Guwahati: The flooding of Silchar town for more than a week now that has thrown life out of gear has given enough indication that all is not well with the Barak river.

Nearly 90-95 per cent of areas in the town have been under water with people living without potable water, electricity and essentials. The deluge, as per the administration, has happened because of damage to an embankment of the Barak river by some unidentified miscreants in Bethukandi.

A portion of the dyke was cut by alleged miscreants, following which waters from the Barak streamed into the town and engulfed all its areas completely, bringing a “sea of trouble” for citizens.

The Wildlife Institute of India has prepared a document – called ‘Barak Riverscape: Ecological status and Trends‘ – as part of the ‘Assessment of the Ecological Status of Select Indian Rivers for Conservation Planning’ project sponsored by the National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD), Ministry of Jal Shakti. 

The project is being implemented across six Indian rivers, viz. Barak, Mahanadi, Narmada, Godavari, Cauvery, and Periyar, which pass through different biogeographic zones of India.

Barak River is an integral part of the social, economic and cultural life of the people of Manipur, Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland.

Barak is a 900-kilometre long transboundary river flowing through India and Bangladesh. Approximately 564 km of its length lies in India, including 31 km on the Indo–Bangladesh border and the rest in Bangladesh.

It provides several ecosystem services, such as water for drinking, industrial and agricultural purposes, electricity and livelihood through fishing, and ecotourism. The Barak River passes through one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world ‘Indo-Burma’ and hosts a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

“Yet, the river is threatened due to developmental activities in its basin, increased water abstraction, sand mining, heavy metal pollution, increase in invasive species and climate change,” the report says.

The basin has undergone considerable land-use changes in the last three decades. Between 1988 and 2018, the water area decreased by 23.48%, dense vegetation by 3.48%, and wastelands by 35.92%. On the contrary, the area under the urban, grassland, agriculture, and riverbed increased by 73.76%, 13.12%, 8.08%, and 134.62%, respectively. The land-use changes in the basin are mainly attributed to shifting cultivation in the basin.

The Barak river system is fragmented by the construction of four dams, six medium irrigation projects, three hydroelectric projects and barrages.

“The rapid expansion of the human population has put tremendous pressure on land and water resources, resulting in a decline in per capita water availability in the Barak basin. For instance, the per capita availability from Barak River has declined from 5695m3 per person in 1951 to 985 m3 per person in 2021,” the report says.

It says deforestation in the mountains of Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and North Cachar Hills has resulted in soil erosion and consequent silt deposition in the rivers and wetlands, affecting their carrying capacity and productivity. Climate changes have made 19 districts in the basin vulnerable to flood and drought events.

According to a district-level climate change assessment report, among the districts located along the course of River Barak, six districts are highly vulnerable, one is moderately vulnerable, and one has low vulnerability to climate change. Four districts namely Karimganj, Cachar, Hailakandi, and Churachandpur are highly vulnerable to flood, and two districts – Cachar and Tamenglong – to flood and drought events.

Additionally, the Barak river is suffering from unchecked fishing activity. In 2020-21, approximately 69,786 tonnes of fish were extracted from the district along the course of River Barak. Sand is pulled through surface mining from the river beds in the middle and lower zone of the river. These challenges to the Barak river are enhanced by climate change. The mean annual maximum and minimum temperature has increased by 0.141°C and 0.057°C, respectively, along with altered rainfall patterns.

“Such indirect and direct factors are threatening the Barak river ecosystem and its biodiversity,” the report says.

It further says that uncontrolled and unplanned rapid industrialization, coupled with urbanization in the basin, is deteriorating the ecological health of Barak River. A large amount of industrial effluent is discharged by Hindustan Paper Corporation’s Cachar paper mill and Panchgram paper mill in the Barak River.

The study has called for a collaborative framework of people’s participation, active governance, and science-oriented nature-based solutions needed for the conservation of River Barak.

Also read: Railways to transport relief materials free of cost to flood affected areas of NE


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