Chi seems to be playing a game of doublespeak with India over the Brahmaputra, holding all the aces close to its chest. The issue of damming the great river in Tibet arises frequently, Delhi routinely expresses concern which Beijing then assuages by trotting out bland explations. The Communist dragon claims it is merely installing some minor run-off-the-river hydel projects over the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), which pose no danger to downstream areas in India or to the health of the river itself. Considering the permanent Chinese clampdown on Tibet, it is not possible to verify the situation on the ground vis-a-vis the Tsangpo system. India has to rely on satellite data, though how far it has been able to hold the Chinese side accountable remains a moot point. Now comes the alarming news that Chi is planning at least 20 large dams over the Tsangpo and its tributaries in Tibet. Chinese engineers are building a five-dam cascade over the mid-reaches of the Tsangpo, with the 540 MW Zhangmu dam already commissioned. Construction of other dams over the cascade is proceeding full tilt. Bigger dams like the 800 MW Zhongyu dam and two or three other 2,000 MW capacity dams are reportedly on the drawing-board.
After doing extensive research on this subject, a Cadian environmentalist has rung the alarm bell over Chinese intentions to harness hydro-power in Tibet. Michael Buckley has warned that if Chinese plans to build a mega dam project in the ‘Great Bend’ where the Brahmaputra begins to turn from Tibet to Northeast India, come to pass — it will devastate the Himalayan foothill region’s fragile ecosystem. If all the large dams proposed by Chi on the Tsangpo system begin operations, the Brahmaputra river will never be the same again. This is because, apart from the drastically reduced water flow of the great river into India, its nutrient rich silt will be blocked in the Tibetan highlands. Since it is the Brahmaputra silt which makes floodplains in Assam and Aruchal fertile, agriculture will be adversely affected. This will have a negative impact on the food security of India and Bangladesh. Buckley has now written a book about the subject, calling upon India to stand up to Chi for its rights over the Brahmaputra. As it has done with Pakistan and Bangladesh, India needs to firmly negotiate water-sharing rights with Chi.
Meanwhile Bangladesh has already shown gumption by sounding a timely warning to Chi. In a strongly worded letter to Beijing recently, Dhaka has opposed Chinese plans to build a series of mega dams in Tibet, including the gigantic dam over the Great Bend region. Calling for a tripartite meeting between Chi, Bangladesh and India to discuss this issue, Dhaka has issued a copy of this official communication to Delhi to keep it in the loop. In this protest letter, Bangladesh has asserted that the Brahmaputra is an intertiol river. If Chi unilaterally goes ahead with its 40,000 MW Great Bend hydel project, which will be the largest of its kind in the world, the entire Bangladesh basin area will be badly affected. Water experts in Bangladesh apprehend that during the dry season, their country will suffer if dams are constructed over the Brahmaputra, as the river supplies 75 per cent water to Bangla rivers. This will put the country’s agriculture, horticulture, forestry, vigation and the entire environment to the mercy of salty waters from the Bay of Bengal. Dhaka has thus registered its unequivocal protest against construction of mega dams over the Brahmaputra in Tibet, to safeguard itself from catastrophic effects. It is up to Delhi to follow suit.