Browsing Tag

Dam

Development

FAC recommends subcommittee on Etalin HEP, says 2017 recommendation not complied with

by  Tongam Rina 

The forest advisory committee (FAC) of the union ministry of environment, forests & climate change (MoEFCC) has recommended setting up a subcommittee of the FAC regarding diversion of forest land for the 3097 mw Etalin hydroelectric project (HEP) in Dibang Valley district by the Jindals’ Etalin Hydro Electric Power Company Limited (EHEPCL), as the FAC recommendation of February 2017 has not been complied with.
The FAC noted that the representatives from the EHEPCL and the Arunachal government were not present at the meeting it held in October this year, so their viewpoints for consultation and clarification of doubts could not be obtained.
The FAC has recommended that a subcommittee visit the site and check if the total land requirement could be further reduced.
The subcommittee, which will include representatives from the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), will also look into the “concerns related to tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in biodiversity assessments study by WII.”
Prior to the latest meeting, the proposal regarding the diversion of 1165.66 ha (including 91.331 ha underground area) of forest land for construction of the Etalin HEP was placed before the FAC in January 2015, and again in February 2017.
The ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) had recommended environment clearance for the project in January 2017.
In its February 2017 meeting, the FAC “had recommended conducting multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment by an internationally credible institute as environmental impact assessment (EIA) is completely inadequate in this regard.”

Omission of facts on flora and fauna
Following the February 2017 meeting of the FAC, the ministry had written to Arunachal’s principal forest secretary in March 2017, pointing out discrepancies observed, including omission of facts regarding the presence of flora and fauna.
The site inspection carried out by the state government’s forest officials did not mention about the biodiversity of the area in its report, the FAC had noted.
It said the proposed project falls under the richest bio-geographical province of the Himalayan zone, under one of the mega biodiversity hotspots of the world, besides being an important habitat of tiger and many other endangered species.
About six globally threatened mammal species are found in this region, of which three are endangered and three are under the ‘vulnerable’ category. About 680 bird species have been recorded from this region, which is about 56 percent of the total bird species of India. Among them, 19 are globally threatened, and 10 are near-threatened. It has four critically endangered, two endangered, and 13 vulnerable species.
The entire region falls under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Management Categories III and IV as an endemic bird area, a global biodiversity hotspot, and a key biodiversity area, indicating its importance on a global scale. The chief conservator of forests, however, mentioned a few mammal and plant species. “In fact, this area has more biodiversity than any other part of the country,” the FAC noted.

Conflict of interest

Even as the FAC asked for a fresh study, in September 2017 the MoEFCC, questionably and in clear conflict of interest, wrote to the WII, stating that the “ministry has decided that WII to conduct the study on mutually agreed terms and conditions with the user agency & WII and the report may be submitted to the state government/user agency for further consideration.”
Ideally, the ministry should have asked the report to be submitted to the FAC and not to the Jindals or the state government.
Following the letter from the ministry, the WII floated an advertisement seeking applications for subject matter specialists for preparation of a wildlife conservation plan for the impact zone of the Etalin HEP on a contractual basis, for a flexible period of 90/180/270 days.
Instead of carrying out multiple seasonal replicate studies on biodiversity assessment as recommended by the FAC, the WII changed the scope of the project from an EIA report to: ‘Preparation for wildlife conservation plan for impact zone of Etalin HEP, Dibang Valley district’.
The change in the topic of study clearly reflects that the WII is in collaboration with the Jindals.
The state government, according to the MoEFCC, had requested the WII “to conduct multiple seasonal replicate study for the preparation of wildlife and biodiversity plans and the WII submitted a proposal to conduct the study and requested the government of Arunachal to give administrative and financial approval, along with the provisions of funds.”

