Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Red river turns black in North East India

The Dam on Ranganadi River.


Ranganadi means red river. But Ranganadi ran black and turbid on Rongali Bihu, the Assamese New Year’s Day, this April.

The people living along the banks of the river in North Lakhimpur district of Assam could not bathe their livestock in Ranganadi on this special day. Forced to forego a tradition among the Mising tribe to which they belong, residents bathed their cattle and goats in water pumped up from tube wells, ignoring the dangerous level of arsenic in the groundwater.

On February 9 this year, an unprecedented amount of silt and muddy water was released from the Ranganadi dam of North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO)’s 405 MW Ranganadi Hydro Electric Project (RHEP) near Yazali in Arunachal Pradesh.

A major tributary of the Brahmaputra, Ranganadi starts in the Nilam, Marta and Tapo mountain ranges of Arunachal Pradesh, a state in which the river is called Panyor. It is a major source of irrigation water and fish in both Arunachal Pradesh and downstream Assam, where it joins the Brahmaputra.

Shortly after the sudden release of silt by NEEPCO, scores of dead fish of different species and sizes were seen “lying at the bank of the river at Lichi, Upper Sher, Lower Sher, Boda, Upper Jumi and Komasiki village areas,” according to a statement by local NGO Jumi, Komasiki, Cher Green Plus Society (JKCGPS). The NGO has lodged a complaint to the police against the head of RHEP, holding him responsible for the destruction of aquatic lives. It has also threatened to launch a movement.

The amount of silt flowing down the Ranganadi seemed unusual even for 74-year-old Bisan Narah of Shantipur village downstream. “Although the dam releases silt from time to time for maintenance, this time the silt and contaminants are really thick in the water.  That Ranganadi dam is like the government’s curse upon our people. In monsoons the floods have worsened because of the dam, in winter the river dries up because of the dam. Our paddy fields are affected by the floods and now there is no fish in the river. The water is unusable for even washing anything.”

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