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Vol. 22 No. 1 - January 2016

Construction of mega dams on the upper reaches of Brahmaputra
has serious ecological and economic implications for the Indian subcontinent

By: *Saikat Kumar Basu

The construction of mega dams on the upper catchment areas of the Brahmaputra River in Tibet by China is a serious future concern for India and Bangladesh sharing the lower riparian catchment areas from both economic and ecological perspectives. The construction of such massive reservoirs will certainly have serious consequences with respect to the steady flow of the trans-boundary river in the middle (NE India) and lower (Bangladesh) catchment areas while traversing across Tibet and NE India and joining the Ganges (Padma) in Bangladesh; and finally draining into the Bay of Bengal. The less availability of water in the dry summer season will impact irrigation potential as well hydro-electricity generation capacity of the river and its several tributaries in Arunachal Pradesh; and the vast, fertile, alluvial, Brahmaputra River valley of Assam. Similar and worsening conditions are also expected for Bangladesh, further down in the lower catchment areas. The local agriculture and power generation of the middle and lower catchments areas will be severely impacted with negative implications for the regional economy. The reduced flow of the river due to massive dams in the upper reaches will have serious ecological consequences for the ecologically sensitive Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta system which is traversed by numerous distributaries bringing fresh water to the estuarine zone with long term impact on the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sunderbans. The Sunderban mangrove ecosystem has been already hit hard by severe anthropogenic pressures beyond the carry capacity, repeated cyclonic disturbances causing mass destruction of the protective forest belt, depletion of significant portion of the original mangrove forest and creation of numerous, large salt pans within the once densely vegetated forests. The alternation in riverine flow and imbalance in the amount of fresh water reaching the estuarine zone will result in rapid salination of significant portion of the forest; as well as enhance the annual rate of bank erosion resulting in serious threats for the future of this unique global ecosystem spread across India and Bangladesh. It will be therefore important for both India and Bangladesh to discuss a mechanism for establishing joint management of the trans-boundary river with China following international norms and regulations. It will necessary for the three countries to sit on a  dialogue table and discuss the establishment of a Joint River Commission between China, India and Bangladesh similar to that of Mekong River Commission   jointly operated by Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The issue is extremely sensitive and critically important for the virtual survival of the life line of NE India and Bangladesh and unless dealt with immediate effect and through proper diplomatic channel may result in a dark future for the eastern half of the Indian subcontinent.

*UFL, Lethbridge AB Canada, E-mail: [email protected]

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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