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China takes India for a ride on the Brahmaputra news
By Rajiv Singh
18 November 2010

New Delhi: China has shown its innate talent for taking countries for a ride over its intentions, in particular a pacifist neighbour like India, by lying through its teeth about its intentions before presenting others with a fait accompli. History will have repeated itself all over again with Beijing finally admitting that it is indeed building a massive hydel power project on the Brahmaputra before the river enters India.

The acknowledgement comes after straight in-the-face denials from China starting from September-October of last year, when Indian media first picked up intelligence reports about Chinese activity on the Upper Brahmaputra at a place called Zangmu.

Chinese authorities officially started construction of the dam in Tibet last Friday, state media reported.

China's Global Times said it would be the first "mega hydroelectric power plant on the Tibetan plateau," and feature six 85-megawatt power-generating units which will ostensibly supply power within Tibet.

The project has triggered concerns over the environmental impact along the river, which originates high up on the Tibetan plateau and flows east and south in a wide arc before flowing into India, Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal.

Not surprisingly, outright denials from the Chinese about their intentions to dam the Yarlung Tsangpo, or the Upper Brahmaputra, last year met with passive acceptance from Delhi. (See: India downplays Chinese activity on the Brahmaputra)

Last year, at the same time, on 5 November to be precise, water resources minister P K Bansal had pooh-poohed all the noise emanating in the local media over the issue and made the amazing assertion that the issue did not matter as the project was a ''small dam'' and that the construction site was 1100 km away from the country's boundary!

"The point where they were making a dam is 1100 kilometres away from our boundary. It's a small dam and no reservoir as such. They already have such 15 dams there which they are using for local purposes," Bansal had said then.

A 510 MW hydel power project according to the learned minister is a ''small'' project! Also, it's anybody's guess how the distance of a dam from a country's boundary is relevant to the damming of a river's waters?  And, the fact that the Chinese already had 15 such dams on the Upper Brahmaputra was also a fresh revelation at that point of time.

"For their run of the river, we have no right. Our concern should be that there is no diversion in existing flow of the 79 BCM water from the river into India. There is no evidence for any such diversion so far," Bansal said.

The qualified assertion that there was no evidence of Chinese diversion of water ''so far'' did not rule out such an occurrence in the future. As with all issues Sino-Indian, an about-turn from the Chinese, when they face the people of this country with a fait accompli, is the only time that everybody will wake up.

Till such time pompously titled ''border talks'' and ''strategic dialogues'' will keep Delhi's interlocutors busy and some ministers, with a compulsive need to be accepted as great statesmen, will keep preening their feathers about interactions with the Chinese leadership.

China keeps drawing parallels between Zangmu and India's Baglihar, a run-of-the-river project on the Chenab before it flows into Pakistan, in a bid to trip up India on the issue of dams on Tibetan waterways.

As is the case with specious arguments, the devil lies in the details. While the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty remains the guiding principle for the sharing of river waters between India and Pakistan, no such treaty exists with China, and Beijing remains reluctant to enter into one.

On the other hand, India likes to assert, with a certain amount of pride, that it has never impeded the flow of waters to Pakistan, even in times of war.

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China takes India for a ride on the Brahmaputra