Experts wary of India's stand on Brahmaputra

GUWAHATI: As China eyes Tibet as its potential region for harnessing water resource and hydro-power, experts are increasingly wary about India's stand on the Brahmaputra where Beijing has planned a number of projects.

The Brahmaputra river system, a lifeline for the people of the northeast, supports the fragile ecosystem in the region. With Tibet alone accounting for about 30 per cent of China's fresh water, experts have not only raised questions over the way India flags its concern with the neighbouring country but also raised fears about the possibility of conflict over the trans-boundary water.

"So far, India's stand has been to downplay whatever China is doing in harnessing the Brahamaputra. India is wary of engaging with China on the issue of the Brahmaputra," said Nimmi Kurien, associate professor at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research (CPR).

Kurien was speaking at workshop on water conflicts in the northeast organised by Pune-based Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India (FPDWCI) and Guwahati-based Aaranyak here on Saturday. Kurien also pointed out that China has been telling India that the hydro-power projects on the Brahmaputra were run-of-the-river projects and as they do not have water storage and would, therefore, not affect water flow to the northeast.

"But what about the cumulative impact from these projects. India being the lower riparian state should more and more engage with China on the set of issues related to water, dam safety and cumulative impacts. These issues should find proper mention in the India-China talks," said Kurien. .

She added that the existing agreement on sharing floodwater data by China with India does not help in building trust between the two countries when it comes to dealing with trans-boundary rivers like the Brahmaputra.

However, experts have also questioned India's "moral ground" on raising the issue of trans-boundary river with China.

"The 1500-MW Tipaimukh dam on the Barak River in Manipur has equally raised concerns in Bangladesh over the negative impact from project. Bangladesh is worried about the impact on flow of water. But India decided to go ahead with the project. Now, does India have the moral ground to raise similar concerns when it comes to the Brahmaputra with China," said R K Ranjan Singh, environmentalist and senior visiting fellow in Manipur University.