Brahmaputra river
Brahmaputra river. Image credit - asian-power.com

Responding to a starred question in the Rajya Sabha this month, union minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan said India was in ‘constant touch’ with China to ‘safeguard our interests’ pertaining to the Brahmaputra river.

MP Lal Sinh Vadodia has asked a series of pointed questions on the Brahmaputra and how reported dam construction by China was likely to adversely impact on its downstream course.

Vadodia asked (a) whether some dams have been built or are under construction on tributaries of Brahmaputra river by China; (b) whether due to construction of the said dams, the water of Siang river has become polluted and the local people are forced to drink this polluted water as a result of which they are having various types of diseases; and (c) the details of steps taken by Government to provide pure drinking water to the people living there and protect their interests?

Muraleedharan in a written reply said the Government has seen reports ‘drawing possible linkage between the deterioration in the quality of Siang/Brahmaputra River and the infrastructure construction activities on the river in China’.

“In this regard, Government has noted Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statements denying any such link and stating that the situation was caused by an earthquake in the region and was not a man-made incident.

“Government, in close cooperation with various State Governments which are users of the waters of Brahmaputra River, continues to carefully monitor the water flow in river Brahmaputra for early detection of abnormality so that corrective and preventive measures are taken to safeguard livelihood of peoples of these states of Union of India,” stated Muraleedharan.

The minister further pointed out that “as a lower riparian State with considerable established user rights to the waters of the trans-border rivers, Government has consistently conveyed its views and concerns to the Chinese authorities and has urged them to ensure that the interests of downstream States are not harmed by any activities in upstream areas”.

Muraleedharan assured the house that the government “remains engaged with China on the issue of trans-border rivers to safeguard our interest, including through an institutionalized Expert Level Mechanism which was established in 2006, as well as through diplomatic channels”.

Vadodia’s question was perhaps prompted by recent reports about China blocking a tributary of the Brahmaputra to construct a dam and Beijing’s reported plans to construct multiple dams on Yarlung Tsangpo, the name by which the Brahmaputra is known in Tibet.

China has already allayed Indian apprehensions that the Lalho dam project on the Xiabuqu river, a tributary of the Yarlung Tsnagpo , would adversely impact on the flow of the Brahmaputra river into India.

Describing the Lalho dam project on the Xiabuqu river as an important livelihood project to address food security and flood safety in Tibet, the Chinese foreign ministry told an Indian news agency that the tributary river is located completely within the Chinese side.

“The reservoir capacity of the project is less than 0.02 per cent of the average annual runoff of the Yarlung Zangbo-Brahmaputra. It cannot have an adverse impact on the downstream,” Chinese foreign ministry said in a written reply to PTI to a question on India’s concerns over the dam.

China has also rejected as “false and untrue” media reports that it was planning to build a 1,000- km long tunnel to divert water from the Brahmaputra river in Tibet close to Arunachal Pradesh to the parched Xinjiang region.

Brahmaputra flows from Tibet into Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and later into Bangladesh.

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