Chinese Construction Activity Is Making Brahmaputra Waters ‘Unfit For Human Consumption’

Chinese Construction Activity Is Making Brahmaputra Waters ‘Unfit For Human Consumption’The Brahmaputra River in Tibet (China Photos/Getty Images)

Indian officials have contended that construction activity by the Chinese on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra river are rendering the water downstream unfit for human consumption, reports the Associated Press.

Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal has said that the Brahmaputra river has been contaminated with bacteria and iron and that laboratory tests have declared the river water unfit for human consumption. Sonowal has asked the Centre to take up the matter with Beijing.

The Yarlung Tsangpo river originates in Tibet before entering India as the Siang in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. It then flows downstream to Assam as the Brahmaputra.

Last week, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Pema Khandu sought a Central investigation into the matter and wrote to Home Minister Rajnath Singh saying that the waters of the Siang river have for two months been “unusually turbid”.

Residents of Arunchal Pradesh believe that the increased contamination is a result of construction activities as well Chinese attempts to divert waters to Tibet.

“The Chinese may seek to deny, but we suspect there is massive tunnel building activities to divert the Yarlung Tsangbo to Xinjiang province, particularly the Taklamakan desert region,” wote Lungkang Ering, president of the All Bogong Students’ Union in the border district of East Sing, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs today (12 December) claimed that it had never heard of any such projects. China has in the past vehemently denied any activity but has never provided any details of its long-term plans in Tibet.

Nayan Sharma, a hydrologist from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee said that the turbidity in the Indian portion of the river was likely due to construction debris flowing downstream. He however added that the earthquake last month near the Great Bend on the Yarlung Tsangpo – prior to its entry to India – could also be a reason.

China is constructing several dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo. One big dam, the Zangmo dam, is already operational and about three to four other dams are under various stages of construction. The Zangmo dam is located just three to four kilometers from the Indian border and is 116 metres high.
Nayan Sharma, hydrologist at IIT Roorkee

“A federal investigation is a must because there is loss of aquatic life in the Siang and the Brahmaputra because of the contamination over the weeks. China is miserly in parting information on the river issues and therefore New Delhi must take up the matter at the highest level with Beijing,” said Arunav Goswami of the Gauhati-based Centre for Development and Peace Studies.

Experts feel that India needs to launch an investigation into the causes of contamination of the river, which is now affecting aquatic life as well, mainly due to China’s refusal to share information with its neighbour.

Kameswar Sahani, a fisherman from Arunachal Pradesh, told the press that many fishermen including him have been forced to stop fishing in the Siang. His catch over the last few months has gone down from 30 to 40 kilograms to three our kilograms. Further, consumers are refraining from buying fish due to the issue of contamination.