Sino-India water issue: Bilateral mechanism proposed

Water is emerging as a new possible irritant between China and India, which has proposed a bilateral mechanism to deal with it.

Updated: Feb 10, 2013, 14:06 PM IST

New Delhi: Water is emerging as a new possible irritant between China and India, which has proposed a bilateral mechanism to deal with it.

In a significant move, India is pressing China to have either a water commission or a inter-governmental dialogue or a treaty to deal with water issues between the two countries.

This comes in the wake of Chinese move to approve construction of three more dams on Brahmaputra river in Tibet, in addition to the one being built without informing New Delhi.

Following the Chinese move, a high-level inter-ministerial committee, comprising officials from External Affairs Ministry, Defence Ministry, Department of Space among others met here to take stock of the situation and decided to take it up with China.

The issue was once again taken up when a senior Chinese embassy official met MEA officials to give details on the construction proposal.

"Though, the issue (of having a bilateral mechanism) has been part of our discussions earlier also, the recent move by Beijing has further pushed the matter. There is a need for some mechanism to deal with water issues between the two countries on the lines of what India has with other countries like Pakistan," sources told a news agency.

While India has a Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan under which the two countries share information and cooperate on the matter, a Ganges Treaty with Bangladesh establishes a 30-year water-sharing arrangement and recognises the neighbouring country`s rights as a lower-level riparian.

Recently, the Chinese Cabinet had approved a document which mentions construction of three dams at Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu on Brahmaputra.

Reacting to the Chinese move, the official spokesperson in MEA has said India carefully monitors all developments on the Brahmaputra River.

"As a lower riparian state with considerable established user rights to the waters of the River, India has conveyed its views and concerns to the Chinese authorities, including at the highest levels."

The official spokesperson also stressed the need for China to ensure that the interests of downstream states are not harmed by any activities in upstream areas.

Maintaining that its move to build three more dams on Brahmaputra river in Tibet will not affect the flows to downstream areas, China has said it is in "communication and cooperation" with India over cross-border river issues.

"China has always taken a responsible attitude towards cross-border river development. China and India are maintaining communication and cooperation on the cross-border river issue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had told reporters in Beijing.

However, Hua did not specify whether the two countries are in communication regarding the new dams which it proposes to build by 2015. Brahmaputra river is known as Yarlung Zangbo in China.

Beijing`s decision comes at a time when India-China relations have improved considerably in all areas of cooperation.

The two countries held lengthy rounds of bilateral exchanges during National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon`s and his Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo`s visit to Beijing and New Delhi, respectively.

Sharing of cross border river waters has figured in the discussions between the two neighbours, but apparently China did not inform India of its plans to build the dams.

In his interactions with media after the talks in Beijing, Menon had spoken about the two sides discussing water flows and China assurance that nothing what it is doing will affect the flows.

The two again met on the sidelines of BRICS security officials meet last month in New Delhi.

The new projects were reportedly approved by China at the State Council or Cabinet meeting on January 23. China has already been building a 510 MW dam at Zangmu and one of the three dams were reportedly bigger than this. China has been arguing that its dams are run-of-the river designs, therefore would not be affecting the flows of the water.

India has been expressing its concerns on this issue during the bilateral meetings. It figured during then External Affairs Minister SM Krishna`s visit in last March also.

Besides India raising the construction of dams on the Brahmaputra in talks with the Chinese leadership, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia had expressed similar concerns over eight dams being built by Chinese on Mekong river.