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#3979, 6 June 2013
India, China and the Brahmaputra River: Beyond the Flood Data Agreement
Roomana Hukil
Research Officer, IReS, IPCS
E-mail: roomana@ipcs.org

The recent breakthrough between India and China as regards the flood data agreement, wherein China has complied to provide hydrological information at three Indian hydro stations twice a day between June and October has probed more scepticism than respite. As highlighted, the proposed pact fails to offer any new implementation in terms of water apportionment or flood management, and is regarded as a mere renewal of the existent pact between India and China.

What are the nuances with respect to the establishment of a water resources working group between India, China, and the other co-riparian states? Will a working group prove to be an expedient model for India and China to delve upon?

Envisaging a Trans-National Working Group
India’s pursuance towards establishing a joint bilateral mechanism over the Brahmaputra River was not approved by China, which led to slack and ambiguity in the region. The mechanism failed to acknowledge the cross-cutting interests of the other co-riparian states within the trans-bordered river system. Such a scenario may deem contentment for Sino-Indian water agendas but, in the longer run, will fail to resolve the percolating crisis between the trans-national states that adjoin the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Meghna (GBM) river system within South Asia. Consequently, the Brahmaputra’s utility can be tapped, in utmost capacity, through a collaborative water resource working system that fosters greater hydro-connectivity in the region.

India has a fistful of strategic issues with China to avoid crying wolf for no reason. A joint water resources working group will look into the current and prospective trajectories for cross-border river cooperation, familiarising the region with upper riparian activities along the river course. Hemming in Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, USA, Europe, Japan, etc will, essentially, negotiate the techno-economic and ecological feasibility stakes at a multilateral forum. Ergo, the power generation created within the South Asian realm can be shared as a SAARC, ASEAN, and China energy grid. This will possibly generate 40,000-50,000 megawatts of power (doubling the output of the Three Gorges Dam) from the stalled hydro-power stations. This will, in addition, help alleviate the issue of tapping the per capita of unused hydropower potential within South Asia. Thence, save millions of tonnes of dirty coal, diminish the impact of climate change, and provide clean energy. Such a project will, predominantly, suit to the interests of the international community.

Repercussions of a Water Resources Working Group
A water resources working group has several advantageous fallouts as it does have numerous drawbacks. Foremost, the setup will require projecting profits for each South Asian stakeholder, as well as for international co-partners. South Asian paranoia in establishing novice ideas is foreseen under a lot of scrutiny and apprehension. In the case of India and China, India’s soft power inter-play and credulous rationale allows it to calculate more stakes than foster any sort of resistance with regard to the Brahmaputra River. India comprehends a requisite that focuses on trans-boundary water cooperation and resource development with China, as executed in its urge to establish a joint bilateral mechanism. Albeit, China’s determination to implement state-of-the-art strategies is escalating to curb its domestic water woes, it is unlikely to flesh out geostrategic concessions for the lower riparian’s.

Despite reasoning its awareness of hydraulic issues in South Asia, it is inconceivable that any country will make geopolitical revisions at the cost of its self-interest. As lower riparian and water stressed states, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan will vantage from a water working group, seeking relief to their current water issues. However, these countries may vary opinion, in terms of accommodating the water dynamic study with their set notion of benefitting from being a lower riparian state. The international community will want to identify the overarching stakes of tapping hydro-energy resources on the rest of the global system.

The major focus of the group will encompass enhancing water data availability, efficient water management practices, and accentuate the supply of water within regional capacity. It will encourage dissemination of hydro-related activities at the local, regional, and international Diasporas. Developing a cadre of high-level decision makers working towards hydro-politics, fills the void of trans-boundary falsifications more than it mends the issue at hand. For instance, the Sino-Indian water dispute, a mounting paranoia of excessive water diversions, is acclaimed to impinge upon the livelihoods of the lower riparian states. Such an impasse is perceived only to be ameliorated if China makes geopolitical concessions by sharing its hydraulic information or even reconsidering its diversionary plans, which thus, stand inconceivable. China’s run-of-the-river projects are along the Tsangpo that extends across 4000 kms before meeting the Great U-Bend, whereby, it enters India, becoming the Brahmaputra River. Any construction activity along the Tsangpo should not lever grave implications for India as it meets the Lohit, Subansiri, and Dihang tributaries that augment the flow of the river within that region.

The working group will provide a forum for governments to multilaterally identify the trends, opportunities, and priorities within the water community. Premising a working group on the South Asian water systems whilst seeking to map its potential hydraulic energy capacity will aim towards judicial utilisation of the prevalent hydropower resources vis-à-vis ceasing ambiguous notions of hydro-attrition and mismanagement among the upper riparian leviathans!

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