Recently, Chinese authorities have given the go-ahead for a Chinese hydropower company to construct the first downstream hydropower project on the lower reaches of the river Brahmaputra (known as Yarlung Zangbo in Tibet). This plan is worrying India due to its location and across Arunachal Pradesh. Read more about the mega power plant and its impact on India
The state-owned hydropower company POWERCHINA signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government to implement hydropower exploitation downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River as part of the new Five Year Plan (2021-2025). This will be the first time the downstream sections of the river will be tapped. However, the location of the planned project has not been mentioned anywhere.
The Great Bend of the Brahmaputra and the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Medog county, where the river turns sharply to flow across the border into f Arunachal Pradesh could be the potential spot for the project. This 50 km section alone offers the potential of developing 70 million kilowatt-hours (Kwh).
China’s Previous Projects
In 2015, China operationalized its first hydropower project at Zangmu in Tibet, while three other dams at Dagu, Jiexu, and Jiacha are being developed, all on the upper and middle reaches of the river.
Project’s importance for China
The 60 million kWh hydropower exploitation could provide 300 billion kWh of clean, renewable, and zero-carbon electricity annually. The project will play a significant role in realizing China’s goal of reaching a carbon emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality till 2060.
India has been expressing concerns on the Brahmaputra since 2015 when China operationalized its project at Zangmu. A dam at the Great Bend, if approved, would raise fresh concerns considering its location downstream and just across the border from Arunachal Pradesh.
For India, the quantity of water is not an issue because these are run of the river dams and will not impact the Brahmaputra flow. More importantly, Brahmaputra is not entirely dependent on upstream flows and an estimated 35% of its basin is in India.
However, India is concerned about the Chinese activities affecting the quality of water, ecological balance, and flood management. India and China do not have a water-sharing agreement. Both nations share hydrological data so it becomes important to share genuine data and have a continuous dialogue on issues like warnings of droughts, floods, and high water discharges.
The dialogue will resolve the stalemate India is required to go beyond the exchange of hydrological data and ask China for information on the topographic condition of the whole basin. Any forward movement on ensuring hydro-security in the Brahmaputra basin would require a long-term understanding between the two countries.
It is necessary for India to engage China in sustained dialogue and secure a water-sharing treaty that serves the interests of both countries.
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