During the last two days, there has been understandable concern over the water of the Brahmaputra turning turbid, changing colour and even getting smelly at times. People living alongside the Brahmaputra, in cities and towns like Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Tezpur, are turally more worried than others because they depend on the Brahmaputra for all their needs of water. The present change is something corroborated even by photographs. Photographs of the river taken at the same location that showed blue water earlier, now show turbid grey water. There are even fears that Chi may be responsible in some way for ‘mischievous activities’ on the Yarlung Tsangpo inside Chinese territory for what is happening to the water of the Brahmaputra. Chi has made it clear that it has no intentions of doing anything to the Siang flowing through its own territory (referring to Aruchal Pradesh). What should be particularly interesting to our readers are two statements, one emating from the Union Minister of State for Water Resources, Arjun Ram Meghwal, and the other from sources in the Central Water Commission (CWC). According to Meghwal, a prelimiry study has found that the water of the Siang river, which origites in southern Tibet and becomes the Brahmaputra upon entering Assam through Aruchal Pradesh, is turning black due to a recent earthquake in the region. “We have been getting reports of pollution in the river and its water turning black. The Central Water Commission has started looking into the matter recently and people have been sent to the interl areas,” Meghwal said on Sunday. It is virtually impossible to accept a statement that the water of any river can become black. It is certainly possible for the water of the Siang to become brown (due to excessive landslides caused by the erosion of riverside regions). It is also possible for the water of a river to turn deep grey for similar and related reasons. But it seems quite impossible for the water of any river to turn black. Then there is the statement attributed to sources in the CWC that tells us that the untreated water of the Brahmaputra is not safe for consumption. This is something that even a schoolboy of Class VI is aware of. And those who know how polluted the water of the Brahmaputra is by the time it reaches the point where it is pumped up for the water purification ritual at Guwahati, know that the water has to be boiled or treated in other ways with the use of ultra-violet rays before it becomes potable. People in Guwahati who see water tankers plying on the streets of the city with the words ‘drinking water’ on them cannot help wondering how the water has been made potable so easily. What a city with the kind of growth rate of greater Guwahati needs is a dozen water treatment plants scattered all over it. We do not have even half that number. What we have is promises about what will be done in the future, quite often in a language that does not have a future tense. In 70 years of independence, it was quite possible for a city like Guwahati to set up a score of water treatment plants. What we have had instead is a great deal of talk with very little performance.
The water of the Brahmaputra, as of today, is quite unfit for drinking probably even with all the filtration and boiling that the authorities have in mind as a means of making the water potable. What has happened to the water of the river should set the powers that be thinking about what can be done on a permanent basis to ensure adequate drinking water to all inhabitants of the city and of the other towns that have to depend on the Brahmaputra for their daily needs of water. If the present fleeting crisis can get our bureaucrats to think more seriously about positive action rather than mere talk, we would have reasons to be grateful for what ture can do to push somnolent functiories into a semblance of action.