In what can be dubbed as the first and concrete evidence of a possible diversion project by China, latest satellite imagery shows a massive new dam on the Brahmaputra river — Yarlong Tsangpo in Tibet — with an underground tunnel that seems to engulf the entire water flow for almost one kilometre. This was revealed by Col (Retired) Vinayak Bhat who served in the Indian Army for over 33 years in an in-depth and extensive report in ‘The Print. He was a satellite imagery analyst for more than two decades and served in high altitude areas of Jammu &Kashmir and the North-east.
Although the Narendra Modi government has been maintaining a stand of ‘no evidence of any water diversion project, satellite imagery from November 26, courtesy US commercial vendor of space imagery DigitalGlobe, indicates a new project is in its advanced stage.
The available images show a new 200 m wide dam that seems to have completely blocked the water of the Brahmaputra. The entire river seems to have been forced into two inlets of almost 50 m width each towards the west of the river. The water flow comes out after around 900 m downstream in two outlets very similar to the size and shape of the inlets, said the ‘The Print‘ report.
What has raised questions about this project is that another project – Tsangmo or Zangmu Dam — has recently been constructed just 13 km downstream. This run of the river dam was made operational in end-2015 and has a capacity of 510 MW power production. Beijing did not pay any attention to India’s objections to the Tsangmo dam, according to the report.
The construction of another dam 13 km upstream of Tsangmo which diverts the entire water inside the mountain suggests that its purpose may not just be hydropower generation. The purpose of this project is possibly for diverting a portion of the Brahmaputra to the parched areas of Taklamakan desert.
India being downstream of the Brahmaputra has full rights over its waters and any diversion of water from this river could likely hurt Indian agriculture. During any emergency, a sudden release of water from this project can also cause havoc on the Indian side.
Satellite images also clearly show stone crushers and cement plants at the site. The products of this facility are obviously used inside these tunnels for construction purposes. The material being quarried from inside these tunnels is being piled along the river up to the road level. Most of the stones have been crushed to different sizes and some of it may be pushed into the river along with the water flow, ‘The Print‘ report added.
A large number of tippers and other vehicles are seen carrying material to and from this area. An administrative area is also seen east of the project with a large number of red-roofed houses and barracks, possibly living quarters for staff and may also contain administrative buildings, the report claimed.
Earlier, noted flood and river bank erosion mitigation expert, Prof Arvind Phukan, a former Professor of Civil Engineering, the University of Alaska Anchorage in the US, attributed the present turbid condition of the Brahmaputra water to a tunnel which is under construction in the Chinese part of this trans-boundary river. He was delivering the keynote address at a two-day international seminar organised by Assam Down Town University on ‘landslides and river bank erosion’ in Guwahati on December 11.
However, China is in a denial mood about constructing a tunnel to divert Brahmaputra river waters.