By Brig (retd) Vinod Anand (Senior Fellow, VIF)
For past many years while China has been in the news for its efforts in exploiting the vast hydro power potential of Yarlung Tsangpo River of Tibet Autonomous Region India has also been attempting to tap the potential of this river known as Brahmaputra in India.
Recent reports indicate that China has approved the construction of three new hydropower dams on the middle reaches of Yarlung Tsangpo. Work on an older 510 MW hydro project in Zangmu in Tibet had commenced way back in 2010. The capacity of the two new projects coming up at Dagu and Jiacha would be 640 MW and 320 MW respectively while the capacity of the third new dam at Jiexu is yet to be confirmed. These projects have been planned to be completed in China’s 12th Five Year Plan period i.e. 2011-2017. China has, as usual, given the assurances that these are run of the river projects and in no way affect the downstream flows. In addition China has also built at least six smaller projects on tributaries of Tsangpo which again according to the Chinese would not affect waters flowing into India.
Earlier assertions by China that it has no plans to construct a massive dam at the Great Bend on Tsangpo (at Metog) to divert waters to the arid North have been met with a certain degree of skepticism in India. The proposed project has the potential of providing 38 gigawatts of energy. Chinese engineers have been claiming that technical difficulties in construction of the dam can be overcome. In fact, Yan Zhiyong, the general manager of China Hydropower Engineering Consulting Group stated in May 2010 that "The major technical constraints on damming the Yarlung Tsampo have been overcome."
According to a well known Chinese science forum, the Great Bend was the ultimate hope for water resource exploitation because it could generate energy equivalent to 100m tonnes of crude coal, or all the oil and gas in the South China Sea. Zhang Boting, the Deputy General Secretary of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering has claimed that such a project will benefit the project by marked reduction in carbon footprints.
While upper riparian states have an upper hand in controlling the water flows to the downstream states and therefore the lower riparian states usually raise objections to any damming activity upstream it was rather surprising when China raised objections to India’s Siang Upper hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh.
Siang is the largest river of Brahamputra river system which originates from Chema Yungdung glacier near Kubi in Tibet. While in Tibet it is known as Tsangpo, and flows in West – East direction, it takes a turn in south direction before entering the Indian territory in Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The river then flows in North – South direction, passes through Upper Siang and East Siang districts of Arunachal Pradesh and is known as Siang River. Further down, the Siang is known as the Brahmaputra.