The contamition of waters of the mighty Brahmaputra should ring alarm bells to those who are directly responsible for protecting the river which is the lifeline of Assam. Many theories have come up in the last fortnight about the possible reasons behind the river turning muddy, slushy and discoloured. Whatever may be the cause, the State government should now wake up and move fast to ascertain the causes and carry out remedial measures on war footing. The significance of River Brahmaputra for Assam and the rest of India is immense. A river helps build up a civilisation over millenia, it carries with it innumerable stories of sorrow and joy, setbacks and victories of an entire people. In the midst of hue and cry over the phenomenon, heated speculations are being made, prominent among which is the role of Chi. Time and again, Brahmaputra has been in the centre point fraught Sino-India relations. Beijing has repeatedly denied allegations that it is tinkering with the mighty river and trying to change its course. However, there are credible reports that Chi is constructing huge dams on the upper reaches of the river. If sigls emating from Bejing are anything to go by, India needs to take an ever-vigilant and consistently strong stand against any possible attempt by Chi to play with the tural flow of the river. In August this year, the Centre revealed that the Chinese side was not sharing hydrological data of Brahmaputra, Sutlej and other cross-border rivers as per standing agreement between the two countries. Since the Indian government’s revelation came during the height of Doklam stand-off, Beijing was very dismissive of keeping its part of the bargain. Now that the tension in the Himalayas has eased, Beijing is still not forthcoming about disturbing changes being observed in Siang river, which joins the Brahmaputra downstream at Sadiya. Testing of samples of Siang water collected last month have revealed high iron content; a river so pristine is now showing excessive turbidity due to suspended or dissolved particulate material, with the Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU) giving readings above 400, when the permissible range is 0-5 NTU. Could extensive landslide in the Tibetan plateau in November 17-20 last explain this phenomenon, following an earthquake in that region? The Central Water Commission (CWC) believes so, based on prelimiry reports. But it is being contended that the ‘blackening’ of Siang river has been observed for nearly a couple of months, triggering allegations of secret construction on the Chinese side to divert Siang water to its parched regions.
Hopefully, the pollution of Siang and Brahmaputra waters will be raised strongly in Parliament when it convenes for the winter session. However, India could have taken up this matter with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who came visiting on Monday to attend the Russia-India-Chi trilateral meet in New Delhi. This country got to hear from Wang how the Doklam stand-off ‘severely strained’ Sino-India ties, while Exterl Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reiterated that maintence of peace in border areas is an essential pre-requisite for ‘smooth development’ of bilateral relations. But we from the Northeast region would like to know whether the Indian side at all raised the issue of restarting the hydrological data sharing mechanism anytime soon. After all, so long as Beijing refuses to share this data that could help guarantee the pristine quality of trans-boundary rivers and thereby help preserve the fragile ecology of frontier areas, it would continue to be a major irritant in bilateral relations. However, one good thing to emerge from the widespread concern in Aruchal over the pollution of Siang waters, appears to be a rethink in Itagar. This is apparent from Chief Minister Pema Khandu recently asserting that the State government will not accept the NITI Aayog’s proposal for building a 10,000 MW dam on the river in Upper Siang district. When we speak of developing the potential (including hydro-electric) of rivers — and at the same time, keeping them pure and unspoilt, we need to see the contradictions as well. There has to be a realization that we cannot have our cake and eat it too, both at the inter-State level and between neighbouring countries. As for Assam, the Brahmaputra is critical to its development in so many vital ways. For Assam to remain viable as an agrarian economy, healthy flow of Brahmaputra water is must. The State government has sent samples of Brahmaputra waters from different locations to leading institutes like Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Hyderabad for alysis. But there seems to be confusion among some of its ministers whether Brahmaputra water is presently fit for drinking or not! Chinese interference or not, the government of Assam and its people need to do much-needed soul searching on the State’s role in keeping its lifeline clean. We are worried when the Brahmaputra flows to us in sullied form from the upper reaches. Yet at other times, cities in Assam like Dibrugarh, Tezpur and Guwahati merrily send the Brahmaputra downstream by pumping raw sewage, industrial effluent and urban waste directly into its channel. Dispur has to act responsibly to address the Brahmaputra’s relentless degradation, and has to begin identifying and plugging causes closer to home.