While India is seeking a joint mechanism with China for better transparency about 39 project sites that the latter is reported to have identified on tributaries of the Brahmaputra, including seven on the main river, what was signed on Monday during the visit of Premier Li Keqiang was a “renewal” of the existing pact between the two countries on sharing flood data during the monsoon season.

At a joint press conference, both leaders expressed their willingness to expand cooperation on trans-boundary rivers. Mr. Li said he was ready to share more information on hydrology and rivers but there was no official word on setting up a joint mechanism to address India’s concerns on dams coming up on the Brahmaputra on the Chinese side.

The flood data agreement inked five years ago expires on June 4, 2013. The renewed pact, signed here by Chinese Ambassador to India Wei Wei and Indian Water Resources Secretary S.K. Sarkar in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Mr. Li, will last another five years. It says China will provide to India twice a day the hydrological data of the Brahmaputra river in the flood season between June and October.

A separate Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of Water Resources and China’s National Development and Reform Commission for cooperation in “ensuring water-efficient irrigation.” The pact aims at enhancing bilateral cooperation in water-efficient technology with focus on agriculture.

India has frequently expressed concern over the proposed seven dams on the main channel of the Brahmaputra, particularly about the 510-MW Zangmu project. India is apprehensive of diversion of waters. New Delhi feels that if waters are diverted, then projects on the Brahmaputra, particularly the Upper Siang and Lower Suhansri projects in Arunachal Pradesh, are likely to be affected. Even if Zangmu is a run-of-the-river (no permanent storage) project, there are apprehensions over the lean period impact, though China has said it will not affect downstream flows.

The other Chinese projects that are proposed on the Brahmaputra include Dagu, Jiexu, Jiacha, Lengda, Zhongda and Langzhen. Developmental activities have been observed on the Jiacha project, which may be the next to be taken up.

In the absence of a river water-sharing treaty between the two countries, a joint mechanism will allow India to seek specific information about the upstream projects in China, their construction schedule, the likely impact on people, environment and downstream river flows.

Dr. Singh had raised the need for a joint mechanism for information on trans-boundary projects during his first meeting with the new Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in Durban last month on the sidelines of the BRICS summit.

The MoU signed on Monday says China will provide hydrological data of the Brahmaputra in flood season while India will give information regarding data utilisation in flood forecasting and mitigation.

China will provide data twice a day from June 1 to October 15 at three hydrological stations including Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia, lying on the mainstream of Yarlung Tsangpo ( Brahmaputra ) river. It will also provide data if water levels exceed the mutually agreed levels during the non-flood season.

The MoU will be followed up with the signing of an Implementation Plan of Hydrological Information under which China has agreed to provide information on any abnormal rise/fall in water levels/discharge which might lead to a sudden flood in the Brahmaputra.

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