Guwahati: Merely creating an inlet and outlet for the storm water of Deepor Beel will not save the Ramsar site of Guwahati city unless the rising water of the Brahmaputra is diverted to the wetland.
This was suggested by Deepor Beel Suraksha Mancha (DBSM) in the aftermath of the visit of two ministers- Pijush Hazarika and Jayanta Mallah Baruah to the Deepor Beel on March 1 as per the directive of chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Deepor Beel is one of the largest and most important riverine wetlands in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam and is representative of the wetlands found within the Burma Monsoon Forest biogeographic region.
During the past two decades, the Deepor Beel area has undergone rapid changes due to various human activities within the wetland and the fringe areas. These include industrialisation, agricultural activities, deforestation in the adjoining reserved forests, human settlements, and other unregulated activities. This has resulted in an imbalance in the wetland ecosystem.
“It is a welcome step of the state government to rejuvenate the Deepor Beel. But the two ministers who had visited the wetland stressed strengthening the inlet and outlet of the Deepor Beel so that Guwahati city can be saved from flash floods,” said Pramod Kalita, general secretary of Deepor Beel Suraksha Mancha (DBSM).
The Basistha and Kalmani rivers and local monsoon run-off are the main sources for Deepor Beel between May and September. Khonajan channel drains the Beel into the Brahmaputra, 5 km to the north. It acts as a natural stormwater reservoir during the monsoon season for Guwahati city (stated to be the only major storage water basin for the city’s drainage, with about four metres depth of the water during monsoon dropping to about one metre during the dry season.
The Beel has a perennial water spread area of about 10.1 sq km, which extends up to 40.1 sq km during floods. However, the Assam government declared an area of 414 hectare as “Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary ” by the Assam government. As per a Remote Sensing Study, the wetland area is reported to have reduced to 14.1% (405 ha) from 1990 to 2002.
“The inflow of untreated stormwater from Guwahati city to this wetland is degrading its water quality, making it hazardous for the aquatic flora and fauna. Municipal garbage and other solid waste dumping in the Belor Tol area near the wetland, and the lack of a comprehensive management policy with adequate institutional arrangements are the major threats to the existence of this wetland. There are other threats faced by the wetland and they need long-term management plans for effective mitigation,” Kalita said.
“The diversion of flood water from the Brahmaputra refreshes the wetland. But it has been closed due to the fear of flash floods in Guwahati city. We drew the attention of the chief minister to it. Without diversion of flood water from the Brahmaputra to the Beel, the rejuvenation of the wetland is vain,” Kalita also said.
“The Deepor Beel, which was notified under the Guwahati Water Bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act, 2008, is the only major stormwater drainage for the ever-expanding capital city. Mora Bharalu, an abandoned 13.5-km-long channel of the river Bharalu, which flows through the city, and the Basistha-Bahini rivers are the inlets that carry rainwater and untreated sewage to Deepor Beel. The city does not have a sewage treatment plant. The Khandajan outlet situated in the northeastern section of the Beel is connected with the Brahmaputra,” Kalita further said.
“In 2002, the Deepor Beel was declared a Ramsar site with 4,000 hectares of land. In 2004, it was announced as IBA (important bird area). In 2009, it was recognised as a Wildlife Sanctuary. But nothing has been done for demarcation of the boundary of the wetland and the wildlife sanctuary,” said Henry David Teron, president, DBSM.
On August 4, 2020, then Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Guwahati Wildlife Division, Jitendra Kumar, wrote to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) and Chief Wildlife Warden (CWW) expressing the opinion that “All the development planning of Deepor Beel shall take place after proper demarcation of its boundary and preparation of the Integrated Management Plan as per the new Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, and giving due consideration of the movement of wild elephants.”
In the DFO’s opinion, “the Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral part of the Deepor Beel Wetland and it can’t be managed and developed alone”.
According to the report of an experts’ team constituted by the erstwhile Planning Commission in 2008 to review the status of implementation of the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme of the Ministry of Environment and Forests: “The total area of the polluted stretch of Deepor Beel is 40.14 sq km. The area has been suffering from environmental degradation due to continuous encroachment and waste dumping as the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) dump yard (24 hectares) located in Boragaon, lies in the eastern corner of Deepor Beel. The encroachment of the Beel is very evident and rampant as there are many dwelling units and cement structures and hence encroachment and settlements around the periphery have contributed to the shrinking of the Beel.”
