Guwahati: Aaranyak, one of the foremost biodiversity conservation organisations in India, hosted a day-long consultation workshop on ‘Rivers and Wetlands of Guwahati city towards an integrated action plan for rejuvenation, conservation, and sustainable urban development’, on Monday at the NEDFi house. 

The workshop was supported by the State Innovation and Transformation Ayog (SITA)  and organised in collaboration with the Assam Science Technology and Environment  Council (ASTEC). 

The Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs and Irrigation of the Government of Assam, Ashok Singhal, who attended the workshop, solicited cooperation from all stakeholders for rejuvenating and conserving the dying as well as polluted rivers and waterbodies of Guwahati. 

Singhal praised the initiative of the home-grown environmental organisation, Aaranyak,  and stated that the city’s haphazard development over the years is the root cause of the problem because practically no stream has been left unpolluted and no wetlands have been left un-encroached. 

He said the state government has been working towards rejuvenating all these wetlands and sought the support of all stakeholders. He assured that 50-60% of the municipal waste would be processed through a project in the coming year. 

The minister stated that Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma is keen on preserving the wetlands and that steps had been taken by the government to rejuvenate Deepor beel and Silsako beel in the city. 

According to the PM’s directive, water bodies throughout the country must be protected. Hopefully, this workshop will result in sustainable conservation of waterbodies in and around the city and help restore them, the minister stated. 

Assam’s capital city, Guwahati, serves as a gateway not only to the NE region but also to Southeast Asia, as reflected in the Government of India’s Act East policy. With a total area of more than 328 square kilometers and a population of more than ten lakh, it is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Because of its location on the banks of the mighty river Brahmaputra, one of the largest rivers in the world, and its landscape of hills, hillocks, valleys, and water bodies, it has a unique natural physiography. 

At the workshop, Ramen Deka, vice-chairman of SITA, told the distinguished gathering that human beings have destroyed nature and wildlife habitats and it is their responsibility now to restore and conserve them.

Due to pollution and encroachment in the city, the Bharalu river has been reduced to a mere polluted drain, and the problem of flash floods in the city has aggravated due to garbage-filled water bodies in many more wetlands. 

“The Bharalu, Mora Bharalu, Basistha, Bahini, Pamohi, Khanajan, Kalmoni, and  Bondajan are some of the prominent rivers and streams that drain the cityscape. The  Deepar beel, Borsola, Sarusola, and Silsako are the main wetlands that act as stormwater reservoirs of the city. It is noteworthy that several of these water bodies are hydrologically connected to each other meaning they carry and contribute water to one another. In the case of some wetlands, the interconnecting channels have disappeared due to unpragmatic constructions and land development,” stated Dr. Partha Jyoti Das, Environmental Scientist and Head of  Aaranyak’s Water, Climate and Hazard Division (WATCH), who was on the lead of the workshop. 

He further added, “Rapid urban growth and development accompanied by a significant rise in population have dramatically transformed the city’s landscape, environment, natural resources, demography, and society in the last 50 years. Unplanned growth of the city, both in horizontal and vertical directions, has resulted in tremendous pressure on its natural resources and environment, which is observed in widespread encroachment and human occupation of the fragile hill slopes, reserved forests, and decimation of water bodies. The increasing environmental degeneration of the city has led to the slow and steady death of many of its rivers, streams, wetlands, and natural stormwater reservoirs. The urban water bodies of the city are facing grave threats from pollution, ecological degradation, and physical decimation.”

Prof. P.C. Bhattacharya, Eminent Ecologist of Assam; Dhruba Prasad Baishya, Co vice chairman, SITA; Dr. Shantanu Dutta, member secretary, Assam Pollution Control  Board; Prof. Arup Kumar Sarma and Prof. Ajay S. Kalamadhad from IIT Guwahati; M.D. Adhikary, Sr. Env. Scientist, PCBA; Dr. Bidyut Bikash Sharma, Dept. of  Environmental Science, Gauhati University; Er. PP Changkakati, former secretary, Water Resources, GoA, shared their valuable opinions, research findings, and possible solutions at the workshop.

Ward councilors from Guwahati Municipal Corporation, NGOs and citizens also attended the workshop.

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