first time, provided information to India over its plans to build a hydel power project at Zangmu in Tibet. Officials said the dam was a ‘run of the river' power project, and neither involved plans for storage nor diversion. “A 540 MW ‘run of the river' should not be cause for great concern, as much as a storage dam [would be],” Mr. Ramesh said
The Chinese government has, however, spoken of plans to divert the river's waters as part of a $ 62- billion “South-to-North Water Diversion” project. Work has not yet begun on the project, which has been mired in delays over safety concerns and rising costs. Chinese officials told External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna during his visit here last month that the government had no plans to divert the river.
The real concern for India, Mr. Ramesh said, was the absence of any water-sharing agreement to regulate any future use of the river's waters. “We don't have a water- sharing treaty,” he said. “But we have now begun the process of discussions on the exchange of hydrological data. This is the first step forward.” India needed to continue discussing the water issue with the China, he said, adding the process was “going to be slow-going.”
“The answer to this [problem] also lies in India expediting its hydro projects in the Brahmaputra basin,” he said. “India needs to be much more aggressive in implementing its own hydel projects… so that our negotiation position vis-à-vis China improves.”
Besides hydrological data, sharing information on glaciers remains another sensitive issue between the two governments.
Mr. Ramesh was scheduled to sign an agreement on glaciological data during his visit here in September, but reservations on the Chinese side, sources said, reportedly delayed the deal. He, however, said, “bureaucratic reasons” delayed the agreement.