Threats to Deepor Beel:
From the view point of maintaining the ecological balance of the environment, Deepor Beel can be termed as the lungs of Guwahati. Like the lungs of the human body, Deepor Beel has been performing the same function in the city for all these years. The garbage polluted water, gas released by the decaying garbage in the marshy lands are taken by this water body, thereby playing a pivotal role in saving the city from artificial floods. But it is no longer in a position to continue performing the task. The main reason for this being the various activities of human beings which have vitrified the environment of the beel and caused reduction in the carrying capacity of the water body.
The new railway tracks laid towards the eastern and southern boundaries of this Beel have divided it into two parts and taking advantage of the tracks, people are trying to grab the land of the Beel.
Industrial estates, brick kilns and earth-cutting in the northern and western side of the Beel have added to the level of pollution.
Boragaon, located adjacent to the northern bank of the Beel is the dumping ground for all garbage in the city of Guwahati. This has not only polluted the environment but has also polluted the entire areas.
The high grounds on the banks of the Beel have been encroached by people for accommodation, cultivation and business and this has resulted in the shrinkage of area and change in the environment.
The wanton killing of birds and animals in and around the Beel have also added to the decline in the natural balance of the environment.
Catching of fish without any specific guidelines has resulted in the extinction of a number of fish varieties in the Beel.
Deepar Beel was declared a Reserved Area in 2008 under the Preservation of Wild Animals Act of Government of Assam. As a result, encroachment of land within the demarcated area or any other activity, including fishing has been declared illegal and punishable under law. This declaration has worried the people of the nearby areas who used to earn their livelihood by fishing in the Beel for decades. They complain that the Government, by this Act has prevented them from earning their livelihood as they are unable to fish independently now after the Act. They have joined hands to oppose this anti-people (according to them) Act of the Government tooth and nail. According to them, the bonafied local people who have been earning their livelihood by fishing for generation should be permitted to fish as they are not causing any harm to the water body. They say they are rather helping in the conservation of the Beel. The Government however, is not quite prepared to listen to their arguments or study their proposal and inclined to implement the Act to discourage any illegal fishing.
At this juncture, there is a confrontation between the Government and the fishing community as result of which, the Government is not in a position to initiate any steps towards preservation of the Beel and is sitting as a mute spectator, citing legal bindings.
Observing this imbroglio, five Rotary clubs of Guwahati, anmely Guwahati, Guwahati West, Guwahati East, Gauhati South and Dispur Club jointly conducted few meetings with stakeholders that is, the fishermen groups whose livelihood depended on fishing in the Beel to understand the problem and gauge the depth of the issue as well as their attitude. After these ground works, a scientific seminar was held on December 19, 2010 at the local NEDFI House auditorium under the aegis of Rotary clubs with direct collaboration of Assam Science & Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC) where internationally acclaimed environmental technocrafts from Northeast, Odisha and Bengal participated. Dr Ajit Kumar Patnaik, IFS, Chief Executive of the Chilika Lake Development Authority, Odisha, Environment specialist Dr Dhrubajyoti Ghosh from Kolkata, Th Ibobi Singh, Director of the Loktak Lake Development Corporation of Manipur, city-based specialist Dr Parimal Bhattacharyya and many other concerned persons presented their viewpoints in the day-long seminar which was inaugurated by the Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, Naba Kumar Das. Representatives of the fishing community of the Beel too attended the seminar to express their views and concerns. Based on the discussions in the seminar, the following resolutions were adopted:
a) The boundaries of the Deepor Beel wetland system in its status as a Ramsar site need to be clearly delineated and demarcated as determined by GPS (as has been done in case of the Chilika Lake).
b) Solid waste dumping within the wetland needs to be discontinued immediately and alternative site should be provided for dumping.
c) Vital information on bio-diversity, water quality of the wetland with relevant parameters and their progressive degeneration should be disseminated appropriately through high impact visual media as a continued mass public awareness campaign.
d) Eco-Tourism: The wetland with its rich biological resources, particularly avifauna holds immense potential for development of economic activities through eco-tourism. However, the critical aspect of ecological sustainability would need careful consideration while planning such activities.
1) No major construction should be permitted within and in the immediate vicinity of the wetland system in the process of developing the eco-tourism infrastructure.
2) A few natural trails can be identified in the Garbhanga RF.
3) Specific sites should be identified for bird watching. No boats, except for its limited use for scientific purposes should be permitted for bird watching. Boats disturb avifauna.
4) It is imperative that the elephant corridors are maintained at all cost, adopting innovative technology as required.
e) The wetland should be cleared of all encroachments which are seriously hindering the movement of wildlife and natural processes of the eco-system. Allotment of land in recent times for various purposes, which are potential threats to the conservation of Ramsar Site and Wild Life sanctuary, should be re-examined and may be reversed in the larger interest of conservation. No further allotment of land for the purpose of building industries, institutions or residential settlement should be permitted.
f) The drainage basin of wetland should be delineated and it should be managed on a micro-watershed basis.
g) A detailed hydrological study should be conducted for restoration of flow through choked streams (Basistha, Bahini, Bharalu and Khanajan etc.) for circulation and flushing of Deepor Beel. This calls for immediate attention. An empowered authority should be created exclusively for restoration and management of this Ramsar Site which may be called Deepor Beel Development (Conservation & Management) Authority, in similar line as the Chilika Development Authority or Loktak Development Authority. It should have adequate representation of all stake holders. It is heartening to note that the Government is keen on constituting a Management and Conservation Authority, exclusively for Deepor Beel.
h) The Deepor Beel Development Authority should have appropriate legal arms and manpower for implementation of the action plan. The conservation and management action plan, drawn on the basis of participatory paradigm and public hearing model, will have to be made available on public domain.
i) All the concerned departments and agencies, which are stakeholders in the Ramsar Site, should follow the unified Conservation and Management Action Plan.
j) Remarkable quality of research and field studies conducted by different departments, local groups and agencies should provide a continuous database for this wetland for which they may be provided adequate financial and scientific support.
k) The Rotary club of Guwahati would be only too happy to participate and to offer their services in working hand in hand with the Government and the Development Authority for development of the wetland.
The above noted proposals were passed over to the Chief Secretary of Assam, Naba Kumar Das on May 12, 2011 by a representative committee of all the five Rotary Clubs. On the basis of the proposal, if the Government initiates any move and if those among the populace who love the Beel and would like it to be conserved for posterity, extend their whole-hearted support, it can be hoped that the future of this famous wetland is promising.
(Translated by Prashanta Goswami from author’s Assamese article “Ramsar Khetra: Sankat aru Sambhavana”
Data source: Souvenir of Scientific Seminar on Deepor Beel held on 19th December, 2010 at Guwahati.)