Dams have much strategic value – Friday, 20 June 2014

July 7, 2014

The idea of leaving a better planet for the next generation is adorable, but not at the cost of wiping out the present generation

As per media reports, the Union Government has eased green norms for building strategically important infrastructure projects along India’s border with China. Find top casino NZ by onlinecasinokiwi.com professional team. This decision will give a major boost to the construction of a number of border road projects etc that have been awaiting environmental clearances for long.

While China has built roads and airports along the Line of Actual Control, to provide uninterrupted logistical support to its troops, India is struggling to cope up with the pace of construction in the border areas due to objections mainly from the environmental lobby. Surprisingly, the Siang high dam project (Brahmaputra), and the Khab project (Sutlej) planned to contain the disastrous floods from the Tibetan rivers, do not find a place in this list of projects.

The need for considering dams built on trans-boundary rivers as strategically important structures, arises due to the fact that China is presently on a dam-building spree to meet its increasing water and energy needs. India cannot afford to ignore the security threats associated with dam failures in the Tibet region, a reason adequate to justify inclusion of our dam projects in the list. We had already experienced in August 2000 such a situation created by the Tibetan rivers both in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana due to Sutlej floods, and in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam due to a flooded Brahmaputra, for want of flood control dams downstream of these rivers in India.

China is reportedly planning a cascade of five dams across the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) for power generation. Another major project, the Shuomatan project (the Great Bend Project), near the border, is also being planned to divert annually 17 billion cubic metres of the Brahmaputra waters in the ultimate stage, to northern China.

India has no right to object to the construction of water resource projects by China within the latter’s territory, as there are no river water sharing agreements between the two countries, except for an ‘understanding’ for exchange of river flow data. Though China has assured us that these are not storage projects and, hence, will not affect the river flows downstream in India, we have to be concerned since the Chinese interventions in these rivers could affect our projects and habitats.

The existing ‘understanding’ is not adequate to take care of such Indian concerns. Hence construction of dam projects in India is an urgent necessity. We cannot just depend on the assurances of our neighbour. Once strategic importance is given to these projects, approvals will come through fast and implementation will be better. The projects will not languish, awaiting environmental and other clearances, as is happening now.

In this connection, the experience of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, the co-basin states in the Mekong basin, due to upstream Chinese hydro-projects, should be an eye opener for India. Though these states protested against China’s indiscriminate upstream reservoir operations which upset their agriculture and other activities, and sudden gate openings which resulted in floods and devastation downstream, China did not bother about the objections raised by these states and even of the Mekong River Commission, stating that it is not a member of the Commission.

Likewise, India could also be at the receiving end. Chinese reservoir operations for hydro-power generation or for water diversions, would cause high river water level fluctuations downstream necessitating closure of our existing hydro-projects during that period. Also when they release heavy flood flows by opening all the gates of their dam structures, vast areas downstream in India would be devastated. Unfortunately, we have no large reservoirs downstream that reach the international rivers like Brahmaputra, to absorb the water level fluctuations and to contain the floods from upstream so as to protect our projects and habitats.

Though Indian experts had prepared detailed project plans for major dams on these rivers with adequate flood storage provisions, due to the insistence of the environmental lobby that the dam projects should be dropped to keep the river reaches free to ensure the river ecology and biodiversity all the way down, the Government is going slow even in clearing these projects for implementation.

Considering the strategic importance of these projects, the Siang high dam project (Brahmaputra) and the Khab hydro project (Sutlej) should also be treated as strategically important projects for fast-track clearance and expeditious implementation instead of the authorities labouring under an ideology induced myopia.

The lofty ideal of leaving a better planet for the future generation is certainly adorable, but not at the cost of wiping out the present generation through devastating floods and sufferings.

MS Menon


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