Isha khan’s Weblog

India’s water wars against China B’desh: Dams and Barrages
June 29, 2008, 2:46 pm
Filed under: India

India’s water wars against China B’desh: Dams and Barrages

India’s water wars against China B’desh: Dams and Barrages
India and Bangladesh are still vying for water, from Teesta (another Indian river enters Bangladesh) and the Ganges. It is noted that India gets 39% of water from Teesta and more than 50% of the Ganges. However, the upper-riparian withdrawal is generally restricted to 20-25% in all resolved water disputes till date including Indus water treaty and the Nile river water sharing treaty between Sudan and Egypt.
Siliguri corridor is vulnerable to an expanding China mapDams and Hydel Projects in Northeast India
While the Northeast rainforests are recognised as a vital global biodiversity hotspot, this awareness in India is conspicuously absent, prompting get-rich-quick developers and politicians to make a beeline for this region in recent years. Naturalists who have visited the areas to be affected suggest that the combined effect of the roads, mines and dams could forever wipe out this region’s unique, fabled, but fragile natural heritage. If the dams are allowed to come up, the extinction of many rare and endangered plants and animals will be a foregone conclusion.

Map of upper Subansiri Norhteast India in Arunchal Pradesh (occupied Chinese territory)

Ironically, it is the historical neglect of the area that has prompted the thirst of locals for what they see as ‘development’ that was thus far reserved for the rest of India. The list below is by no means complete, but it does give an idea of the holocaust in store for the region. By some estimates the profits to be earned by cutting and selling the trees that are slated to drown, may well exceed the construction cost of the dams!

The and Dehang hydel power projects are only some of the large dams that have been proposed in the Brahmaputra valley. These projects alone will require nearly 28,000 hectares of wildlife-stocked forest land and preliminary estimates put the cost at a whopping US $ 200 billion. The Dehang-Debang Biosphere Reserve and the soon-to-be notified Namdapha Biosphere Reserve lie within the proposed impact zone.

The Kameng hydel power project at Tipi threatens the Namheri National Park and the Pakui Wildlife Sanctuary, which have just been brought under the Project Tiger mantle. The Myndtu (Leshka) project in southern Meghalaya involves a 59 m. high dam and will drown over 50 ha. of forests inhabited by tiger, jungle cat and binturong, among other wildlife.

Kemang Northeast India Arunchal Pradesh (occupied Chinese territory)

The Tuirial (funded by the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund of Japan) and Tuivai projects in Mizoram, the Ranganadi Stage II Project in Arunachal Pradesh, Lower Kopili in Assam, are only some of the hydroelectric projects being constructed by just one company, the Northeast Electric Power Company (NEEPCO). NEEPCO is also constructing the 1500 MW Tipaimukh Hydroelectric Project at the confluence of the Tuivai and Barak Rivers in Manipur, near the Manipur – Mizoram border, which will be the largest hydroelectric project in Eastern India and the 75 MW Doyang Hydroelectric Project on the river Doyang in Nagaland.

In addition, the 100 MW Papumpam,105 MW Pakke and 100 MW Dikrong Hydel Projects in Arunachal Pradesh are at the investigation stage. Each could lead to greater loss of biodiversity than the infamous Sardar Sarovar Project.

Conclusion: Aside from a loss of wildlife and biodiversity, the deforestation that accompanies dam building will increase mean temperatures over the region, aggravating climate change. India would be better off looking at less damaging alternative energy options, but this does not concern power brokers who will earn more from the timber sales (all the dams involve clear felling of old growth trees), than from construction contracts.

Comprehensive Environmental Assessments have not been conducted to assess the impact of these projects. Nor have projections been made on the cumulative effect of so many projects concentrated in a relatively small area. Ironically, given the geology of the area, siltation (thanks to geological instability, seismicity and catchment denudation) would probably render the dams useless in a few short years.

Dams on the Ganga
There are two major dams on the Ganga. One at Haridwar diverts much of the Himalayan snowmelt into the Upper Ganges Canal, built by the British in 1854 to irrigate the surrounding land. This caused severe deterioration to the wateflow in the Ganga, and is a major cause for the decay of Ganga as an inland waterway.

The other dam is a serious hydroelectric affair at Farakka, close to the point where the main flow of the river enters Bangladesh, and the tributary Hooghly (also known as Bhagirathi) continues in West Bengal past Calcutta. This barrage, which feeds the Hooghly branch of the river by a 26 mile long feeder canal, and its water flow management has been a long-lingering source of dispute with Bangladesh, which fortunately is likely to be resolved based on discussions held with the new Hasina government in Bangladesh in 1996 when I.K. Gujral was the Foreign Minister in India, Failure to resolve this has caused harm to both sides of the border for nearly two decades now. Bangladesh feels that the lack of flow in the summer months causes sedimentation and makes Bangladesh more prone to flood damages. At the same time, proposals for linking the Brahmaputra to the Ganges to improve the water flow in the Ganges is hanging fire. Also, the water management problem may actually involve a number of other riparian countries such as Nepal (where there has been tremendous deforestation, leading to greater silt content). (Click here to read about causes of floods in Bangladesh [long].)

It is likely that Ganga carried more water around the time of the Roman Empire, when Patna was the major port city of Pataliputra. Even in the eighteenth century the ships of the <!- East India Company would come to call at the port city of Tehri, on the Bhagirathi, one of the main source river of Ganga.

Another dam is proposed to be built on the upper reaches of a tributary of the Ganga, Mahakali, This Indo-Nepal project, the Pancheswar dam, proposes to be the highest dam in the world and will be built with US collaboration.

The upper and lower Ganga canal, which is actually the backbone of a network of canals, runs from Haridwar to Allahabad, but maintenance has not been very good and my personal experience is that it probably trickles out into a small river a little beyond Kanpur.

Posted by Isha Khan, who can be reached at


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: