With humanity over-exploiting resources that make Planet Earth livable, one of these, water, will become the hottest issue in the future, both internationally as well as within nations, perhaps surpassing in value than fossil fuels! Countries with vast populations are set to be antagonists in this aqueous war. The Tibetan Plateau, for instance, is the source of five major rivers of Asia. If the pragmatic Chinese had illegally annexed the Plateau, the most pertinent reason had been their desire to control the headstreams of these rivers, since Tibet does not have much else natural resources to offer. It would, therefore, have been naive to assume that China would not attempt to harness the Tsangpo-Brahmaputra-Jamuna, which is an international river, with the longest segment, 1625 kilometres of its total of 2880-kilometre length, being within Chinese-occupied Tibet. In fact, China had incorporated three hydropower projects in her 12th Five-Year Plan itself, proposing to build dams at Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu in addition to the one already built at Zangmu, which have been completed by now. At that point of time, the Indian Government was apparently satisfied with the Chinese explanation that the projects were run-of-the-river types and would make minimal downstream impact. However, now renewed concern has been roused after the inclusion of a mega hydropower project on the Brahmaputra river in Tibet close to the Arunachal Pradesh border in China’s 14th Five-Year Plan.
Although details of this project are sketchy, reportedly, a state-owned hydropower company has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Tibet Autonomous Region Government to implement hydropower exploitation in the downstream of the Tsangpo. Though the site of the new dam has not yet been announced, the Great Bend, where the river turns sharply to flow across the border into Arunachal Pradesh, a 50-km section offering potential of developing 70 million kilowatt hours (Kwh), could be the probable spot for the project. If so, this will be the first Chinese hydroelectric project downstream of the river and is too close for India’s comfort! The danger of such a dam stems not from the fact that it might deplete the water resources of the riparian States of India and Bangladesh. In the Brahmaputra Valley, for example, the main river is fed by dozens of tributaries, some of them even bigger than the Siang-Dihang main-stem. The graver threat stems from the possibility that a dam possessing a reservoir is more often than not compelled to suddenly release over-accumulated water during heavy rains, which can cause devastation in downstream areas, a phenomenon that areas in the Brahmaputra Valley have repeatedly experienced. The Brahmaputra being an international river, the need had always been signing of a water-sharing treaty between China, India and Bangladesh under the aegis of an agency like the United Nations, which might have pre-empted such a threat from Chinese designs on the Brahmaputra!