2,80,677 trees proposed to be felled

The project is located in the Anini social forest division, in Dibang Valley district, and an estimated 2,80,677 trees are proposed to be felled for the project.
The compensatory afforestation has been proposed over 1074.329 ha over an equivalent area, with a total financial outlay of Rs 19,64,56,700, in the degraded community forest land. However, the district administration said that suitable degraded non-forest land is not available in Dibang Valley to carry out compensatory afforestation activities.
In its October 2019 meeting, the FAC said the subcommittee may also look into the concerns highlighted by the environment ministry’s regional office in Shillong (Meghalaya) in its site inspection report (SIR), especially related to the tree enumeration process and the aspects highlighted in the biodiversity assessments study conducted by the WII.
The SIR noted that there would be five sites of stone/shoal quarries over an area of 27.856 ha. It suggested that option may be explored to reduce the area if the quarries are located inside the submergence areas.
It also suggested that the dumping areas which are proposed at 13 sites, amounting to 100.774 ha, may be reconsidered to save destruction of forests.
A huge area under construction has been proposed, which includes labour camps, a contractors’ colony and the owner’s site office, apart from other sites for the main office, the residential colony and the contractor’s colony, measuring about 64.99 hectares. This obviously has come under the scanner of the regional office as well as the FAC.
The SIR specifically noted that the enumeration has not reflected the ground reality because (a) huge trees have not been reflected in the enumeration list, (b) the size of the sampling plots were actually less than recorded and have been measured along the slope, and (c) the sampling intensity is too less for getting proper assessment of the composition and structure of the forests.
It suggested that enumeration needs to be redone on a sampling of minimum 10 percent sampling intensity after ensuring that the representative areas are taken in the sampling, and that all tree-size areas are recorded.
The report further noted that neither has the certificate of the chief secretary regarding unavailability of non-forest land been submitted, nor have the details of the land identified for compensatory afforestation and land suitability certificate been submitted.
The catchment area treatment plan and compliance with the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, have not been submitted.
The Etalin HEP is proposed to be developed as a combination of two run-of-the-river schemes, and the project envisages construction of concrete gravity dams on the Tangon and the Dri rivers, and diverting the water through two separate waterway systems to utilize the available head in a common underground powerhouse located just upstream of the confluence of the Dri and the Tangaon rivers.
The project is being executed through the EHEPCL, a joint venture company of the Jindal Power Limited, and the Hydropower Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh Limited, at an estimated cost of approximately Rs 25,296.95 crore. (Arunachal Times)

 

International

China funding NGOs against hydro projects in Arunachal Pradesh

China is trying to fund certain civil society organizations to incite protests against hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh, fear Indian government officials.

The development comes amid India’s efforts to revive work on the long-pending hydro projects, including the 2,000 megawatts (MW) Lower Subansiri and 2,880MW Dibang projects by state-run NHPC Ltd. The Centre is also trying to expedite the completion of 600MW Tawang-I and 800MW Tawang-II projects in the strategically located state.

Any delay in building hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh on rivers originating in China will affect India’s strategy of establishing its prior-use claim over the waters, according to international law. India is concerned that the hydropower projects may be affected by Beijing’s plan to divert water from rivers that flow into the Brahmaputra towards the arid zones of Xinjiang and Gansu.

“We have heard that China is trying to incite and fund some NGOs in Arunachal Pradesh against hydro power projects,” said a senior government official requesting anonymity.

Mint reported on 30 August that 103 private hydropower projects in the state with a total capacity of 35 gigawatts (GW) are still to take off despite the government’s Act East policy.

“The public meetings for consent under the Forest Rights Act haven’t been held for Tawang-I and Tawang-II as these organizations are not allowing the critical meetings to take place,” said a second person aware of the development, also seeking anonymity.

China is working on an ambitious $62-billion south-north water diversion scheme for Yarlung Tsangpo, the upper stream of the Brahmaputra river.

The Tawang Chu and Nyamjang Chu are the two main rivers in Tawang district. The Tawang Chu emerges after the confluence of Mago Chu and Nyukcharong Chu. The river system for Nyukcharong Chu originates from Tibet in the eastern Himalayas and flows in the southern direction and joins Seti Chu after 52km, according to information reviewed by Mint. The catchment area lies in the inaccessible high mountain region of the Himalayas and a major part of it is located outside the Indian territory in Tibet. About 65% of the catchment area of Stage-I lies in Tibet.The total catchment area up to the proposed barrage site of Tawang Stage-I is 2,937sq. km and of Tawang Stage-II is 3,419sq. km, according to the information.

The forest advisory committee of the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change had earlier deferred clearance to the 600MW Tawang hydroelectric project, saying that the location is a vital wintering ground for the black-necked crane, an endangered species, and other birds. The area is also home to barking deer, sambar, wild yak, serow, goral, wild boar, red panda, clouded leopard, snow leopard and musk deer. Environmentalists have repeatedly said efforts to raise the bogey of “national security” could result in irreversible environmental damage.

“India needs to take informed and democratic decisions about whatever it plans to build on rivers in Arunachal Pradesh. There is a need for thorough social, environment, and cumulative impact assessment of projects that we want to build,” said Himanshu Thakkar, co-ordinator, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People. “People’s movement in the state is so strong that any project that takes a toll on the environment would be opposed. The whole narrative that China is funding NGOs to oppose these projects is absurd,” said Thakkar.

