During the last few days, people living along the Brahmaputra have started facing a problem that they could never have possibly anticipated. The largest river of the country (and the only male one) is now said to have water that is unfit for drinking. The texture and the colour of the water underwent a change about two weeks ago, and prelimiry tests conducted on water samples collected from three parts of the river bank—at Maijan, Bogibeel and Tezpur—have been examined by the Ministry of Water Resources. Deep Pegu, Executive Engineer of the Water Resources Department of the State government in Dibrugarh said that water samples had been collected at Bogibeel. Dibrugarh, Joi and Pasighat on December 2 and sent to the Jorhat Engineering College for alysis, but that no trace of any chemicals had been found. However, the prelimiry tests conducted by the Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) have held the water of the Brahmaputra to be not fit for human consumption, if not “poisonous” under the present circumstances. Perhaps the greatest concern arises from the high level of turbidity in the water of the Brahmaputra collected for the tests. State Water Resources Minister Keshab Mahanta who said that the water of the Brahmaputra was no longer fit for drinking, also disclosed the alarming Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU) levels of the water samples of the river collected. They were NTU level 295 for Maijan Ghat, 404 for Bogibeel Ghat and 162 for Tezpur.
This is a rather alarming situation for people living along the Brahmaputra who, willy-nilly, have to depend on the Brahmaputra for all their daily needs of water. There are even allegations that Chi is responsible for the changes that have been noticed in the Brahmaputra waters in the last few days. This is the kind of charge that should not have been made without absolutely positive proof. It is such reckless charges made without proper verification that is at the root of most of the intertiol conflicts that erupt from time to time. After all, even if the allegations are based on facts, people who level such charges must be in a position to provide irrefutable proof of the allegations made. That apart, one must take into account what is involved in poisoning the waters of a huge river like the Brahmaputra. This is not to suggest that this cannot be done. It can be done for a week or two. But the very volume of the water flowing every day ensures that the task of “poisoning” the water of the Brahmaputra cannot be extended indefinitely to elimite a sizeable section of the population of Assam. However, there is no denying that some undeniable harm has been done by whatever is altering the turbidity of the Brahmaputra water. There is already evidence of aquatic life of the Brahmaputra being affected by the difference in the water of the river. Regular fishers have failed to
What is happening is alarming, to say the least. The State government’s immediate task was to do what was needed to protect life and to issue instructions to the people in a situation where the most vital supporter of life is endangered. Considering that the people have to depend on the Brahmaputra for their daily needs of water, the State government should have informed them of the altertive means of survival and about what the government was doing to deal with the situation. And the best way of dealing with the situation was certainly not looking up to New Delhi to find solutions, but rather to find solutions locally. It was important for the State government to assess the extent of deep tube well sources of water and to inform the people about where such water was available. It was also important for the government to collect such water in tankers and make it available to people at different centres. It is this kind of help to the people rather than the routine reference to New Delhi that would have been of real help in the kind of emergency that stares us in the face now.