Plans to build three more dams on Brahmaputra had raised concerns about impact on India
The Chinese government said on Wednesday it would take into consideration the interests of lower riparian — or downstream lying — countries as it goes ahead with new hydropower projects on the middle reaches of the Brahmaputra river or Yarlung Zangbo, as it is known in China.
“Any new projects have to go through scientific planning and study, with the consideration of the interests of both lower and upper stream [riparian] countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said at a press briefing, in response to questions about the government’s approval for the construction of three new hydropower projects on the Brahmaputra, first reported by The Hindu on January 30.
The Chinese government, Mr. Hong said, had “always taken a responsible attitude towards the utilisation and development of cross-border rivers.”
The Chinese State Council, or Cabinet, has given the green light to three new hydropower projects on the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo in an energy plan for 2011-15 announced on January 23. The plan specifically listed Dagu, Jiacha, and Jiexu as sites for new hydropower bases, and stated that the government “will push forward vigorously” hydropower projects on the middle reaches of the river.
The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government has also accepted a pre-feasibility study report, prepared by the Huadong Engineering Corporation, for a 640 MW dam at Dagu. China has, so far, begun construction on one 510 MW dam on the main stream on the middle reaches of the river, at Zangmu, which lies 18 km downstream of Dagu. Chinese officials have said the Zangmu dam, which triggered concerns in India, was only a run of the river project which would not impact downstream flows. Top Chinese officials have assured their Indian counterparts even as recently as last month that they would not take any steps that would affect downstream flows.
China has, however, shared little specific information about the status of approved or proposed new projects. While India and China do not have any water-sharing agreement, they have instituted a mechanism to exchange data on transborder rivers through a working group, including on the measurement of flows. The issue also figured in recent talks between National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo here last month.
“We mentioned the fact that we have a forum, we are exchanging data on transborder rivers, and that we would like to expand what we are doing,” Mr. Menon said here last month. “We are also measuring flows,” he said. “So far so good; so far, the flows are what they were. The question is, if they have a structure which can control flows. So far, it doesn’t exist. They say nothing that they are doing is going to affect the flows. They are sharing data with us, and we will keep working with them”.