Guwahati, Saturday, July 31, 2010
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Pollution threatens Deepor Beel’s existence
Staff Reporter
 GUWAHATI, July 30 – There seems to be little respite for Deepor Beel, a Ramsar site wetland and a bird sanctuary, which has been bearing the brunt of the city’s unplanned development.

 The ills plaguing Deepor Beel are many and have assumed serious proportions. Perhaps foremost among the problems is the accumulation of municipal solid wastes, including toxic disposals, that are increasingly finding their way into the very core of the wetland.

Continued discharge of the city’s untreated sewerage through the Bahini and Bharalu rivers besides the dumping of municipal solid wastes in its close proximity at Boragaon by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) have pushed the wetland’s pollution to alarming levels. The problem has got aggravated during the monsoons, with rainwater sweeping large amounts of garbage from the dumping site to the beel.

Even within the beel’s core protected area (which forms the sanctuary), municipal garbage, particularly plastic wastes, can be seen floating in the water. A closer look will further reveal a blackish, oily substance coating the water over a large stretch. Invasive weeds such as water hyacinth, too, are expanding to more and more areas.

Admitting that growing pollution was indeed a grave threat for long-term survival of the beel that shelters a wide range of avi-fauna including migratory birds, a Forest official said that the department had regularly been taking up the matter with the district administration and other departments and agencies concerned but things at ground level had not progressed much.

“We have been raising the matter before the Deputy Commissioner… The GMC was supposed to find an alternative site for disposal of municipal wastes but that has not happened. In the rainy season, the situation invariably worsens, as the water run-off brings the garbage into the water,” the official said.

The official said that following the declaration of a part (4.14 sq km) of the wetland as a sanctuary, some security measures including checking of fishing within the protected area had been initiated. “We are also having periodical meetings with the village communities for creating awareness on conservation,” he added.

The deplorable situation belies Deepor’s stature as a wetland of immense significance. “Deepor Beel is reeling under the onslaught of unbridled urbanization and human greed. Its woes have been compounded by our insensitive and unresponsive authorities… it is unlikely to survive for long under the prevailing conditions,” a local resident rued.

Other persisting problems like large-scale encroachment, heavy siltation from the denuded hills surrounding the beel, increasing industrial activities within its periphery, a busy railway line along the southern boundary, quarrying and brick-making within the beel ecosystem, etc., remain largely unaddressed.

A Planning Commission team that visited Deepor in 2008 under the National Wetland Conservation Management Programme of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had cited all these factors as jeopardizing the wetland’s survival, and recommended strong corrective measures by the State Government and the administration.

The Planning Commission team, in its report, had also noted that “…a lot remains to be done for at least partial restoration of this wetland.”

The Pollution Control Board Assam (PCBA) had recently gave some more time to the Ramki group engaged by the GMC to dispose the city’s garbage in compliance with municipal solid wastes rules, failing which the PCBA warned of stern action. Similarly, the GMC had also been told to find an alternative disposal site long back but to no avail.

Conservation circles have called for an integrated approach to save Deepor, which should include – besides checking industrial activities and minimizing anthropogenic pressures — protecting the green cover on the city’s hills as widespread deforestation in the hills led to accumulation of huge deposits of earth and silt on the beel bed.

A natural wetland, Deepor harbours a rich variety of flora and fauna including 212 species of birds - many of them endangered. Also well-known for its indigenous fish diversity with 50 species recorded so far, Deepor is the only major storm water storage basin for Guwahati, which regularly faces prolonged water-logging during every monsoon. Deepor, again, is the best indicator of the city’s environmental status, and lesser number of birds visiting the wetland would testify to the growing transformation of the city into a quagmire of pollution.

Deepor offers prospects for tourism as well but this has to be harnessed carefully without impacting its fragile ecology. With the dense Garbhanga hills proving a stunning backdrop, Deepor can be developed as an ideal destination.

The insensitivity of the administration and the State Government should be evident from the shabby treatment meted out to this premier wetland over the years. Rather than checking anthropogenic and industrial pressures on its periphery, the authorities had issued land pattas to many settlers besides allowing industrial activities within the beel precincts.

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