Lakes and wetlands are an important part of the urban ecosystem. Water bodies perform certain very significant environmental, social and economic functions. While they are an important source of drinking water and play a vital role in recharging groundwater, water bodies also support biodiversity, providing livelihoods and saving towns and villages from floods. The role of various water bodies becomes even more critical in the present context when cities like Guwahati, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Silchar etc are facing the challenge of rapid unplanned urbanization. It is a tragedy that the number of water bodies has been declining rapidly. Any person who had seen Guwahati in the 1970s or 1980s will recall that the city was full of water bodies, be it on both sides of GS Road, RG Baruah Road, Beltola-Basistha area or Panjabari. Today most of them are gone, and unplanned residential areas have sprung up on them. While vanishing water bodies is an all-India phenomenon, one recent report has said that Bangalore, which had 262 lakes in the 1960s, now has only 10 of them hold water. This newspaper, in its Sunday edition, has carried a front-page news-item on the fast disappearing wet-lands and water bodies of Assam. According to the news-item, water bodies and natural reservoirs in Assam are facing the threat of extinction because of various man-made reasons – encroachment, siltation, pollution, reclamation, overfishing, and fragmentation etc. The government and other authorities like municipalities too have contributed to the rapid deterioration, shrinking and death of water bodies by way of non-enforcement of laws, rules and guidelines. Natural streams and watercourses, formed over thousands of years due to the forces of flowing water in the respective watersheds, have been altered because of rapid and unplanned urbanisation. The result is that the flow of water has increased in proportion to the urbanisation of watersheds. Ideally, natural drains should have been widened to accommodate the higher flows of stormwater. But, on the contrary, natural drains have been a victim of various unlawful activities and unplanned urbanisation. Guwahati has no shortage of such examples, and in fact, every locality, which had natural streams and rivulets till a few years ago are today facing floods during the rainy season because of the murder of water bodies and natural water-channels. While citizens are also to be blamed for encroachment and dumping of garbage and waste in wetlands and natural drains, the authorities – the government, the municipal corporation, the metropolitan development authority – are all grossly responsible for turning a city like Guwahati into a hell.
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