Rajesh Singh, 23 August 2017, Wion News Read the original story here
A few days ago, the Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson informed that China had not shared hydrological data with India on the Himalayan rivers this year. He sought to downplay the development by explaining that “sometimes, due to some certain technical reasons data is not shared”. He was clueless about the “technical reasons” and said he would be better equipped on the issue once the information was received from the “relevant ministry”. The spokesperson’s valiant effort to mute the issue may be understandable, given that the government would not like to indulge in the provocation at the backdrop of the ongoing India-China standoff at Doklam. But there is no running away from the significance of Beijing’s action.
China is upset that its dual cajole-threat tactic hasn’t worked in its favour on the Doklam issue. New Delhi has dug in its heels, and it’s now close to three months that Indian troops have been stationed at the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction, waiting for Beijing to withdraw its troops from Bhutanese territory. Perhaps, China has been taken by surprise — unlike in the past when India made light of incursions by the neighbour’s People’s Liberation Army, calling it a mere “acne” on the face.
This time, New Delhi appears in no mood to capitulate.
Besides, much to Beijing’s annoyance, India continues to batter the former’s all-weather friend Pakistan at international forums — to a level that Islamabad now stands globally discredited. Additionally, New Delhi’s aggressive Act East policy has meant a sustained pressure on China in the region. It is, therefore, possible, that Beijing has decided to open a front in the form of a water war with India.
In doing so, China is making a mockery of bilateral agreements with New Delhi. The India-China Expert Level mechanism was initiated in 2006 to share hydrological data during the flood season for the rivers Brahmaputra and Sutlej. Memorandums of Understanding were signed in 2013 and 2015, with China agreeing to share the data between May 15 to October 15 every year. Since the points of origin of the two rivers are in China, and China becomes the upper riparian state, it becomes Beijing’s responsibility to offer hydrological material to India.
This sharing of data, from three upstream monitoring stations in Tibet, is critical to India’s needs to contain floods in large parts of the country, especially in the North-East. Indeed, in recent days, northeastern states have been hit by serious floods, and while the government has not officially linked it to China’s failure to share the data on Himalayan rivers emanating from the latter’s territory, there is reason enough to speculate on the matter.
Interestingly, China and India do not have a bilateral treaty on water. This is unlike in the case of Pakistan with whom India has the Indus Water Treaty. The IWT has worked well by and large, though in recent months there have been some hiccups. New Delhi had proposed a water treaty to the Chinese in 2013, with the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking a personal interest in the matter. But Beijing cold-shouldered the proposal. Clearly, it was uncomfortable with sharing certain material which would have been at variance with its officially stated position, especially relating to its dam construction projects on the Brahmaputra river.
It may be recollected that some 15 years ago, the collapse of an artificial dam in Tibet being built by the Chinese had a severe impact on Arunachal Pradesh, damaging property worth nearly Rs 150 crore.
In the absence of any water treaty, China sees an upper hand for itself. It has announced the construction of its ‘most expensive’ hydel project on a tributary of the Brahmaputra, in Tibet. Obviously, the river will be considerably dammed upstream, and its deleterious impact will be felt by India in terms of natural calamities. A major diversion of the Brahmaputra river through a dam could be disastrous for India’s northeastern plains — and even for neighbouring Bangladesh.
The effect will be furthered as a result of India not having the information and, therefore, inadequately prepared. Beijing has been consistently saying that its activities will not adversely impact India, but its refusal to share hydrological data dents such offerings of sincerity. It may be recollected that some 15 years ago, the collapse of an artificial dam in Tibet being built by the Chinese had a severe impact on Arunachal Pradesh, damaging property worth nearly Rs 150 crore.
There is also a strategic reason for China’s construction of a hydel project in Tibet. It’s a way of sending a message to India on its claim over Arunachal Pradesh — after all, Beijing considers Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet.
As per bilateral accords, it would be unrealistic to expect that Beijing will, at least in the near future and in the given situation, be ready for a water-sharing treaty.
Of course, the sharing of hydrological data will not make India any wiser on the various activities the Chinese have been surreptitiously undertaking on the Himalayan rivers that flow into India from their end. Only a comprehensive water treaty can introduce such transparency. This is the main reason that New Delhi has been seeking to persuade Beijing to enter into a bilateral water pact. But at a time when China has begun to hesitate to even give India the hydrological data which it is mandated to do, as per bilateral accords, it would be unrealistic to expect that Beijing will, at least in the near future and in the given situation, be ready for a water-sharing treaty.
What then is the option before India? It cannot obviously compel China to enter into a bilateral water-sharing pact. But it can and must forcefully demand the relevant hydrological data which Beijing is duty-bound to share as part of the bilateral accords. There is no point in downplaying the Chinese delay. New Delhi needs to understand — perhaps it does but doesn’t want to publicly acknowledge it — that China is using water (either through the denial of hydrological data or by its dam construction activities upstream on rivers that flow into India) as a potent weapon against India. New Delhi is on firm grounds here, and perhaps a bit of escalation of the issue from its side at an appropriate moment to draw some global attention, would not be such a bad idea.
After all, even if China does eventually give the hydrological data, the massive hydel projects it is pursuing and which cause concern to New Delhi, cannot be overlooked anymore. We have come a long way since the days when the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in 2013 claimed there was nothing to worry by the activities the Chinese had been engaged in the upper Brahmaputra river region.