India should push for treaty with China on Brahmaputra: Experts

New Delhi, May 5 (IANS) China has assured India that it is “essentially” engaged in a run-of-the-river project on the Brahmaputra and there is no cause for worry for downstream riparian countries. But with Beijing not keen to share details about its construction work on the river, experts say India should not go by mere verbal assurances and push for a treaty.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh raised concerns about the Brahmaputra, which originates in the Tibetan plateau, during talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Durban last month and asked Beijing for a joint mechanism, he was assured the projects on the Yarlung-Tsangpo are “run of the river”.

But Takam Sanjoy, Congress MP from Arunachal Pradesh, says most of the works on the Yarlung-Tsangpo by China are not yet commissioned, and the real impact on the downstream river flow cannot be assessed till then. “They have started lot of projects, but they are not yet commissioned,” Sanjoy told IANS.

Choosing his words carefully, the Lok Sabha MP said that with the “political system in India and that in China being varied” and with not much information coming out from Beijing, “if China says it is run-of the river we can believe that, but some suspicions remain as the governance there is not like in India”.

Sanjoy said he had urged the UPA government “that all construction on Brahmaputra, run-of-river projects, diversion of water – everything should be taken up through dialogue, through bilateral approach with the Chinese government”.

Despite the prime minister raising the issue of a joint mechanism, China is learnt to have shown unwillingness to move on the issue. Beijing is believed to have told New Delhi that their Expert Level Mechanism, under which they share hydrological information, is “adequate” to decide on the issue.

Ramaswamy R. Iyer, a former secretary in the water resources ministry, said: “Earlier, water never figured in India-China water is regularly on the agenda.”

He said India has told China that “if you divert any water, it will impact us, so please tell us.they said no, we are not doing anything, but satellite pictures have showed otherwise and then they acknowledged it”.

“And now they have said the projects are only run-of-the-river. But that is only word of mouth, we can’t go and see it. We have told them being the lower riparian country, share information with us, show us your engineering designs, what impact it may have on downstream flows or on biodiversity and ecology. They say they will but are not regular with it,” Iyer told IANS.

The expert said the Mekong river is shared by six countries, including China. But Beijing is not a member on the Mekong River Commission, but only an observer, “and when it is told of concerns by other countries, it says it will look into it”.

There is a feeling among Mekong riparian countries “that China will give assurances, but go on building dams,” said Iyer, adding that “lately China has shown greater sensitivity to the Mekong countries”.

India is not a signatory of the UN convention on water sharing and does not have a treaty with China.

“India should try and get China to sign a treaty. I think this is the long term aim of India, and we have already mooted it. But first China will have to agree to a treaty in principle, then on the text. The negotiations with Pakistan on the Indus treaty took 10 years. China will be a much tougher negotiator,” Iyer pointed out.

“You are virtually destroying communities – the wildlife amd the ecology – so run-of-the-river projects do much more harm in this way,” Iyer maintained.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at [email protected])

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