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Use of Brahmaputra water Panel to examine prior use claim
Kalyan Barooah
 NEW DELHI, Jan 22 – In keeping with its strategy to strengthen its claim over Brahmaputra river, the Centre after waiting for months, has decided to constitute a high level panel to establish prior use claim over the river water. The panel to be headed by Cabinet Secretary, K M Chandrasekhar is mandated to examine ways of strengthening India’s claim over Brahmaputra river in international forums. Under international law, a country’s right over natural resources it shares with other countries becomes stronger, if it could establish prior use over it, said official sources.

The committee would be examining various options through which India could claim its rights on the Brahmaputra. The options include building dams, generating electricity and navigation through the river to claim riparian rights, said sources.

Immediately after the controversy broke out last year, Committee of Secretary (CoS) was asked by the Prime Minister to examine the issue. The CoS, headed by the Cabinet Secretary recommended to the Ministry of External Affairs to directly take up the issue at the political level with Beijing, besides deciding to set up a high level panel to monitor the Chinese activities.

The Central Government was jolted into action after the National Remote Sensing Agency reported to the CoS about massive construction activities on the Chinese side of the border.

The issue that generated much heat last year had landed New Delhi in a spot. Finally, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had to take up the issue with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sideline of the ASEAN Summit in Thailand, last October.

New Delhi’s strategy is to establish the right of use by establishing prior use of the water. If India can establish that it is utilising the 79 BCM of water it receives from China, then there may be little option left for Beijing to reduce the flow from the current level, said sources in the Ministry of Water Resources.

As part of its strategy, Planning Commission has also asked Arunachal Pradesh and the Union Power Ministry to expedite the hydropower projects. The Planning Commission too has been brought into the picture. “If India could utilise it then it may well establish the right to use the water,” an official said

According to an estimate India receives 79 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water from China at the ‘Great Bend’ and discharges 629 BCM into Bangladesh.

Union Minister for Water Resources, Paban Kumar Bansal had told this newspaper last year that here has been no reduction in flow of water into India till date and there was no evidence of diversion either. However, he cautioned that if the flow of water is less than 79 BCM, it might be a matter of concern. “Even if 5 BCM of water is diverted by China, then it means trouble,” he explained.

New Delhi’s main concern is absence of any treaty with China on water sharing. Currently, India and China have a data sharing arrangement that is used for flood forecasting. These data are shared every three months.

The dam building activities on the Chinese side are taking place approximately 1100 km away from the ‘Great Bend’– the point from where water enters India. And China already has some 15 dams on their side of the river in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), pointed out the official.

“If they build small dams and run-of-the-river hydro-power projects to cater to their local needs then we have no issue, but it is the height of the dam that matters. Besides, if China plans to divert the water to meet irrigation needs and feed its dry areas, then it should be cause of alarm for us,” Bansal had said.

“Our concern is that China does not construct high dam or diverts the water,” he said.

India’s suspicion on Chinese design arose when on January 19 last, the Government-owned People’s Daily reported plans to build a hydro-power station. China, the world’s second biggest energy consumer, may build hydro-power plants on Tibet’s Yarlung Tsangpo, the Daily reported.

An initial study shows that the river can accommodate hydro-power stations with a total capacity of 70 gig watts, which is about 10 per cent of the nation’s overall generating capacity, vice-president of State Grid Corp of China, Shu Yinbiao was quoted as saying.

The river, with an average elevation of about 4,000 metres, passes through one of China’s poorest regions.

China conducted an assessment of water resources on Yarlung Tsangpo, and the study shows a section of 150 km can accommodate 70 gig watts of hydro-power capacity, Shu said.

The hydro-power stations envisage transmiting electricity to east and central China via new ultra-high voltage lines spanning at least 3,000 km, Shu was quoted in the news report.