Queries emailed on 2 September to the spokespersons of India’s ministries of power, external affairs, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and NHPC till press time were not answered. In response to Mint’s queries, Arunachal Pradesh chief secretary, Naresh Kumar, in a message, said: “I have no information.” A Union home ministry spokesperson declined comment.

Courtesy: The Live Mint

International

Locals in Bhutan and India join across border to manage a river

INDIA CLIMATE DIALOGUE

The experience of managing the Saralbhanga River, which flows from Bhutan to India, shows the importance of peoples’ participation for effective cooperation in transboundary river.

There are as many as 56 rivers that flow down from the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to the eastern state of Assam in India to meet the Brahmaputra River. The hills of Bhutan are covered with lush forests, but on the Indian side of the border are vast tracts of dry plains with occasional patches of severely denuded forests.

A large share of Bhutan’s revenue comes from hydropower projects, although it has been declining over the years, from 44.6% in 2001 to 20% in 2013.

Most of these hydropower projects have been developed in cooperation with India. Bhutan currently has an installed hydropower capacity of 1,488 MW, although it hopes to increase this to 20,000 MW.

All the rivers flowing from Bhutan to India have changed their behaviour dramatically in the last decade – long periods of dryness, shallow flow and then repeated flash floods, followed by massive amount of silt, sand, sediments, stones and boulders hurtling downstream across the border into India, constantly altering the river’s course and causing hardships and misery to people on both banks and both side of borders.

Downstream riparian communities in Assam have been regularly raising alarms about these developments, worried that the plans to build more dams in Bhutan will lead to increased flooding, erosion and more destruction than good. The Bhutanese government and their Indian dam consultants were dismissive about these objections in the past, but the rapid and extreme changes in weather patterns in the recent past has upset all predictions and is now shaping the future course of the river and Bhutan’s relationship with India

The inhabitants of the India-Bhutan border are among the poorest of the region. The mostly tribal population is recovering from intermittent internecine periods of ethnic conflict and armed clashes in Assam that has displaced over 400,000 people since 1996

Mass exodus and internal migration have affected employment, land rights and traditional occupations, making many returning families depend heavily on natural resources for their livelihoods. Some 70% of the region’s population is food and energy deficient, a proportion almost as high as that in a desert region.

The flash floods in Bhutan’s Sarpang district in 2016 had wreaked havoc in downstream areas in Assam’s Kokrajhar and Chirang districts, with the excessive silt turning large tracts of farmland into desert. The silt flow was so huge that the hundreds of farmers in Patgaon, located around 30 bkm to the north and close to National Highway 31, cannot cultivate rice even now.

On July 21, 2017, the town of Sarpang Bazar was entirely washed away by floodwaters, when the Sarpang River broke its banks again, cutting off the road to the border town of Gelephu. There were 52 families that were left homeless after continuous and heavy rainfall.

With floodwaters and landslides cutting off the highway from Phuentsholing on the Bhutan-India border, landslides brought down power transmission lines and many parts of Bhutan were without electricity. The department of roads reported that nine gewogs (districts) were totally cut off.

After the flash floods, Bhutan began mitigation measures by trying to divert the river away from human settlements. One of the controversial decisions is to allow stone miners to retrieve and sell stones and boulders from the riverbed and is being opposed by a few organisations.


Controversial measure

Another controversial measure was to embargo the building of check dams by Indian farmers from Saralpara area of Kokrajhar district. Without water from the traditional Jamfwi check dams, the farmers downstream cannot irrigate their crops. This caused much concern and consternation among downstream communities.

Any changes in the river, its flow, its course and its siltation affects farmers adversely. Upstream damming and increased landslides in the mountains have changed once perennial sources of water into dry rivulets in winter. Without irrigation, most farmers are unable to cultivate their land. Women have to go long distances to fetch water for their homes.

The Saralbhanga River (also called Swrmanga) that flows from Sarphang district of Bhutan to Assam in India. About 500 farmers from five villages close to the international border contribute to building, repairing and maintaining this check dam on the river, a traditional diversion based Irrigation system of the Bodo tribe, which is called the Dongo or Jamfwi system.

The Jamfwi or Dongo irrigation system channels water across the border in India through a labyrinth of small canals to irrigate rice and vegetable farms. Communities on both sides of the India-Bhutan border consume the produce.

