China’s failure to share river data may spark off new round of tensions


Rivers could emerge as the next irritant in Indo-China ties after the recent Dokalam crisis, with Beijing missing its date with sharing hydrological data on transboundary rivers Brahmaputra and Sutlej.

The two nations have a bilateral arrangement under which China is required to share data on water level, discharge and rainfall recorded at its monitoring stations along these rivers—which originate in China and flow into India-—between May 15 and October 15 every year.

This helps India forecast floods and make necessary arrangements to tackle rise in water level during monsoon, officials here told ET, adding that the Chinese government has failed to share information this year during the stipulated five-month period. Officials said they were expecting China to start sharing data on the rivers after the Dokalam crisis was resolved, but there’s no indication of any such move. Earlier, there were fears that Beijing may be working on diverting water from the Brahmaputra to the drier regions in the country’s west.

In August during the Dokalam crisis, New Delhi had pointed out that Beijing has not shared hydrological data this year. Earlier the same month, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson in China’s foreign ministry, had told reporters in Beijing that the river data collection stations in the Tibet Autonomous Region had been damaged by floods and needed repairs. Since the stations were not in a position to collect data on Yaluzangbu and Langqen Zangbo (rivers Brahmaputra and Sutlej in the upper reaches, respectively), Beijing could not share data with New Delhi, Shaung had claimed.

But a cautious New Delhi is not convinced, especially as Bangladesh officials have confirmed that China has shared hydrological data on river Brahmaputra. This year, a swollen Brahmaputra has wreaked havoc in Assam in four waves, killing over 160 people and displacing a large number in 29 districts of the state. Across the country in Punjab, over 10,000 acres of farm land were inundated by the waters of the Sutlej.

Delhi and Beijing first inked an MoU for sharing hydrological data on Brahmaputra in 2002. The MoU entailed sharing hydrological information—water level, discharge and rainfall—recorded at three stations, namely Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra in Tibet Autonomous Region from June 1to October 15 every year.

India’s Central Water Commission (CWC) uses this data for its flood forecasts. The MoU was renewed in 2008 and 2013. A separate MoU on ‘strengthening cooperation on transborder rivers’ was inked on October 23, 2013.

This requires China to share data with India from May 15 (instead of June 15 as agreed upon earlier) till October 15 every year, beginning with 2014. India also has an arrangement with China since 2005 to receive hydrological data recorded at the Tsada Station on the upper reaches of Langqen Zangbo (Sutlej) in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The 1,700 km-long Yaluzangbu, or Yarlung Tsangpo, originates from the Jima Yangzong glacier near Mount Kailash in Tibet Autonomous Region and flows into Arunachal Pradesh, where it is known as Siang and Dihang, and then into Assam as Brahmaputra.

It later flows into Bangladesh. Sutlej originates from Lake Rakshashtal in Tibet and flows through Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana before flowing into Pakistan.

Economic Times