Karimganj: Son Beel, the largest wetland in the northeast and the second-largest seasonal wetland in Asia could get a much-needed facelift if the Union government approves funds.

Son Beel is a freshwater lake surrounded by hills and is home to several hundred fish species, and birds, and has immense scope for developing into an ideal tourist spot in southern Assam’s Karimganj district. About 40% of the Beel’s peripheral area consists of evergreen forests, and it also hosts the migrant Siberian birds for three months every year.

In light of these, Karimganj Deputy Commissioner Mridul Yadav has written to the Assam government’s Transformation and Development department, submitting a proposal amounting to Rs 60 crore for the “Development of Son Beel as a Tourist Destination” in the district.

In response to a recent query by Karimganj MP Kripanath Mallah, Minister Of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ashwini Kumar Choubey in the Lok Sabha had replied that there is no proposal from the state asking for funds for the conservation of the Son Beel.

“…Till date, no proposal has been received by Government of India from the State Government of Assam asking for funds for conservation, restoration, rejuvenation and management of Son Beel under National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystem (NPCA) scheme,” the reply stated.

The minister, however, did inform that the Assam government, the state fishery department, and the state tourism department are taking some developmental works in the Son Beel.

“There are many line department projects incorporated into the initial report that includes forest, agriculture, water resource, fishery and tourism development. Initially, we are submitting a concept paper, and once it has been sanctioned, more detailed and micro-level project details will be prepared,” Karimganj DC Mridul Yadav said to EastMojo.

The wetland is spread over more than 3,000 hectares and is fed mostly by the Singla river. One of the most unique aspects of the Beel is that it becomes farmland for rice cultivation during winter till March and then turns into a lake in the second half of the year. The lake’s shallowness makes it overflow during the rainy season, and the water meets the Kushiara River through the Kakra River and flows to Bangladesh.

Environmentalists have, time and again, voiced concern over the government’s apathy towards the conservation of the northeast’s largest Beel and sounded that if measures aren’t taken, the damage to the ecosystem will be irreparable.

“It’s a matter to rejoice that finally, govt has paid attention to wetland conservation. Promoting the area as a tourist spot will bring livelihood to the population, leaving around the Beel for years,” said Moharana Choudhury, Environmentalist and Researcher from Guwahati, also volunteering for NGO Voice of Environment.

Experts believe that declaring the wetland as a Ramsar Site will be imperative for its conservation and bring global attention to the endangered ecological system.

Researchers Moharana Choudhury and Deepak Kumar of the United Nations Development Programme estimated the monetary value of Son Beel from a minimum of $88 (6,530 rupees approximately) per hectare per year to a maximum of $29,716 (22,04,537 rupees approximately) per hectare per year in their study Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Benefits of Son Beel Wetland in Assam, India 2020, published by University of Hamburg, Germany.

“Son Beel is the home to a diversity of fishes, reptiles and migratory birds. Apart from creating infrastructures, there should also be the focus on sustainable maintenance of the ecosystem for the long term goal,” opined Choudhury.

The wetland offers a wide range of ecosystem services that helps not only mitigate climate change but also provide a natural solution to climate-related risk reduction, researchers believe.

Son Beel is surrounded by 100 villages and more than 50,000 people are directly dependent on it for their livelihood by way of fishing and paddy cultivation. According to state government estimates, there are more than 35,000 families directly dependent on the Beel for the traditional fishing system.

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