A river that needs special attention

[ Ranjit Sinha ]
Government agencies took almost two months to reveal the probable cause of the Siang river turning muddy – that too after a biological scientist and an environmentalist had uncovered it all. However, the exact reason for the river’s turbidity is not known yet.
It is believed that massive landslides at the confluence of the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet, caused by an earthquake during the third week of November this year, resulted in a deposit of a huge quantity of limestone and other particles and contamination of the Siang river, which is known as the Brahmaputra in Assam.
What is most surprising is that, initially the Chinese authority never considered the matter seriously, nor felt it necessary to find out the actual cause of the turbidity and contamination of the Siang river, which originates in Tibet. It rather asked India not to point its finger at China on hydrological issues in Tibet and ‘look for problems on their own side.’
While China was not saying anything about the muddy Siang river, on the other hand, it seemed that New Delhi too was not serious about the impending danger to human life and properties in the Siang belt by the river’s turbidity, despite being informed of the matter by the chief minister Pema Khandu and MP Ninong Ering.
When the contaminated water of the Siang river began to take a toll on aquatic life and wildlife, the central government came out with a possible reason for Siang River pollution saying that ‘it may be possibly be due to landslide, earthquake or any other activity’ in the upstream Tibet region.
It was believed that the prime minister took up the issue seriously at the initiative of the Assam chief minister. Reportedly, the PM asked the union external ministry and the water resource ministry to find out the root cause of the Siang/Brahmaputra turning black and take remedial measures on a war footing.
However, it seems that the issue was not given much importance when several MPs raised it in Parliament. There was no elaborate discussion on the issue in Parliament for remedial measures.
When both India and China were engaged in the blame game instead of finding out the cause of the water pollution, the polluted Siang river already affected aquatic life and wild animals not in only in the Siang valley but also downstream in Assam. The migratory birds in Daying Ering Wildlife Sanctuary disappeared. The sharp increase in the turbidity level of the river forced migratory birds to change their destination to other regions. It also affected fisherman as the fish population suddenly decreased in some areas of the contaminated Siang river.
However, though very late, China, which claims Arunachal as its territory in South Tibet, only recently gave lip service and assured India on maintaining communication on the artificial lake and said that contamination of the Yarlung Zangbo (Chinese name for the Brahmaputra) river was because of massive earthquakes in Southern Tibet.
It seems both the state and central governments failed to take a lesson from the devastating flash-flood caused by the breaking of an artificial dam following the Tibet earthquake in 2000.
Even though China denies carrying out construction activities in the tributaries of the Yarlung Zangbo, India must take a major diplomatic initiative to compel China to initiate a comprehensive water management policy as the agreement signed between the two Asian giants on hydrological data in Tibet will hold water, given the situation.
A strong mechanism should be in place with China on the water-sharing issue, and for preventive and remedial measures in case of any manmade and natural disaster at the confluence of the Brahmaputra in Tibet.
We can only hope that China, intentionally or unintentionally, will not use the water in Tibet as a weapon or a tool to gain leverage over India.
The new year should be a year of mutual understanding, and the two Asian giants should shun the path of confrontation.