Anarsingh Iswari, a leader of the Akhand Buryogari Bandh Committee in Navnagar, grows paddy, kaala dal and ginger using the traditional irrigation system. When the Bhutan government put an embargo on building of check dams, Anarsingh and Raju Kumar Narzary, executive director of the Northeast Research and Social Work Networking (NERSWN), a Kokrajhar-based NGO and members of All Bodo Students Union, Bodo Women’s Forum for Peace and Development, met the officials of Bhutan India Friendship Association (BIFA) to raise the concerns of the farmers

Traditional irrigation triumphs

The BIFA officials facilitated an urgent meeting with the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Sarphang district of Bhutan and after understanding the plight of the farmers, the Bhutanese officials agreed to allow the farmers to continue to build check dams and also decided help the farmers divert the water of Saralbhanga River for irrigation purposes, which they have been doing for centuries. This has given a huge relief to at least 5,000 farmers.

For 18-year-old Azlka Musahary, a student who helps her family in their farm, this has come as great relief, mainly because she has to walk a shorter distance to collect water for their household needs. Longer conversations with women of the village reveal how central the Jamfwi or Dongo irrigation system is to the survival of the villagers.

At the community level, women participate in all decision-making around the quantum of water to be lifted for each household and the contribution to the maintenance of the irrigation system.

It is the women who have the most at stake and are the ones who want a more permanent solution, a treaty between the two countries if possible, so that there is better conversations on both sides of the border on flow of water.

“Water issues in river basins are becoming more and more complex and far reaching at all levels — local, regional, and national. The story of conflict resolution on Saralbhanga River is a great example of successful people to people engagement supported by administration on both sides,” Animesh Prakash of Oxfam India told indiaclimatedialogue.net. , Prakash is in Oxfam’s TROSA project, which aims to contribute to poverty reduction and to reduce marginalisation of vulnerable river basin communities. The project plans to do this through increased community access to and control over riverine water resources.

“We need to build on the foundation set by the students union and civil society on both sides of the border with continued strategic engagement to promote collective actions to mitigate and adapt to the climate change induced havoc playing out in these parts of western Assam. Peace is essential for implementation of any poverty alleviation and development programme in the region,” Prakash added.

Clearly, this successful interaction has led to increasing interest among local civil society organisations to participate in processes to influence practices at all levels in integrated water resource management that is more inclusive of community concerns.

“The golden anniversary of India-Bhutan Friendship offers a perfect opportunity for both the governments to explore how best to cooperate for joint projects to mitigate and adapt to the vagaries of our rivers in interest of citizens of both our countries,” Ugyen Rabten, Chairperson of Bhutan India Friendship Association, told indiaclimatedialogue.net. “His Majesty the King of Bhutan has repeatedly expressed his interest in building on the past good relations with India to alleviate poverty and sufferings on both sides of the border and what better opportunity than to deal with this clear and present danger posed by the this devastating consequence of climate change.”

Saralbhanga05

This report is part of ongoing documentation by the author of Oxfam India’s Transboundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA) project in India. This five-year (2017-2021) regional programme funded by the Government of Sweden works with communities in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) in Nepal, India and Bangladesh and the Salween in Myanmar.

International

Why India should be worried about China’s Lalho dam

On 30 September, 2016, China announced that it has blocked the Xiabuqu river as part of a major hydroelectric project, the Lalho hydroelectric project at Shigatse. Xiabuqu is a major tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the upper stream of the Brahmaputra river flowing from Tibet. The Lalho project has an investment of $4.95 billion and construction is scheduled to be completed by 2019.

It is designed to store up to 295 million cubic metres of water and will help irrigate 30,000 hectares of farmland. The strategic value of the Lalho project lies also in the fact that Shigatse is only a few hours driving distance from the junction of Bhutan and Sikkim, and the city from which the Chinese plan to extend their railroads to Nepal.

The project, however, has raised concerns in the lower riparian states of the Brahmaputra—India and Nepal. While insisting that the project is a run of the river project, the Chinese official news agency Xinhua clarified that the construction of the project will not impact water levels in the lower Brahmaputra. Yet, in the absence of a comprehensive water treaty between China and India, the construction of this dam has raised new concerns.

Since 2013, China and India have been sharing water details through an expert level mechanism which coordinates on trans-border rivers. The construction of this dam, however, raises new issues about the efficiency of the expert level mechanism.

