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"Made In China"

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/06/23; June 23, 2001.]

Satellite pictures suggest that the floods which ravaged Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh last year may have been triggered by the Chinese.

By Shishir Gupta
India Today
June 25 Issue.

The relationship between India and China have a tendency to toggle between good, bad and ugly. While economic issues have overshadowed many problems, the nuclear threat and missile proliferation have led to serious concerns in the past. And, lest one forgets, it was the border dispute that sparked off hostilities between the two Asian giants. Now a new flash point has emerged in the bilateral relationship. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has concrete evidence that the flash floods which ravaged large tracts in the border states of Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh last year were caused by the Chinese.

A detailed study carried out by ISRO scientists says the release of excess water accumulated in man-made and natural water bodies in the Sutlej and the Siang river basins in Tibet had led to the flooding. The Sutlej is part of the Indus river system and enters India from Tibet in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. The Siang is part of the mighty Brahmaputra system and enters India in the Upper Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh.

At 1.30 a.m. on August 1, 2000 a 50-ft high wall of water tore into the mountain gorges of Kinnaur, Shimla and Mandi districts in Himachal Pradesh washing away everything that came in its path. More than 100 persons lost their lives, 120 km of the strategic Old Hindustan-Tibet highway was washed away and 98 bridges of various sizes and shapes were completely destroyed. Official estimate of the loss: Rs 200 crore.

This was a replay of the flash floods in Arunachal Pradesh about two months earlier on June 11. Only this time the river that ravaged the Indian countryside was the Siang, which is known as the Tsangpo in China and the Brahmaputra in Assam. That day, the Siang rose by an unprecedented 100-120 ft in the border state and devastated four districts of Arunachal Pradesh. More than 26 persons lost their lives while three strategic bridges were swept away by the raging river waters. Official estimate of the loss: Rs 139.50 crore.

The flash floods in the two states were initially dismissed by the Centre as freak natural phenomena caused by cloudbursts. In fact, they would have become nondescript files in the National Disaster Management Cell of the Ministry of Agriculture but for ISRO's stunning revelation that the flash floods had been caused by the release of excess water that had collected in water bodies in the Sutlej and the Siang river basins in Tibet. However, China has denied this and says that there were no floods or incessant rain in Tibet at the time. The Chinese have attributed the floods to "natural" causes on the Indian side. But according to the Kinnaur district authorities, some bridges in China were also destroyed by the gushing Sutlej waters.

This perhaps is not backed by facts. When the disasters struck, it was also not raining in either Himachal Pradesh or Arunachal Pradesh. This is precisely why there were no flood warnings issued by the two state governments at the time.

On the other hand, ISRO's charges are based on a careful examination of satellite images of the river basins in Tibet. ISRO scientists pored over multi-date satellite data to investigate the causes of the flash floods. Around 30 satellite pictures of the Siang river basin in eastern Tibet region and 25 images of the western part of Tibet were analysed. The ISRO findings were later submitted to the Ministry of External Affairs. Also, during a review of the flood forecasting projects under the Jai Vigyan National Mission last month, an ISRO representative apprised Union Science and Technology Minister Murli Manohar Joshi of the findings.

While the satellite images remain classified, officials of the Ministry of Water Resources indicate that these pictures show the presence of huge water bodies or lakes upstream in Sutlej and Siang river basins before the flash floods took place. However, these lakes disappeared soon after the disaster struck Indian territory. This probably means that the Chinese had breached these water bodies as a result of which lakhs of cusecs of water were released into the Sutlej and Siang river basins.

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