The importance of the Brahmaputra for India in general and the Northeast in particular cannot be overemphasised. Millions of people depend on it for drinking water, irrigation, transportation, fishing and other occupations. It is one of India’s largest rivers, which originates in China and is known by various names. There have been reports that China has constructed a dam across the river and is diverting its water. A few years ago, flash floods in the river were attributed to China releasing the stored water. China has denied constructing any such dam or diverting the water. Officially, it admits using only one per cent of the river water, which it is certainly entitled to.
Since Indians are not allowed to access the upper regions of the river, they can only believe the official claim. The Chinese system is certainly not known for transparency, making verification of its claims extremely difficult. However, reports based on the patterns of the river flow and other sources suggest that China has ambitious plans to use the water for purposes like power generation. China’s appetite for energy is almost insatiable, given the kind of economic development it has been pursuing with a measure of success. When fears about the Chinese plan were expressed by political parties, both within and outside of Parliament, the UPA government merely quoted the Chinese version. At that time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not appear to have been convinced by the government claim.
Now that the BJP is in power, it should get to the root of the problem. It would be pointless to complain about the Chinese plans once they have executed them and the Brahmaputra became a seasonal river. Unlike in the case of Pakistan with which India has a river water agreement, there is no such agreement with China. India must press for a trilateral river-sharing agreement among India, China and Bangladesh. Such an agreement should provide for international scrutiny and adjudication.