17 June 2011
Dr Manmohan Singh,
Hon’ble Prime Minister
Government of India
Sub: China's ill designs on river Brahmaputra - Some fundamental issues
Respected Dr Singh,
Recent media reports of China diverting waters of river Brahmaputra in Tibet has predictably sent a wave of alarm through out the country and specially so in the country’s north eastern states namely the Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, for whom river Brahmaputra remains the critical life line.
Although Sri S.M. Krishna, the Union Minister for External Affairs has played down the alarm by saying that it is a run of the river hydroelectric project that the China is constructing on a key tributary of river Brahmaputra (called Tsang po in Tibet) and that the flow in the river would thus be not adversely impacted, experts know that the nation has certainly not heard the last in the matter. Also it may be noted that while the media might be highlighting the issue only now knowledgeable experts and expert organisations like SANDRP (South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People) have been talking about it for quite some time now.
Now while we share the nation’s concern on the severe impacts that the country’s north eastern region would face if what is feared comes true we wish to raise a fundamental issue here for your kind consideration.
How is it that what China is reportedly ill planning vis a vis river Brahmaputra, any different from how river Ganga is being dammed and damned in Uttarakhand and the ill effects of the same being faced by the lower riparian areas in UP and elsewhere? Or nearer home, when Delhi and cities and villages lower down on the river Yamuna are already suffering from the manner in which Haryana has monopolised and diverted almost the entire river waters of Yamuna at the Hathnikund Barrage, any different?
Sir, it is high time when the union government looked at the river question in a holistic manner and decided to take matters in its own hands as far as the ‘natural flows’ in our rivers are concerned, so that it is equity and equity alone that determines the natural flows and an equity that includes the fundamental right of the river itself to flow naturally from its origin to its mouth at the sea.
Sir, often the union government functionaries have gone on record expressing helplessness in the matter on a plea that the hands of union government are constrained by ‘water’ being a ‘state’ subject under the Constitution.
Sir, we consider this to be nothing more than a lame excuse for inaction. Please, allow us to elaborate further in the matter.
We believe that for the officialdom to equate a ‘river’ with ‘water’ is the root cause of all the problems that our rivers, which are ecosystems in their own right, face today. And unless a river is understood and respected as a dynamic eco-system with it providing irreplaceable ecosystem services to all those (human and non human alike) dependent on it, we shall continue to look at a 'river' just as 'water' and continue to interfere and despoil it to the extent of almost extinction!
It is a well known fact that the union government under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 has all the authority to ensure adequate natural flows in our rivers.
The former Union Minister of Water Resources, Sri Saifuddin Soz, in a recent TV debate raised the question of riparian rights and wondered as to how can China ignore India’s genuine lower riparian rights over the river Brahmaputra? On similar lines how about the lower riparian rights of people in areas downstream over the river Yamuna so brazenly appropriated by Haryana at Hathnikund? Or is it that the lower riparian rights becomes an issue only when an international river comes in question and that too when India is a lower riparian nation?
Sir, let us also not ignore the fact that a river system is additionally the repository of unique and irreplaceable biodiversity. Thus by letting our rivers become sick or even die are we not violating just the national laws but also our international commitments entered into vide a number of biodiversity related international agreements, treaties and conventions?
Sir, clearly it is time when the nation started to look at not just its interests as far as the international rivers like Brahmaputra, Satluj, Kosi, Sindh etc are concerned but also the interests of all people and biodiversity in all rivers across the board. And that would happen only when we as a nation decide to treat rivers as ecosystems and not just as water meant to be appropriated by the most powerful or the first riparian claimant on it.
We hope that our urgings would be given due consideration by you and others in the government.