Strategic affairs experts warn that the day may not be far when the continued neglect by successive Indian governments towards increasing water storage capacity may unleash more trouble for the country. Indeed, the day may not be far when China might be able to control the water taps in the North East region at will.
Not to sound like an alarmist – but the fact that China has operationalised its $1.5 billion Zam hydropower station on the Brahmaputra in Tibet should set the alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. The dam, considered the world’s highest-altitude hydropower station, will produce 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. That, however, is not our concern. We should be worried since China – the most dammed country in the world – is reportedly planning a few more, which may disrupt water flows into India.
Consider this: As per the UN, 718 billion cubic meters of surface water flows out of Chinese territory every year, of which 48.33 per cent comes into India; China has never inked any water agreement with any of its riparian neighbours, and has water disputes with most of them.
Under international law, it becomes difficult to effectively counter a country’s right over natural resources it shares with other nations, if it takes the initiative first. China has already done that. It, of course, maintains that its dams are run-of-the-river projects (they won’t hold water) and has assured that it will take into consideration the concerns of the Indian side.
The problem for India arises on two counts. One, China reportedly has plans to divert the Brahmaputra waters to its northwest; and two, it considers Arunachal Pradesh ‘Southern Tibet’. If it diverts the Brahmaputra, the consequences will be devastating.
Under the circumstances, the Modi government’s focus on ramping up infrastructure in the North East must be supported. Efforts should be made to resolve issues to ensure completion of projects such as the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri hydroelectric power project in Arunachal Pradesh. We can ill-afford to let self-proclaimed activists stop projects. To tackle China, the government must blend caution with aggression at the diplomatic level. The damage has already been done. India can only limit its extent.