Libmonster ID: IN-1262

T. O. SVINARCHUK

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

South Asia Keywords:Indiahydropowertransboundary riverswater resources

The peculiarity of implementing large hydropower projects in South Asia (SA) is that all three major river systems existing there - the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins - are transboundary. The construction of multi-purpose dams even on one of the tributaries of the three largest rivers in the region leads to a change in the state of the entire basin. Therefore, an important aspect of water resources management in the South Asian region is interstate cooperation, not only bilateral, but also multilateral, at the sub-regional and regional levels.

Over the past 40 years, several projects have been put forward to promote multilateral cooperation in the Ganges and Brahmaputra River basins. However, until recently, none of them were even seriously discussed.1

It was only in April 2013 that Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal finally decided to establish two sub-regional mechanisms for the joint management of the Ganges (India, Nepal, Bangladesh) and Brahmaputra (Bhutan, India, Bangladesh) river basins. Within the framework of these mechanisms, expert councils are established, as well as joint committees at the level of ministries of water resources and energy of the participating countries.

A senior energy Ministry official said in an interview with The Hindu newspaper, "the main goal of this initiative is to implement joint cooperation programs with participating states in order to improve interaction mechanisms for sustainable development, economic growth and sub-regional cooperation." 2

There is an inextricable link between the domestic and foreign policies of States in the use of water resources. The specifics of the problems that arise during this process can be traced to the example of the development of the hydropower industry in the largest economy in South Asia - India.

Hydroelectric power refers to the use of various systems in the economic activity of a person to convert the energy of a water flow into electricity. According to the International Energy Agency's 2009 data, India ranks 7th in the world in terms of energy generated by hydroelectric power plants. However, if we estimate it not in absolute numbers, but in relation to other sources, the energy generated by hydroelectric power plants is only 21.5% of the electricity generated in the country. According to the World Bank, India uses only 23% of its existing hydropower potential. For comparison, in Europe, this figure is 98%. At the same time, about 40% of households in the country do not have permanent access to electricity networks, and among existing networks there is a 10-fold shortage of electricity (according to the most optimistic estimates). It becomes especially acute during the peak load period 3.

Despite the fact that the development of hydropower in India has a long history - the first hydroelectric power station in Darjeeling was built in 1897 - the share of hydropower in the total volume of electricity generated in the country is steadily declining. If in 1963 it was 50%, then in 2010 it was only 25%, and this process continues. This is due to the fact that other sectors of the energy industry are developing faster. First of all, this applies to thermal power plants that use coal as fuel.

According to representatives of the National Hydroelectric Corporation of India, to create a harmonious energy system in the country, the optimal ratio of hydro and thermal energy should be 40%: 60%.

However, in recent years, the hydropower industry in India has been developing quite actively. According to the Planning Commission of India, today the capacity of hydroelectric power plants operated in the country is 39,291 MW. According to the XI five-year plan (2007-2012), it was planned to increase the generating capacity in the industry by 15,627 MW, but only 5,544 were commissioned

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MW (35%). The Planning Commission of India has set a target of 10,897 megawatts of hydropower generation capacity during the implementation of the XII Five-Year Plan4. As of 2010, 109 hydropower projects with a capacity of 30,920 MW were at various stages of implementation (from project documentation approval to construction). The total hydropower potential of the country is estimated at 150,000 MW5.

The development of hydropower offers several advantages. First of all, it is a renewable energy source. In addition, the hydropower industry does not produce harmful emissions into the atmosphere. However, the construction of large stations with large reservoirs has a serious impact on the surrounding ecosystems, often destroying them.

An equally important circumstance is that hydroelectric power stations make it possible to start and stop the process of generating energy at the necessary moment. Thus, their use is indispensable during peak loads on the power grid, for example, in the evening hours, when the need for electricity increases dramatically. According to the World Bank, if two 100-watt light bulbs are turned on in each of India's 150 million homes at 7 p.m., this will require an additional 30,000 MW of power at one time.6

The construction of hydroelectric power stations contributes to the development of infrastructure in remote areas of the country. Finally, water from reservoirs can be used not only for energy generation, but also for irrigation and as drinking water. This ensures the most efficient use of water resources.

However, it should be noted that the emergence of large hydropower projects can affect river flows, changing their volumes and seasonal fluctuations. In this regard, the living conditions and access to water of those people and farms located downstream may seriously change. At the same time, the real scale of the consequences of the appearance of hydroelectric power plants is not always obvious and requires serious research.

The presence of these consequences can give rise to serious conflicts between those involved in the implementation of a hydroelectric project and residents of the territories that are affected by it. These conflicts become particularly acute if projects are implemented on transboundary rivers. In this situation, the interests of neighboring States collide. This problem is particularly relevant in South Asia, where most of the major river systems are trans - border.

