GUWAHATI, INDIA // A major river in India's north-east that originates in Tibet has suddenly dried up, triggering speculation that China might be responsible, a local official told AFP yesterday.
The Brahmaputra has its source in China's south-western Tibet region where it is known as the Yarlung Tsangpo, and it enters India in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, where it is called the Siang.
The 2,900 kilometre river then descends into the plains of Assam state, where it is vital for agriculture, and ends in Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.
"It was shocking to find the Siang river drying up and patches of sand visible on its bed in a very large stretch close to Pasighat town," local state politician Tako Dabi said, referring to a town in East Siang district.
"We suspect the sudden drying up of the Siang could be a result of China either diverting the river water on their side or due to some artificial blockades somewhere in the upper reaches," said Mr Dabi, an adviser to the state's chief minister.
He estimated the flow was about 40 per cent of its normal strength.
Video footage shows the Siang — which is normally a gushing torrent several kilometres wide at Pasighat, according to Mr Dabi — reduced to flowing in narrow channels in the large sandy riverbed.
"Locals are worried as the river is a source of livelihood," Mr Dabi said.
The problem with the river came on the day the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi held talks in New Delhi with his Indian counterpart S M Krishna.
India is nervous about its neighbour diverting rivers that originate in Tibet and flow into India, or disrupting their flow with hydroelectric plants.
The two countries have held frequent talks about the issue at the highest level and Indian Premier Manmohanh Singh was assured as recently as last August that there was no danger.
"We have been assured that nothing will be done which affects India's interests adversely," Mr Singh told the upper house of parliament.
Energy-hungry and water-deficient China is building a hydroelectric plant on the Yarlung Tsangpo, but the Indian government says it has been assured this is a "run-of-the-river" project rather than a dam which would disrupt the flow.
"Our satellite pictures convey that no such activity of any storage facility is being worked out by the Chinese authorities," Mr Krishna told reporters yesterday after his talks with his Chinese counterpart.
He said that in light of the media reports about the river's flow, "we will get our ambassador [in Beijing] to check it."
India and China have decided that 2012 will be the "India-China year of Friendship and Cooperation".
The two Asian giants have an unresolved border dispute that was the cause of a brief war in 1962.
China claims almost all of Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory.