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China’s Himalayan plan: Dam on Brahmaputra

Chinese engineers are reportedly lobbying Beijing to ignore Indian concerns and dam the upper Brahmaputra in Tibet with what they envisage as the world’s biggest hydroelectric project and several smaller dams and tunnels.

world Updated: May 26, 2010 01:50 IST

Chinese engineers are reportedly lobbying Beijing to ignore Indian concerns and dam the upper Brahmaputra in Tibet with what they envisage as the world’s biggest hydroelectric project and several smaller dams and tunnels.

On Tuesday, the Guardian quoted Zhang Boting, an official of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, backing a 38,000 MW Motuo dam proposal to generate renewable energy equivalent to the oil and gas in the South China Sea. Zhang said the dam research has been carried out but plans are not yet finalised.

On Monday, Tibetan researcher Tashi Tsering at the University of British Columbia added to the speculation by posting a map of potential dam sites reportedly sourced from the Chinese website of Hydrochina, a government body. The map shows unconfirmed proposals for the 38,000 MW project along the Brahmaputra’s ‘great bend’ when it curves to flow south into India and Bangladesh.

“If or when the Motuo project is built, China will gain significant capacity to control the Brahmaputra’s flow,’’ Tsering told the Hindustan Times.

“China is likely to hold back water when it’s most needed in India during spring, and release more water during the monsoon when there is excess.’’

Beijing denies plans to divert the Brahmaputra’s flow to northeast India.

Chinese engineers backing the unofficial blueprints argue that it will help China control the impact of climate change.

The Guardian quoted Zhang saying that such a massive dam on the Brahmaputra would save 200 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

India and China have a data sharing agreement on hydropower projects along the Brahmaputra, but Chinese plans are strategically secretive.

The Guardian also reproduced Zhang’s Chinese statements from a Chinese science forum last year, where he argued, “we should build a hydropower plant in Motuo...as soon as possible because it is a great policy to protect our territory from Indian invasion and to increase China’s capacity for carbon reduction.”

Some Chinese lobbyists argue that India’s monsoon should compensate for the impact of such a Brahmaputra dam. “Northeast India is one of the world’s wettest places during the monsoon. Basically, India will become dependent on China for flow of what is now a free-flowing international river,’’ Tsering told HT.

He said the proposed project’s greatest risk for India and Bangladesh is seismic activity and not water diversion. The laws of physics will not allow water diversion from the great bend, he wrote on the blog.

The blog post also listed an alternative unofficial proposal at a 2,400 m drop in altitude at Daduqia.

“But it is near the border with India and would be highly exposed if there were another conflict,’’ he wrote.