Hydrological information from China on transboundary rivers comes at a colossal price to India, despite several agreements which have been renewed between the two neighbours.
A reply on an RTI application from the Ministry of Jal Shakti revealed that a whopping Rs 158 million approximately has been paid by India so far to China for hydrological information on the Sutlej and Siang rivers that originate in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
The data provided by China are from the three hydrological stations at Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia on Siang river (Yalung Zangbu) from 15 May to 15 October, and from Tsada on Sutlej river (Langqen Zangbo) from 1 June to 15 October every year.
Flood control & Disaster Mitigation Is the Focus
Interestingly, China did not charge anything for the data provided between 2002 and 2007, and no data was provided in 2017 due to “logistical constraints,” the reply mentioned.
An official pointed out that the reasons that prompted China to levy fixed rates for the data on the rivers after providing them without any charges for many years were not known.
A treaty on sharing of hydrological information on rivers was deemed essential by the Indian government to tackle floods that cause havoc in the Brahmaputra basin frequently. The main purpose of the agreement is flood control and disaster mitigation in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and in other downstream regions.
India also has a treaty with Nepal on sharing of information, and that is provided free of cost.
Agreements Between India & China
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the two neighbours in 2002 for sharing of hydrological information on the Yarlung Zangbu (Siang) during the flood season by China for three stations on the river, on water level, rainfall, and discharge. The agreement was renewed in 2008, 2013, and in 2018 for another five years.
Another MoU on the Siang was signed in 2013, which increased the originally envisaged duration of data from between 1 June and 15 October to between 15 May and 15 October.
According to the 12th compiled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on water resources, this agreement opened up other areas of cooperation in the water sector. It has no expiry period.
In 2005, a similar agreement was signed for the Sutlej river (Langqen Zangbo), which was renewed in 2010 and 2015.
The signing of the MoU on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers with China was followed by Implementation Plans outlining the modalities regarding technical details on hydrological information, data transmission method, cost settlement, etc. These plans also provided details of stations, frequency, type, duration and format of transmission of data to be supplied.
Following the visit of then-Chinese President Hu Jintao to India in 2006, an Expert Level Mechanism (ELM) was established to discuss cooperation on sharing of hydrological data during the flood season, emergency management and other issues on the two transborder rivers. The ELM meetings are being held annually and alternately in India and China.
'Not Much Cooperation’
On 17 November last year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on water resources was informed by an of Jal Shakti that “China is such a country with which we do not have much cooperation at the moment”, which was mentioned in the report submitted last August.
The official’s statement before the committee on cooperation with China is echoed by some bureaucrats, who are of the opinion that the current level of interaction on rivers leaves much to be desired.
“It is doubtful if China would seriously pay heed to India’s concerns. It will share data to the extent that it does not hinder plans to harness the vast reservoir of water resources in Tibet,” a retired official of the Brahmaputra Board pointed out. “There are enough examples to cite from the problems faced by China’s other neighbours.”
(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. Views expressed are personal.)