“The wetland ecosystem is disturbed by the railways’ railroad in the southern boundary and the embankment for the railroad has resulted in the water flow blockage,” states the plan,” the report said.
“The Northeast Frontier Railways has been planning to construct a double line from Rani to Deepor Beel. In its feasibility report, Delhi Integrated Multi-Model Transit System Ltd has suggested the NF Railway construct the railway line at the north bank of Deepor Beel to avoid the elephant corridor between Kamakya and Azara railway station. But the railway authorities have ignored this feasibility report and going ahead with their project,” Teron said.
Urging the GMC to shift the garbage dumping site from Belor Tol which connects to Deepor Beel, the organization said following a directive of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the GMC had shifted the garbage dumping ground from Pachim Boragaon to Belor Tol in Pub Boragaon, which is merely 800 metres from the previous dumping ground of Pachim Boragaon.
The GMC has been dumping garbage generated from across the city at the Pub Boragaon site since August 2021 after it faced strong protests from the people of the Chandrapur area for dumping waste in a 40-acre area of the defunct Chandrapur Thermal Power Station (CTPS) following the NGT passed an order to shift the dumping site from Pachim Boragaon in 2019.
“The city has a population of 15 lakhs and produces 800 to 1000 MT of garbage daily. The dumping ground poses a threat to the freshwater lake though several public petitions were submitted and several rounds of protests were staged,” Teron said.
In January, Assam urban affairs minister Ashok Singhal claimed that the GMC is taking up a compost and RDF plant of 150 TPD at Belor Tol for a contract value of Rs 31 crore.
An order was issued by the GMC on May 9, 2022, to a private firm M/S Geron Engineering Pvt Ltd.
The construction of the compost and RDF plant will be commissioned in June 2023.
“But during the rainy season, this plant can’t work and the municipal garbage will be flown to Deepor Beel again. In August 2022, I travelled in a boat with then GMC commissioner Debasish Sharma and entered the new GMC garbage dumping site which was flooded and entire garbage was entering the Deepor Beel,” Kalita said.
“Birds and animals feed on rotten flesh and waste from the site, littering the waterbody and threatening their lives,” Kalita also said.
A total of 26,747 birds of 97 species were recorded in Deepor Beel in a bird count conducted by Guwahati Wildlife Division in January this year.
“This bird count exercise revealed greater species diversity and an increase in the total bird count as compared to the 2021 record of 10,289 birds of 66 species,” said Jayashree Naiding, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Guwahati Wildlife Division.
However, according to the four-day-long study conducted by 7Weaves Research Foundation from December 28, 2022, to January 17, 2023, a total of 160 species of birds at seven different sites around the Deepor Beel and Wildlife Sanctuary were identified.
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“There are 85 residents and 75 migratory birds. There are 50 aquatic birds, 48 non-aquatic which are directly dependent on water bodies, and 62 non-aquatic that are indirectly dependent, in and fringe of wetland,” Kalita said.
Waterfowl and waders are examples of species that inhabit water bodies, and these species are referred to as Aquatic birds. Non-aquatic Dependent species include those that do not inhabit but rely directly upon needs such feeding and non-aquatic Indirectly for species that do not strictly live in or near wetlands but have small populations that heavily rely on wetlands,” he said.
He said the analysis of the bird species from the seven locations shows that some species and bird groups are confined to particular habitats, indicating that this vast wetland’s habitat is not uniform.
There are areas with shallow water where waders and storks predominate, tall grasslands that are home to cisticolas and weavers, short grasslands that are dominated by migratory pipits and residential starlings and mynas, water with open vegetation where thousands of ducks and grebes raft, and closed vegetation such as Makhanas and lilies that are home to species of rails. Then there are the raptors that circle the marsh and the neighbouring grassland in search of prey, as well as the martins and swallows that swarm the same places in search of both aquatic and terrestrial insects.
“The report explains the need of not only protecting the water but equally the fringe habitats to balance the wetland ecosystem and to maintain the biodiversity of both migratory and residential birds,” he added.
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