25 August 2013

Hydro-Politics with China

The following is an interview with Executive Director of Centre for Development & Peace Studies Mr. Wasbir Hussain

Gaurav-Is Hydro-Politics the new buzzword in international relations?

Wasbir- Yes, you can say Hydro-Politics is the new buzzword in international relations. Water has become a key issue between nations. Securitization of water is an important concept. Many conflicts around the world nowadays can be attributed to water issues. Even in India, we are having water issues with China & Bangladesh.

Gaurav- Your take on the dispute between India-China?

Wasbir-Dispute over the river Brahmaputra has been going on for quite some time now. There are reports of Chinese Government constructing multiple dams over the river Yarlung Tsangpo which can have adverse impacts on downstream states such as India. You have to understand that China is in a dominating position as all the rivers are originating in the Tibetian Autonomous region under the effective control of Beijing. Also there are no binding treaties between the two nations on the issue.That makes all the more difficult for India to resolve the issue.

Gaurav-Just as Various Think Tanks in India are writing about the adverse effect of damming the Brahmaputra, similarly Chinese Think Tanks are taking the opposite stand by stating the benefits of damming the river such as conforming to global carbon emission standards& controlling climate change. Your Views?

Wasbir- Well its true that some of the arguments forwarded by the Chinese authorities are relevant. However ,there can be different perceptions to the issue .Please remember that Chinese authorities have also claimed that they are only building runaway dams not reservoirs thus not obstructing the flow of the river. But the question is can you take all statements given by the Chinese on face value? There are no independent analysis on the issue to certify there statements.

Gaurav- The International Tribunal in its judgement on the case between France and Spain over the sharing of the Carol river had given a principle of Just&Equitable use over complete sovereignty& riverain integrity. China can use this principle in its defence to use the Yarlung Tsangpo for so called development purposes. Don’t you think India is weak in the legal side too?

Wasbir- Well as I said Chinese authorities have been stating that they are only using the dam for development purposes. However there are reports that they are diverting it to feed the growing water needs of its arid north. Now there are no independent reports which state the contrary. So the issue is highly complex. Diversion of rivers by china would be devastating for the North East. Not only will it affect water flow which will be detrimental for our farmers but it will also create ecological crisis, polluting the aquifers &bio-system

Gaurav- Considering the sensitivity of the issue, do you think government should take the matter more seriously ?

Wasbir- Absolutely. The Government has failed to resolve the dispute& hammering out a solution. The matter should not be limited to the ministry of water resources. The Home Ministry, The Prime Minister’s Office& the Ministry of external Affairs should be directly involved in the matter. What is happening now is that the ministry of water resources is sending an officer at the level of Director/Secretary to solve the issue. However the issue has a wider political connotation and has to have the direct intervention of the country’s top leadership.

Gaurav- A Mckinsey Report has recently stated that India will be water stressed by 2025&water scarce by 2050.Also population is expected to rise by another 1 billion. In such a scenario India will face acute water shortage. Considering the frightening statistics, do you Indian leadership should take the matter to the Security Council ?

Wasbir- Look, I guess it will be a bit too early for India to refer the matter to any international tribunals, courts or agencies. No doubt we need to raise awareness about the issue &exert pressure on china. However India should use its other mechanism such as diplomacy,talks &working groups rather than resorting to International institutions.

Gaurav- As I had previously mentioned, China already has its defence ready by stating that they are using the water for development purposes. Also China is extremely hostile in signing any treaty on the river issue with india. In such a scenario don’t you think India should use international arbitration as a mechanism or perhaps the intervention of a third party

Wasbir- Firstly India does not advocate third party intervention usually as a matter of foreign policy. Now coming to the issue of arbitration, as I said before no doubt they are effective mechanism ,however India should not go to them as of now. Maybe in the future when all other sources are exhausted.

Gaurav-United States has recently signed a water sharing agreement with Mexico despite hostilities. Can India-China replicate the model?

Wasbir- No doubt it is a good example for us however conditions are different. The terrain is highly dangerous out here compared to the Colarado river . Also political conditions are slightly different. So difficult to draw a direct analogy.

Gaurav- Your take on the role of Bangladesh on the entire issue?

Wasbir- Bangladesh has been playing an active role and has opposed the Chinese plans of diversion vehemently. Infact India&Bangladesh should increase their cooperation on the issue and internationalise it and gather support. In that way, more pressure can be exerted on china.

Gaurav- Do you think India has properly utilized the Brahmaputra river?

Wasbir- NO. That’s the sad part of the story. India has failed to utilize the enormous power of the mighty Brahmaputra. India should have utilized it to construct dams& harnessing energy. The Government should have resolved the matter with civil rights activist/environmental groups and implemented the subhansari dam. However nothing much has been done.The Inland waterways also could have been developed.

Gaurav- Finally Considering the sensitivity over the river dispute& its potential effects ,there is not much of an awareness in the north east. The media has been ignoring this highly contentious issue rather focusing on petty politics&issues. Also the student community is largely ignorant of the issue. Your Views?

Wasbir- Awareness about this important issue is very less amongst the people of the north east. The media has been ignoring the issue as they are not aware of it. There are no chairs or study centres focusing on the issue. Its sad. There has to be more awareness about the issue. Organizations such as YFFP can play an important role in creating awareness.

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