Tunnel to divert Brahmaputra water

China is reportedly contemplating to dig a thousand kilometre long tunnel to divert the waters of Brahmaputra in Tibet (where the river is called Yarlung Tsangpo) to irrigate and turn green the Taklamakan desert in its Xinjiang province. The Brahmaputra is an international river. It originates in Tibet, flows down through India into Bangladesh. In India it covers two States – Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the larger part of the river lying in Assam where it serves a hinterland of 56,000 sq. kms. The river has sustained and nurtured the Brahmaputra Valley civilization throughout history. Any diversion of water from the upper catchment area of the river cannot but cause grave anxiety in India, especially when it is not known how much water China intends to divert from the river to Xinjiang.
New Delhi should take up the matter with the Beijing authorities and try to enlist the support of Bangladesh in this effort. Statistics regarding the annual flow of water into the Brahmaputra from Tibet and related data are regarded as classified information. A unilateral decision taken by an upstream country where the river originates cannot be accepted. Ever since the devastating earthquake of 1950, the current velocity in the Brahmaputra has considerably gone down with consequent heavy siltation. The result is that widespread floods, damaging crops and property, have become an annual phenomenon in Assam during monsoon. If more water is diverted from the river at source, its consequences would pose an existential threat to the people of Assam.
Unfortunately, there is no international law on sharing of waters of rivers that flow through more than one country. In 1966 the International Law Association drew up a guideline known as the “Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers” but there is no mechanism to enforce the rules. Even if there were, it is doubtful if China would abide by such rules. Its contemptuous rejection of the decision of the International Tribunal at the Hague that China’s unilateral claim of sovereignty over South China Sea is not tenable betrays its attitude to decisions of international fora.
India has to build world opinion to put pressure on China from taking such unilateral steps that affect its neighbouring countries. It earlier acted unilaterally in diverting waters of the Mekong river that originates in China but flows through five downstream countries – Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam ignoring their protests. According to reports, the plan for the tunnel is expected to be approved by March, 2018. New Delhi should take advantage of the time to prevent China’s unilateral move.

Tuesday, 31 October, 2017