Farhana Ahmed GHUNASUTI, May 30 - When the first Assamese prose romance Miri Jiyori (The Miri Maiden) was published in 1896, Ghunasuti was introduced to the readers about this part of the world. A riverine area on the banks of the Subansiri, populated by the ethnic Mising community for centuries, Ghunasuti has been evoking a sense of great nostalgia for the tragic romantic tale of Jonki and Panoi of the great Assamese novel penned by Rajanikanta Bordoloi a quarter and a century ago.
Erosion by the Subansiri river in Ghunasuti. – Photo: North Lakhimpur Correspondent
But this area with rich natural biodiversity and abundant resources is fast losing its very existence due to unabated erosion by the Subansiri, which has been fast changing its course westwards during the last three decades. The impact of climate change on the Himalayan eco-system is transforming the river to move differently, causing displacement of thousands of people and destroying their traditional livelihood.
A first-hand account of the prevailing existential threat faced by Ghunasuti was felt when a delegation of the North Lakhimpur Press Club visited the area as a part of its ‘Gaonwoloi Bolok’ (Let’s go the villages) programme.
The inland waterways ferry ghat at Ghagar off the Subansiri is just 7 km from North Lakhimpur, the district headquarters. On the other side of the river, a harsh reality amidst a picturesque landscape awaited us to tell the impending disaster.
Utpla Mili, a local youth, led the journalists to locations worst affected by erosion in Ghunasuti. The villages of Koliyoni, Baligaon, No. 2 Naharani have been affected by massive erosion since 2012. A portion of the dyke constructed at Koliyoni was swept away by the Subansiri from No. 1 Bamunijan to No. 1 Balibheta area, leaving 26 villages exposed to the fast approaching river. The loss of land to erosion is of higher scale at Ghunasuti ferry ghat, Ghagar ferry ghat and at No. 2 Naharani villages, where people have been passing sleepless nights in fear.
Jogen Saikia, a native of No. 2 Naharani, said that the area has been experiencing erosion from 2004 which increased in 2012. Ramesh Saikia, a fellow villager, said that about 40 families from No. 2 Naharani and 30 families from Koliyoni have been displaced following continuous erosion by the Subansiri. So far, the displaced families of Ghunasuti have not been settled and rehabilitated by the State government.
The entire area of Ghunasuti is known for fertility of soil that produces quality products like exotic rice in summer and mustard and pulses in winter. But the loss of agricultural land due to continuous erosion has affected its inhabitants dearly. Almost all the families in Ghunasuti have lost their agricultural land to erosion. As a result, there has been a great agrarian crisis, leading to shortage of foodgrain. This has forced many local people to move to North Lakhimpur to work as daily wage labourers. The youths are also migrating in search of work outside Assam. Mising organisations like TMPK, MMK, TMMK, etc., have also expressed concern for the State government’s apathy towards Ghunasuti’s existential threat.
The rise in temperature in recent years has changed the Himalayan ecosystem, affecting the nature and course of rivers which originate in its glaciers. Climate-induced abnormality is felt in the Himalayan foothills of Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh with cloudbursts and flash floods in its downstream areas. These cause heavy landslides in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, releasing more silt to the Subansiri, thus making the river shallow over the years.
Subansiri, the largest tributary of the Brahmaputra, is a glacier-fed river that starts from Tibet and has been flowing with heavy amount of silt every year throughout its 442 km length with a drainage basin of 32,640 square km. The melting glacier in Tibet leads to surge in the water level during the monsoon. The carrying of silt, as seen in all rivers across the region, leads to deposition of heavy amount of sediment and sand on one bank, making the river change its course and turn and smash the bank on the other side. The smashing of the Subansiri on its bank at Ghunasuti is causing massive erosion which is now pushing the historic place towards extinction.