China plans to divert about 200 billion cubic metres of water annually from the Brahmaputra at its highest point, namely the Great Bend, where it turns into India.
China's Brahmaputra dam will severely impact India, warns former senior RA&W officer and China expert Jayadeva Ranade.
China's unilateral announcement on November 30, that it will build the world's largest hydropower project on the Brahmaputra river, called the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet, removes the fig leaf from Beijing's claims that it is sensitive to the concerns of its neighbours.
Especially impacted by this project will be India, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
By announcing the decision at this time, when tensions are high because of China's aggression in Ladakh and mobilisation of troops along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control, Beijing has made clear that improving ties with India are not important.
The reports in the Chinese Communist Party owned Global Times newspaper are obviously timed to coincide with China's actions along the LAC and consequent severe damage to relations with India.
Writing in the Global Times on December 1, Liu Zongyi, secretary general of the Research Centre for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, confirmed that the decision to go ahead with the hydropower project had been delayed for many years due to India's protests -- implying that the announcement at this time of tension is deliberate.
Liu disclosed that the hydropower project will be sited where the largest amount of power can be generated.
An official announcement of the project followed a recent politburo meeting chaired by Communist party General Secretary Xi Jinping, which discussed the South-North River Waters Diversion project.
The politburo would certainly have discussed the project's impact on relations with India and India's response.
The hydroelectric power project is part of the multi-billion dollar South-North River Waters Diversion plan which was officially launched in November 2002 and involves diverting the Brahmaputra river.
This was brought within the Chinese premier's Office in 2003 with the China Water and Conservancy and Hydropower Planning and Design Institute conducting several feasibility studies in 2003 on the construction of a major hydropower project on the Brahmaputra.
Chinese experts and senior officials have discussed diverting the Brahmaputra to the north, where its waters would be useful to China's arid northwest, since a meeting at the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics in 1995.
Plans were also presented to then Communist party general secretary Jiang Zemin.
They envisage building a series of dams along the Brahmaputra and a major dam at its highest point using nuclear explosives.
A book titled Tibet water can save China authored by Li Ling, a former People's Liberation Army officer and published in 2005, disclosed details of the plan.
It carried an endorsement by the former director of the PLA's General Logistics Department indicating the PLA's support.
The book revealed that plans called for diverting approximately 200 billion cubic metres of water annually from the Brahmaputra at its highest point, namely the Great Bend, where it turns into India.
Chinese experts assess that if built at the 'Great Bend' where the Brahmaputra drops 2,755 metres, the hydropower station will generate adequate power for all of southwest China.
In 2006, the Chinese government ordered numerous copies of the book as recommended reading for Chinese government officials.
China began work on the project some years ago.
The hydropower project at Zhangmu on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra -- one of 17 planned and existence of which was initially denied by Chinese officials but confirmed once their Indian counterparts presented them with satellite photographs as evidence -- is part of this project.
The head of Chengdu Engineering Corp under the Power Construction Corp of China, which has been awarded the contract for this dam at the Great Bend, said an objective of the hydropower station is to maintain water resources and domestic security.
Security of the hydropower station has been a major concern and the PLA, and specifically its Western Theatre Command, will be closely involved in the project.
The Great Bend is within Medog County of the NyingchipPrefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is less than 40 kms from the Arunachal Pradesh border.
Official Chinese maps, incidentally, depict Arunachal Pradesh as part of Nyingchi prefecture.
The second railway connecting Chengdu in the Chinese mainland with Tibet's capital Lhasa passes through Medog county as does a new highway.
There are two 'border defence villages' in Medog county.
The presence of PLA units and the missile base at Bayi, capital of the Nyingchi prefecture, would have contributed to the decision to proceed with the project.
The dam's construction activity will provide cover to the PLA to strengthen its forces and increase pressure on India's armed forces while ensuring safety of the hydropower project, which will be larger than the Three Gorges Dam.
A few blogs on PLA Web sites have stated that the dam could be a 'water bomb' to be used against India.
A series of dams along the Brahmaputra will reduce the flow of water and lead to silting, damage the environment and adversely impact the livelihoods of people in the lower riparian countries.
This will lead to a fresh influx of refugees from Bangladesh.
Additionally, construction and other activities on the Tibetan plateau, if not rationalised, will cause temperatures to continue to rise and glaciers to shrink and recede.
Tibet's glaciers are the main source of water for the rivers flowing into the Indo-Gangetic plains.
Shrinking glaciers will progressively reduce water flows in the Indus, Ganges, Arun etc, all of which are glacier fed and adversely affect over 400 million people, or nearly 40 per cent of India's population, living in the Indo-Gangetic plains.
India needs to urgently craft a comprehensive policy to meet this and other challenges from China in the years of absent trust that lie ahead.
Given China's declared time-lines for its ambitious national goals, India doesn't have much time.
Jayadeva Ranade, former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is the President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/ Rediff.com