Guwahati residents are well aware of the Deepor Beel. Situated on the outskirts of the city, the sprawling wetland is home to a vast variety of flora and fauna and is the only Ramsar protected site of Assam. As a result, any attempts to save and protect the same ought to be welcomed. However, nearly 40 km from Deepor Beel, on the other end of Guwahati, Chandrapur residents are unlikely to share the enthusiasm of ‘saving’ Deepor Beel. Reason? The Boragaon garbage dumping site close to Deepor Beel is now right up their alley close to Pobitora, and it seems they can do little about it.
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Why are the edges of Guwahati at war with each other?
Guwahati produces around 575 tonnes of garbage per day. Around 95 per cent of this was being dumped in the Boragaon dumpsite for more than a decade, which was located close to Deepor Beel and hence, polluting a protected site. In 2014, environment activist Rohit Choudhury filed a petition in the Court, seeking an immediate end to garbage dumping and disposal of sewage at the Boragaon landfill. The petitioner cited that the dumping site was located in the vicinity of Deepor Beel, a popular wetland, and thereby in violation of the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 as well as the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.
After multiple hearings, The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on April 29, 2019, asked the Guwahati Municipal Corporation to shift the Boragaon dumping zone within two months, as it posed a threat to the fragile ecosystem of Deepor Beel. The order was passed by the Principal Bench of NGT. Two years after the order, just as the second wave of the pandemic showed the first signs of slowing down, the GMC finally stopped dumping garbage at the Boragaon site on June 28, 2021.
Five months after the NGT order, on September 21, 2019, a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was signed between Assam Power Generation Corporation Ltd and Guwahati Municipal Corporation.
This MoA was also mentioned in an NGT ruling dated February 11, 2020, which states, “It is respectfully submitted that a Memorandum of Agreement [MoA] dated 21.09.2019 has already been signed between Guwahati Municipal Corporation and APGCL whereby APGCL has conveyed its no-objection with regard to the setting up of the SWMF on its land. It is submitted that as per the terms of the MoA, APGCL has also been planning to set up a Waste to Energy plant near the SWMF facility. The MoA also provides that GMC shall make all necessary arrangements for scientific handling, storage and segregation of the waste as per the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. It is submitted that GMC shall store the waste in a scientific manner to prevent contamination and after segregation of the waste, the same shall be made available to APGCL for the Waste to Energy plant. It is submitted that as per Clause 8 of the MoA, a Project Facilitation Committee[PFC] comprising of representatives of the GMC, APGCL and Govt. of Assam has already been constituted vide office order dated 23.09.2019 and the 1st meeting of the PFC is scheduled to be held on 30.09.2019.”
When did the issue begin?
It was perhaps telling that the recent protests in Chandrapur, in fact, started in 2019 when the MoA was signed. The only reason the protests were called off in 2019, was that the Kamrup Metropolitan administration assured locals that the land would be used as a solid waste management plant and not as a dumping site.
After 2 years of signing the MoA, however, the Solid Waste Management Facility at Chandrapur is yet to see the light of day. No wonder the locals fear that garbage dumping at the Chandrapur facility will pollute the Kolong and Brahmaputra rivers.
Tutumoni Kalita, the AASU leader spearheading a series of protests against garbage dumping at Chandrapur since 2019, said, “We will not allow this area to be destroyed. The dumping ground will not only create problems for the people of Chandrapur but also for the environment here. We are requesting all citizens of Assam to take a stand against this since it will have a serious effect on people’s health and the environment. The politicians and representatives should bring this issue up in the Assembly and try to find a permanent solution. The government should put arrangements in place where solid waste does not lead to health hazards for the people or pollute the environment.”
Kamal Chandra Bora is a resident of Chandrapur and also a social worker. While speaking to EastMojo, he said, “The project has not been planned properly. We all know how the waste management project in Boragaon turned out, with Deepor Beel being heavily affected. Now the three tributaries like Digaru, Kolong and Kopili in the Chandrapur area will be affected because of this project. In September 2019, a meeting was held with the Deputy Commissioner and other officials It was decided not to set up a dumping ground in Chandrapur. But after the formation of the government this year, they started dumping garbage here. Residents of Chandrapur have been protesting against it since 2019 by holding dharnas and bike rallies. Chandrapur’s biodiversity is rich. We have Khamrenga Beel and Pobitora near Chandrapur. If a dumping ground is set up without a proper project and scientific methods, the environment of Chandrapur will be polluted.”
It must be pointed out that all potential fears of the Chandrapur locals were, in fact, a reality for those living in the vicinity of the Boragaon landfill all these years. A 2016 CAG report on Assam stated, “GMC had not set up any proper segregation system and as a result of which plastic wastes were mixed up with municipal solid waste (MSW) and transported to dumping sites at Boragaon, Guwahati.”
The GMC said that it was never the plan to set up another garbage dumping zone in Guwahati but use the city’s trash to produce energy. Speaking to EastMojo, Devashish Sharma, commissioner of the GMC said, “It takes time to start a project. We could not start the plant first. As we had to stop at Boragaon at a certain point in time, we were looking for an alternative. People need to understand that we are not treating Chandrapur as a dumping ground. It is being treated as a project where waste would be converted into energy.”
On being asked why the segregation of waste has not started yet, he said, “This is just the beginning. We are going to do it.”
“It has been found that the Ahmedabad model is very good and we have taken lessons from them and that is how we are going to treat the site at Chandrapur. As of now, our engineers are already on the job. We are going to put in rubber lines for which we need a little time. To prevent the seepage of water, which the people of Chandrapur fear will seep underground and contaminate the two rivers, the Sewerage Treatment Plant along with other scientific methods for garbage to be stored is being planned,” he added.
While the GMC claims that a Solid Waste Management Plant is to come up within the next few months, the residents of Chandrapur feel betrayed by the government for not having set up the facility already. Meanwhile, the government plans to convert the Boragaon dumping ground into a park, followed by a process of bio-mining.
It is clear that Guwahati’s garbage is turning into an ecological, sociological, and geographical nightmare for those around it. For now, it seems to save a wetland, we must destroy Brahmaputra’s tributaries and the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary.
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