The concerns of India are in essence threefold. The first is the traditional question of water itself. When rivers are trans-boundary in nature, lower riparian states are always at a disadvantage. This is because upper riparian states can restrict the flow of the water and effectively curtail the water rights of the lower riparian states. In this particular case, however, the issue is not limited to the Lalho project alone. This project is only a pointer of how it might affect the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra river system in the years to come.

Both India and China have embarked on a massive hydropower energy generation path; yet in the quest for lower carbon footprint, such a race might completely destroy the ecosystem of the rivers. China plans to construct over 40 dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo. If it achieves this, the character of the river will be permanently altered. These dams could alter the geographical character as well for they are being built on slopes with a gradient of as much as 60 degrees and on the meeting point of three of the youngest mountain systems in the world. If a major earthquake were to hit the mountains, millions of people would lose their lives. The Kedarnath disaster of 2013 in India is a grim reminder of the dangers in trying to tame the Himalayan river systems.

The second concern is the character of the Brahmaputra itself. The rivers of the Himalayan ecosystem are younger and, by character, adventurous. In the last 250 years, the Brahmaputra has changed its course a number of times. The char areas in Assam are fascinating examples of this phenomenon. Every few years, new islands appear in the Brahmaputra while old ones disappear. The inhabitants of the old islands are often unsure of the country they belong to. This often gives rise to political unrest in northeastern states. Any move to control or shift the Brahmaputra course might accentuate the political problems in the north-east.

The third concern is the larger role that the river plays in the life of people in the north-east. A number of tribes have built a livelihood around the course of the river. They centre their lives around fishing and other activities. For example, lumberjacks from Arunachal Pradesh cut logs in the mountains and transport them through the Gai, Ronganodi and Subhanshiri rivers (all tributaries of the Brahmaputra) via rafts. It makes for a fascinating sight when people sail on rafts for days till they reach the plains with logs tied to the bottom of their rafts. The influence of these rivers in the lives of the people is immense.

The way forward then is to engage in a comprehensive dialogue. While the 2013 expert level mechanism was a much warranted step, much more needs to be done. Both India and China have set up aggressive goals for themselves in combating climate change. Shifting from non renewable energy sources to renewable ones like hydroelectricity is an important step in this direction.

However, as global evidence has shown us, large dams are not the solution to energy sources. Constructing continuous run of the river dams will damage the ecology of the river too. A river is not only the water body but a complete ecosystem including flora and fauna. Dams in large numbers damage this ecology. All stakeholders have to realise this. China has to take India into confidence because rivers shouldn’t be used to further political or geostrategic agendas. There is the ecological and environmental question which should be approached through consensus. Rivers are a common heritage to be nurtured by all.

The writer is assistant commissioner of income tax. Views expressed are personal

On 30 September, China announced that it has blocked the Xiabuqu river as part of a major hydroelectric project, the Lalho hydroelectric project at Shigatse. Xiabuqu is a major tributary of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the upper stream of the Brahmaputra river flowing from Tibet. The Lalho project has an investment of $4.95 billion and construction is scheduled to be completed by 2019.

It is designed to store up to 295 million cubic metres of water and will help irrigate 30,000 hectares of farmland. The strategic value of the Lalho project lies also in the fact that Shigatse is only a few hours driving distance from the junction of Bhutan and Sikkim, and the city from which the Chinese plan to extend their railroads to Nepal.

The project, however, has raised concerns in the lower riparian states of the Brahmaputra—India and Nepal. While insisting that the project is a run of the river project, the Chinese official news agency Xinhua clarified that the construction of the project will not impact water levels in the lower Brahmaputra. Yet, in the absence of a comprehensive water treaty between China and India, the construction of this dam has raised new concerns.

Since 2013, China and India have been sharing water details through an expert level mechanism which coordinates on trans-border rivers. The construction of this dam, however, raises new issues about the efficiency of the expert level mechanism.

The concerns of India are in essence threefold. The first is the traditional question of water itself. When rivers are trans-boundary in nature, lower riparian states are always at a disadvantage. This is because upper riparian states can restrict the flow of the water and effectively curtail the water rights of the lower riparian states. In this particular case, however, the issue is not limited to the Lalho project alone. This project is only a pointer of how it might affect the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra river system in the years to come.

Both India and China have embarked on a massive hydropower energy generation path; yet in the quest for lower carbon footprint, such a race might completely destroy the ecosystem of the rivers. China plans to construct over 40 dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo. If it achieves this, the character of the river will be permanently altered. These dams could alter the geographical character as well for they are being built on slopes with a gradient of as much as 60 degrees and on the meeting point of three of the youngest mountain systems in the world. If a major earthquake were to hit the mountains, millions of people would lose their lives. The Kedarnath disaster of 2013 in India is a grim reminder of the dangers in trying to tame the Himalayan river systems.

