Centre hurries with NE hydel projects amid report of another China dam

To counter China’s first-use priority rights on Brahmaputra’s waters, India has lined up more than 10 hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam to establish its water usage right as a lower riparian nation.

Brahmaputra River is called Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Centre is scurrying to expedite commissioning of hydel power projects in the Northeast amid report of China building another dam on the Brahmaputra and growing clamour for a water treaty with Beijing.

The NHPC Limited assured a visiting central government team that it would commission the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri hydropower project by March 2022.

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The assurance comes after the team led by Union power secretary Sanjeev Nandan Sahai took stock of the projects, including the Subansiri project, being implemented in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, during a three-day visit of the states that concluded last weekend, sources in the two state governments said.

“The power secretary held a review meeting in which NHPC chief (A K Singh) briefed him about the various construction activities and downstream river protection works undertaken by the company. It was assured that the project shall be commissioned by March 2022,” the NHPC said in a communiqué.

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The assurance comes close on the heels of a report in the China’s state-run Global Times about the country’s plan to take up another major hydropower project on the Yarlung Tsangpo, the name by which the Brahmaputra is referred in its upper stream in Tibet.

China has already built 11 dams blocking the Brahmaputra river and it is now planning to construct another at Medog in Tibet autonomous territory under its 14th five-year plan. These projects are part of China’s decision to build 55 reservoirs in Tibet to complete its water division plans to hydrate its drier regions of Xinjiang and Gansu.

Alarmed by the development, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) earlier this month had urged the Centre to initiate a water treaty with China.

“This is not only about Siang (Brahmaputra’s name in Arunachal) but also about all the rivers flowing into India from China. The government should also take up the case in all international fora,” said AAPSU general secretary Tobom Dai in a statement.

A water treaty will enable India to put pressure on China to abide by international norms on shared water resources.

In the absence of a water sharing treaty, China is trying to invoke the principle of prior appropriation that gives advantage in a dispute to a nation that put the water to use first.

Apparently to counter China’s first-use priority rights, India has lined up more than 10 hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam to establish its water usage right as a lower riparian nation. But all the projects, except the one in Lower Subansiri are now stalled over environmental issues.

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The Centre is keen to commission the Lower Subansiri hydroelectric power project as soon as possible and also to push for environmental clearance of other stalled projects, sources added.

Construction works at Subansiri project on the Assam-Arunachal border resumed in 2019 after being stalled since 2011 over environmental impact concerns. The National Green Tribunal gave its nod to the project only last year after the concerns were addressed.

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