After Doklam standoff, China has no plans to share river data with India

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New Delhi, Sep 13: At the time India and China were involved in a standoff near the tri-border junction at Doklam in the Sikkim region in August, another controversy was brewing between the two nations over the sharing of hydrological data of the Brahmaputra river.

In spite of an end of the Doklam standoff, it seems China is in no hurry to share the hydrological data of the Brahmaputra river, which originates from China, and is a major cause of flood woes in Assam.

brahmaputra river

On Monday, China said it cannot share with India the hydrological data of the Brahmaputra river because of upgrade of a data collection station in Tibet. However, China expressed readiness for talks to reopen the Nathu La in Sikkim for Kailash Mansarovar yatra.

China is expected to share hydrological data on the Sutlej and Brahmaputra rivers with India during the flood season--May 15 to June 15--under a bilateral expert-level mechanism established in 2006.

"For a long time we have conducted cooperation on the river data with the Indian side. But to upgrade and renovate the relevant station on the Chinese side, we do not have the conditions now to collect relevant statistics of the river," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told.

Asked when China would provide the data, which was reportedly suspended due to the Doklam standoff, he said: "We will consider that later."

Asked whether India has been informed about not sharing of the hydrological data, he said according to his information, the Indian side is aware of the relevant situation.

On August 18, spokesman for India's external affairs ministry Raveesh Kumar had said there is an existing expert-level mechanism, established in 2006, and there are two MoUs under which China is expected to share hydrological data on the Sutlej and Brahmaputra rivers with India during the flood season from May 15 to June 15.

"For this year, we have not received hydrological data from the Chinese side," Kumar had said. The data shared by upper riparian state China to lower riparian states India and Bangladesh is essential every monsoon to allow anticipation of flow of water and take necessary measures to deal with floods in India's northeastern states.

China's stand, citing technical reasons, not to provide the hydrological data could pose major problems for India, especially to manage floods and droughts.

Beijing has been building major dams on the Brahmaputra to generate hydel power. It has operationalised the Zangmu hydroelectric project in October, 2015, and three more are under construction.

While the dams have raised concerns over water shortages in India and Bangladesh which are lower riparian states of the Brahmaputra known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet.

China says its dams aim to generate power and is not aimed at storing water. Geng sounded positive on reopening of the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage route through Nathu La in Sikkim which was suspended over the Doklam standoff. Geng said China is ready to "keep communication" with India on this issue.

"For a long time China made efforts against all odds to provide necessary convenience to the Indian pilgrims. According to the agreement between the two leaders and based on the fact that the western section of the India-China boundary has been recognised by the two sides, China opened the pass to the Indian pilgrims," he said, replying to a question when China would open the route for Indian pilgrims as the Doklam standoff has been resolved.

The Chinese spokesman said opening of Nathu La was suspended as the Indian troops "illegally crossed the border, leading to tensions". "The Indian troops had illegally crossed the border, leading to tensions there. So the opening of the pass was suspended," he said.

"China stands ready to keep communication with the Indian side in regard to opening of the pass and other issues relating to the pilgrims," he said. India and China last month ended a 73-day standoff in the Doklam area in the Sikkim sector that was triggered by China's move to build a road in the border area.

The Sikkim route to Mansarovar was opened in 2015, enabling pilgrims to travel the 1,500-km route from Nathu La to Kailash by bus.

In August, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Assam approached the Centre--where again saffron party is in power-- to seek hydrological data from China to find out the "real reasons" behind the third wave of floods in the state that killed more than 60 people.

"We are flagging this issue because the third wave of floods took everyone by surprise as there was no unnatural rain. We are not linking the flood to release of water from dams on the Brahmaputra in China. There is a lot of speculation but it's a fact that China, according to the ministry of external affairs, has not shared data from May 15 as per the agreement signed in 2006 and 2013. The data has to be shared periodically and daily during the flood season," senior cabinet minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said last month.

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