The second concern is the character of the Brahmaputra itself. The rivers of the Himalayan ecosystem are younger and, by character, adventurous. In the last 250 years, the Brahmaputra has changed its course a number of times. The char areas in Assam are fascinating examples of this phenomenon. Every few years, new islands appear in the Brahmaputra while old ones disappear. The inhabitants of the old islands are often unsure of the country they belong to. This often gives rise to political unrest in northeastern states. Any move to control or shift the Brahmaputra course might accentuate the political problems in the north-east.

The third concern is the larger role that the river plays in the life of people in the north-east. A number of tribes have built a livelihood around the course of the river. They centre their lives around fishing and other activities. For example, lumberjacks from Arunachal Pradesh cut logs in the mountains and transport them through the Gai, Ronganodi and Subhanshiri rivers (all tributaries of the Brahmaputra) via rafts. It makes for a fascinating sight when people sail on rafts for days till they reach the plains with logs tied to the bottom of their rafts. The influence of these rivers in the lives of the people is immense.

The way forward then is to engage in a comprehensive dialogue. While the 2013 expert level mechanism was a much warranted step, much more needs to be done. Both India and China have set up aggressive goals for themselves in combating climate change. Shifting from non renewable energy sources to renewable ones like hydroelectricity is an important step in this direction.

However, as global evidence has shown us, large dams are not the solution to energy sources. Constructing continuous run of the river dams will damage the ecology of the river too. A river is not only the water body but a complete ecosystem including flora and fauna. Dams in large numbers damage this ecology. All stakeholders have to realise this. China has to take India into confidence because rivers shouldn’t be used to further political or geostrategic agendas. There is the ecological and environmental question which should be approached through consensus. Rivers are a common heritage to be nurtured by all.

The writer is assistant commissioner of income tax. Views expressed are personal

International

China says no plan to build 1000-km tunnel to divert Brahmaputra waters

Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post had reported that more than 1000 Chinese engineers were testing techniques that could be used to build the tunnel, the world’s longest.

China has denied as “false” a news report that it plans to build a 1,000-km tunnel to divert water from the Brahmaputra river at a site close to the India border to arid Xinjiang in the country’s northwest.

Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post had reported on October 2017  that more than 100 Chinese engineers were involved in testing techniques that could be used to build the tunnel, which would be the world’s longest.

“This is a false report,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular ministry briefing when she was asked about the report.

“China will continue to attach great importance to cross-border river cooperation,” she added.

The matter was widely reported by the Indian media because of the possible impact such a project would have on India’s northeastern states.

The South China Morning Post had quoted Chinese scientists working on the reported plan as saying that though it was a massive project, it was only a matter of time before it would be implemented.

The Tsangpo flows from China into India through Arunachal Pradesh as the Siang before becoming the Brahmaputra in Assam – the source of life and livelihood for millions.

The tunnel project, submitted to the government in March, was reported to be in the blueprint stage but could trigger a serious water crisis in India’s northeast if it is implemented as the Tsangpo is an upper riparian river.

The media report said water would be diverted from Yarlung Tsangpo river in southern Tibet to Taklimakan desert in Xinjiang.

Zhang Chuanqing, a researcher at the Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics in the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, Hubei province, told the newspaper he was confident the tunnel project would take off despite enormous costs, engineering challenges, environmental impact and protests by neighbours.

Chinese experts were confident that the project would be difficult to resist with the availability of technology in the years to come and potential benefits.

“With new water from Tibet, Xinjiang would boom like California,” Zhang said, adding China was “now taking a quiet, step-by-step approach to bring it to life”.

Between the Indus, which originates in the west of the Tibet plateau, and the Tsangpo-Siang in the east, there are six major rivers flowing from Tibet to India.

These rivers are crucial for India’s agricultural and industrial needs.

As of 2016, China had plans to build 32 dams on the rivers and tributaries, raising concerns among people in lower riparian states.

In 2015, for example, China operationalised the largest dam in the Tibet Autonomous Region in the middle reaches of the river.

“Located in the Gyaca County, Shannan Prefecture, the Zam hydropower station harnesses the rich water resources of the Yarlung Tsangbo River, a major river which flows through Tibet,” official Xinhua news agency had reported at the time.

First Published: Oct 31, 2017