Friday, 1 February 2013

Is Brahmaputra China’s next target for dam building spree?

After much media speculations, the 510 MW dam of Zangmu (Tib: rDzam) on Brahmaputra in Tibet went on construction in 2010 leaving India and its neighboring country Bangladesh dumbfounded.

Once again the media takes China’s state council approval of three dams-Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu on Brahmaputra-with immense surprise although it was already circulating in the news for over a year except for Dagu dam (Patranobis, S., 2013). The Times of India reported last year about the six dams Lengda, Zhongda, Langzhen, Jiexu, Jiacha and Zangmu that China is planning to build on Brahmaputra in Tibet (Bagchi, I., 2011).

Amidst denial of the diversification of Yarlung Tsangpo (the Tibetan name for Brahmaputra) by Chinese government, reports of dam construction on Yarlung Tsangpo (Tibetan name for Brahmaputra) and its tributaries have been surfacing frequently.

But India and Bangladesh may have bigger and more challenging issues to face in future. There have been speculations among some Indian academic quarters about a possible diversion of water from Yarlung Tsangpo. This is based on the proposals by Gao Kai and Li ling  (PLA retired armies), who wrote a grand project of the Tsangpo diversion in their book called Xizang Zhi Shui Jiu Zhongguo (Save China through Water from Tibet). 

Source: Adapted from Li ling’s Xizang zhi shui jiu Zhongguo : da Xi xian “zai zao Zhongguo” zhan lue nei mu xiang lu (Save China through water from Tibet). Zhongguo Chang’an chu ban she.
According to the proposed project (shown in figure above), the first dam in Tibet would be at Suma Tan near Tsethang for the diversion. And the second dam would be Nyangchu dam that lies just below Kongpo Gyamda on the Brahmaputra diversion sketch map in the book. Both Tsethang and Kongpo Gyamda are in Lhoka prefecture and Nyingtri prefecture respectively.

If we analyze the ongoing and planned location of dams, there are reasons to believe that the speculation of water diversion could be carried out in near future. For example, Zangmu (Tib: rDzam), Jiacha (Tib: Gyatsa), Lengda (Tib: gLing-mDa) are in Lhoka Prefecture where the first planned dam of the diversion project would be. Out of the five planned dams, two including Zhongda (Tib: sGrom-mDa), and Langzhen (sNang Dzong) are located in Nyingtri Prefecture where Li ling's proposed his second dams.

Another possibility to tap Tsangpo's water in huge volume is through construction of a mega dam on the river. Zhang Boting, deputy secretary of China’s Society for Hydropower Engineering argued that a massive dam of 38 GW on the Great Bend where the river makes a sharp U-turn would ‘benefit the world’(Guardian, 24 May 2010). He also told the Guardian that a research was being carried out on the project. The project if implemented would surpass the Three Gorges dam in scale (Watts, J., 2010). Unfortunately, such a massive project will also have unprecedented social and environmental impact in Tibet as well as regions downstream.

Given the fact that most of the speculation regarding China's plans to harness Tibetan rivers are actually being implemented, it is high time for the government of India and Bangladesh to jointly pressure China for higher level of cooperation in order to secure the water and livelihood of its citizens. 

Watts, Jonathan (24 May 2010). Chinese engineers propose world's biggest hydroelectric project in Tibet. The Guardian. Retrieved as on 29 January 2013 from

Patranobis, Sutirtho, (January, 30 2013). Chinese dams catch India by surprise. Hindustan Times. Retrieved as on 30 Jan 2013 from

Bagchi, Indrani (October 14, 2011). Relief for India as China says no Brahmaputra diversion. The Times of India. Retrieved as on January, 30 2013 from

Li ling (2005) Xizang zhi shui jiu Zhongguo : da Xi xian “zai zao Zhongguo” zhan lue nei mu xiang lu (Save China through water from Tibet). Zhongguo Chang’an chu ban she.

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