India says Chinese construction on river dirtying water

GAUHATI, India — Officials in India's northeast are complaining that Chinese construction activity on the upper reaches of one of the largest rivers that flows into India are likely turning the waters downstream turbid and unfit for human consumption.

Over the weekend, Sarbananda Sonowal, the chief minister of India's Assam state, said the Brahmaputra river was contaminated with bacteria and iron, with laboratory tests declaring its waters unfit for human consumption. Sonowal asked that the Indian government take up the matter with Beijing.

The Yarlung Tsangbo river originates in the Tibetan Himalayas and enters India as the Siang in far-eastern Arunachal Pradesh state before flowing downstream to Assam as the Brahmaputra. The river finally empties into the Bay of Bengal through Bangladesh, where it is called the Padma.

Last week, Pema Khandu, the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, which shares a border with China, wrote to Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh, saying the waters of the Siang river have been "unusually turbid" for the past two months, and sought a federal investigation.

Keshab Mahanta, the water resources minister of Assam state, has written to Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj expressing serious concern about the water quality of the Bhramaputra.

Locals in Arunachal Pradesh suspect the Siang is contaminated because of Chinese construction activities in the upper reaches of the river, including possible attempts to divert the river to feed its arid northern areas.

"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," Lungkang Ering, president of the All Bogong Students' Union in the border district of East Sing, said in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"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 3-4 kilometers (2-3 miles) from the Indian border and is 116 meters (380 feet) high," according to Nayan Sharma, a leading Indian hydrologist at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it had never heard of the project mentioned by Indian officials in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states. In the past, China has denied such accusations without providing details or enunciating its long-term plans for the area.

India's foreign ministry spokesman did not reply to queries about whether New Delhi had raised concerns with Beijing.

Sharma said the turbidity in the segments of the river in India could be because of construction debris flowing downstream or because of an earthquake last month near the Great Bend on the Yarlung Tsangpo just as the river enters India, leading to major damage and debris flowing down.

"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.

Sharma and other experts say India needs to investigate the causes of the contamination of the river, which has also begun hitting aquatic life on the Siang and Brahmaputra rivers, because China is unlikely to share information with New Delhi.

Kameswar Sahani, a fisherman in Arunachal Pradesh, told a local newspaper that dozens of fishermen like him have been forced to stop working on the Siang river.

Over the last few months, his catch went down to just 3-4 kilograms (7-9 pounds) from 30-40 kilograms (70-90 pounds) earlier. Sahani also said that customers were balking from purchasing fish from the Siang because of contamination fears.

"How will I feed my family?" he asked.

You may also like these

Indian police: Mob kills Muslim man who was...

Apr 5, 2017

A Muslim man beaten by a mob who accused him of transporting cows for slaughter has died in western...

Controversial IVF doctor gives hope to older...

May 25, 2017

Scores of women in India give birth at advanced ages with the help of a controversial doctor who...

Farmer suicides rise in India as climate warms,...

Aug 1, 2017

A new study shows a correlation between rising temperatures and the rate of farmer suicides in India

Study: Just going outdoors could become deadly in...

Aug 3, 2017

Swaths of northern India, southern Pakistan and parts of Bangladesh may become so hot and humid by...

35 children die in north Indian hospital in 3 days

Aug 12, 2017

Parents of at least 35 children who have died in a state-run hospital in northern India over the...

Broaden News

Sign up now!

Recent Discovery will take you to the captivating developments in science, technology, and the universe around us. We deliver to you the latest news, theories, and developments in the world of science.

Contact us: sales[at]