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    Inviting Apocalypse: India to support China’s plans to harness the Brahmaputra River
    By Tashi Tsering*

    The recent news about certain Indian leaders planning to buy power generated by Chinese dams planned along Nygangchu, a major tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra river) represents the height of short-sighted international economic diplomacy. While Chinese Communist leaders see many politico-economic reasons to harness the water resources of the Brahmaputra watershed within their territory, it is mind-boggling that certain Indian leaders would support the gagging of the very precious water resources on which the livelihood of millions of their people depend. This preposterous decision by the Indian Ministry of Power and Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd can be likened to the Indian tale of a rustic simpleton chopping off a tree branch by sitting on its outer end, only to fall to the ground himself except, in the case of this transnational act, the implications could be catastrophic for millions of people.

    The mighty Brahmaputra supports a diversity of ecosystems and millions of people from its sources in the northern slopes of the Himalayan mountains in Tibet to the hilly regions of eastern India, to the world’s largest delta in Bangladesh. Downstream, Indian and Bangladeshi groups have repeatedly expressed concerns about large scale Chinese water control projects. Two years ago, the Indian state of Assam’s Union Ministry of Water Resources expressed serious reservations about the possibility of a major water diversion and hydro-electric project at the “Great Bend” of the Brahmaputra, where the river takes a sharp U-turn to flow into India. The current insensibility of certain Indian leaders providing an international velvet glove for the selfish interests of Chinese water industrial complex reverses this position, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment and populations who depend on the river.

    If you were to tell a local Tibetan about the Chinese-Indian partnership and ask what might happen because of that, the “backward” local people will most likely predict some kind divine wrath that will cause apocalyptic fate to millions of people. To the Tibetans, the Brahmaputra watershed arguably constitutes one of the most sacred natural landscapes in the universe. Tibetans Buddhist cartographers have rendered the sacred landscape of Brahmaputra as the body of Dorjee Phagmo, female consort of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), with the various important physical locations such as mountains and lakes coinciding with parts of the deity’s body such as her knees and breasts. This landscape includes Mt. Kailash (Ghang Rinpoche) and Lake Manasarovar on the western tip of the watershed, the meditation caves of Milarepa in its central parts, and Padmasambhava’s (Guru Rinpoche’s) meditation caves and the magical “hidden lands” (Beyul) on the eastern end of the river. Any large-scale development of the sacred waters of mighty Yarlung Tsangpo for profit or “development” would be vehemently opposed by Tibetans, if only they weren’t disenfranchised and silenced.

    Interestingly, many scientists and experts also echo the Tibetan opposition. Contrary to the common assumption that Tibet is a rich, inexhaustible source of freshwater for many Asian countries – the “Water Tower of Asia” – Tibet is actually an arid region and most of its freshwater resources are fed by the melting of snowy mountains or glaciers. Numerous authoritative scientific studies on the impact of climate change on the Himalayan glaciers have been conducted, almost all of which point to the conclusion that Tibet’s water resources will be exhausted in three to four decades if current rates of glacial retreat continue. If these international and Chinese scientific studies on the impact of climate change on Tibet’s glaciers do in fact hold any weight, then India is supporting, and betting money on, the future of a dying resource on which its eastern regions depend. (For a related editorial, see “Let the Brahmaputra Flow,” http://www.tibetjustice.org/tringyiphonya/num4.html)

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