80% of India's hydropower potential is located in the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra basins. Each of these systems is located on the territory of several States. Thus, there is a need for international regulation of the use of the resources of these river systems.

The North (Indus and tributaries) and North-East (Brahmaputra basin) regions of India have the greatest hydroelectric potential. However, it is in these regions that the use of this potential is lowest. Most likely, these regions will be actively building hydroelectric power stations in the near future7. However, there are several factors that hinder this process:

- these areas are not easily accessible, with poorly developed infrastructure;

- the local population and environmental activists are actively protesting against the construction of large hydroelectric power plants in their region;

- most of the major rivers in these regions are either transboundary or are part of transboundary river systems; thus, there is a need to resolve issues related to the use of their waters in an interstate format.

The settlement of issues related to the use of transboundary river waters is complicated by the lack of a common international document on this issue. The only document of this kind is the Helsinki Rules for the Use of International River Waters of 1966, but they are only recommendations.

The provisions contained therein were developed by the International Law Association, a non-governmental organization. Based on them, the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses was developed, adopted by the General Assembly in 1997.However, so far this Convention has not entered into force (only 24 of the required 35 States have acceded to it).

Therefore, all issues related to the use of international rivers in South Asia are regulated by the tld-

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third-party agreements between countries. However, only in one case - the Indus Water Use Agreement between India and Pakistan - regulates the use of several rivers belonging to the same basin (the Indus River and its tributaries: Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej). In other cases, a separate contract is concluded for each river used, with its own special conditions, which significantly complicates the process and requires much more time.

For example, separate agreements between the Governments of India and Nepal regulate the conditions for the construction of large multi-purpose (including hydroelectric) dams on the Kosi, Mahanadi and other rivers.

Unresolved issues of this kind hinder the constructive development of bilateral relations between the countries of South Asia. A striking example in this case is the situation developing in relations between India and Bangladesh. The two countries have not been able to conclude an agreement on the use of the Tista River waters for quite a long time. Initially, it was assumed that this agreement would be signed in the fall of 2011, but for various reasons related to disagreements between the authorities of various levels within India, this was not done. Then the government of Bangladesh refused to extend the validity of the agreement with India on the transit of goods through its territory.

The implementation of large hydropower projects, especially in recent years, is usually accompanied by active protests of the local population and environmental activists. So, after a large-scale protest campaign organized by local residents, the construction of a cascade of dams on the already mentioned Tista River was postponed and an additional expert examination of the project was appointed.

The situation is much more complicated when the construction of a dam and a power plant on one side of the border affects the lives of citizens of another state. Since the dams and dams that are built for hydroelectric power plants allow controlling the flow of rivers, the downstream countries are in a dependent position. First of all, this affects irrigation systems, on the functioning of which the state's food security depends. For example, the construction of the large Tipaimukh dam on the Barak River in Manipur state caused active protests not only in the state itself, but also in neighboring Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has often accused India of building dams and reducing the volume of river water flowing into Bangladesh, "turning the northern part of the country into a desert"8. Bangladeshi civil society organizations sent a petition to the UN Secretary-General asking him to "put pressure on India from the international community to guarantee the fair distribution of the waters of cross-border rivers" .9

Virtually every power plant built on a transboundary river requires a lengthy coordination process between the two States, which is often accompanied by conflicts.

Thus, India's internal problem of ensuring uninterrupted supply of electricity to the growing economy and residents, including through the development of hydropower, is closely linked to the country's relations with its closest neighbors. Diverting water in one place can mean a critical shortage in another, which threatens the country's food security and can not but worry its government, since it directly affects the lives of many citizens.


1 For more information, see: Mizanur Rahman M. Integrated management of the Ganges basin: conflict and hope for regional development / / Joint management of transboundary watercourses: an overview of world experience. Interstate Coordination Water Management Commission, Tashkent, 2011, Pp. 26-50.

2 Nepal, India & Bangladesh to make most of Ganga water, hydropower // The Hindu, 15.04.2013.

3 India Hydropower Development - http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/ 2012/03/23/india-hydropower-development

4 Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012 - 2017). Economic Sectors/Government of India // SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd. New Delhi, India, 2013. Vol. 2. P. 136, 185.

5 India Hydropower Development...

6 Ibidem.

Rao V. V. K. 7 Hydropower in th Northeast: potential and harnessing analysis // Development and Growth in Northeast India: The Natural Resources, Water, and Environment Nexus background paper N 6. World Bank. Sustainable Development Department Environment & Water Resource Management Unit. 2007. P. 14.

8 Islami Andolon starts long march towards Tipaimukh Dam // The Financial Express - http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/2009/12/25/87786.html

9 United Nations: Tipaimukh Dam must be stopped - http://www.change.org/petitions/ united-nations-tipaimukh-dam-must-bestopped


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