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Rising against the Flow


Even as the world is making rapid advancements in the field of science and technology, the menace of flood and erosion continues to remain one of Assam’s greatest problems till date. In fact, the problem has assumed much greater proportions with the passage of time, primarily due to our collective failure to prevent or control this devastating phenomenon. As a result, thousands of people of the State continue to be affected by the twin problems of flood and erosion which recur year after year in the State.
The Brahmaputra River is the pride and very lifeline of Assam but due to rampant human interference in the eco-system, the population settled on both banks are facing the wrath of the river. Majuli, which is the world’s largest river island, has to face the major brunt with vast areas of its landmass being eroded by the turbulent waters every year. Erosion control measures, whichare of utmost necessity in the State, are generally very expensive and due to various other factors, have not been properly or fully implemented.
There is not an iota of doubt that the State of Assam, as well as the other States of the Northeast, would not be able to march ahead with their counterparts in the rest of the country until and unless these major problems of flood and erosion are controlled or addressed. Scientist are of the opinion that the long run solution to these two problems will be to understand the major river systems of the region and develop an erosion prediction system, flood plain zoning and planning of human interference thereon. Herein, we can do well to take due cognizance of innovating erosion control methods with locally available resources which are emerging as an alternative to high-cost contemporary erosion control measures.
In this issue of melange, we would like to highlight the unique and innovative efforts made by Dambarudhar Hazarika of Lakhimpur to mitigate the problem of erosion in Dikrong river by using nets and local indigenous plants. Bent on finding an eco-friendly solution to the problem of erosion which was wreaking havoc in Bihpuria Revenue Circle, Hazarika had founded an NGO – Polygon Foundation (Northeast) to further his efforts. Through the NGO, the septuagenarian started a unique pilot project – ‘Controlling River Erosion by Plastic Net and Bio System’ in the year 2007. The pilot project, which was sponsored by NEDFi and which received technical guidance from IIT Guwahati, managed to attain fantastic results. Not only did the project manage to prevent erosion in the covered area, it also managed to reclaim land which was all set to get eroded by the Dikrong River.
Hazarika has recently received the patent rights by the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trademarks, Government of India, for his innovative approach. The success of Hazarika’s pilot project has brought in new hopes for the implementation of low-cost innovative measures to control the problem of erosion in the State.
The melange team recently entered into a conversation with Dambarudhar Hazarika to know more about his pilot project. Following are excerpts:
Q. Please tell us how and why you decided to design an erosion control project.
Ans: I grew up in Narayanpur along the banks of the River Dikrong. Since my childhood, I have seen how the river keeps changing its course on a frequent basis. I have been witnessing the havoc caused by the annual floods, the effects of which are further enhanced by erosion which destroys huge tracts of agricultural land. As the floodwaters recedes, sand gets dumped on the farmlands, much to the chagrin of the farmers, and ending their livelihoods. On top of this recurring calamity of erosion, sand deposition on agricultural land adds to the misery of the farmers and local people.
A recurring thought that flashed across my mind as I grew up was how to control erosion by using low-cost technology. The various methods used to control erosion – bamboo fencing and porcupine fencing, boulder pitching, river dykes, etc – has not managed to yield the desired results so far and the same constructions are not suitable for the soil structure of the Northeast. Keeping all this in mind, I discovered this whole bio-engineering approach of controlling river erosion with the help of plastic nets and vegetation in around 2005.
Since I knew that support from the administration would take time to come, I decided to form an NGO – Polygon Foundation (NE). Through the NGO, we started a pilot project – ‘Controlling River Erosion by Plastic Net and Bio System’ – at Morichapathar and Boraikhana villages located on the right bank of River Dikrong, a North Bank tributary of River Brahmaputra. My youngest brother Minewar Hazarika, who is a faculty of the College of Veterinary Sciences, AAU, Guwahati, has been involved with me right from the beginning of the project.
Q. Please tell us about the project. Can you please explain the concept of your design?
Ans:The bio-engineering approach comprises of biological, mechanical and ecological aspects. Geo-sampling provides for the initial bonding of the structure with the soil and facilitates the growth of vegetation, which eventually provides soil stability in the long run. Plastic nets made of plastic ropes and some kind of rare aquatic vegetation are used in this method.
At first, the river bank is cut and slanted at 30* angles to facilitate the placing of plastic nets in layers along the erosion-affected banks. Four layers of nets are placed so that they can lessen the speed of the water currents during floods. The nets are made by the local people using plastic ropes. As per the depth of the river, the plastic nets are extended from 10 metres to 25 metres width and placed in such a manner that they result in one composite net. One end of the net is held in place with the use of RCC bricks with GI wire and RCC pillars wherever necessary.
Coming to the vegetation part, certain aquatic plants, like Sthalapadma (Hibiscus mutabilis L.), Bhotora (Ipomoea), Nai (Arundodonax), Patidoi (Schumannianthusdichotomus), cane (Ficusindica), etc are planted in the site before the nets are placed on top of them. These plants are planted in such a manner which enables their root systems to grow and provide the desired bonding to the bank.
I have been fortunate to get the support of far-sighted individuals like Shri KN Hazarika, who was then Advisor to NEC and who later became CMD of NEDFi, and noted engineer late SD Phukan, who was a technical advisor to NEC. They helped me get financial support for the pilot project and get the involvement of IIT as the technical consultant for the entire project.
Q. The pilot project has met with a lot of appreciation. What do you feel is the scope for its large-scale implementation to control erosion in Assam?
Ans: A team of scientists and professors from the Brahmaputra Board had jointly visited Boraikhana and Morichapatha village on November 23rd last year for a field inspection visit. In its report, the team had lauded the efforts of Polygon Foundation (NE) as it has successfully controlled river bank erosion by plastic net and bio-system by involving the local people. The Brahmaputra Board team felt that this approach has immense scope to control river erosion in small to medium tributaries of the River Brahmaputra.
In its recommendations, the team said, “Involvement of community participation is the main essence of this project. Certain livelihood interventions such as beekeeping, vermicomposting, bamboo handicraft making, lace cultivation, etc. may be introduced in the affected areas. This method can also be tried as a pilot project in the lower reaches of the River Brahmaputra at some selected locations.”
Q. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your initial days.
Ans: I was born and brought up in Narayanpur of Lakhimpur district. I completed my graduation in 1972. Since my childhood, I always wanted to do things with a positive and constructive bent of mind. The sense of entrepreneurship and self-development was inherent in my being. So I got engaged in a number of endeavours after my graduation. Initially, I got involved in the education sector and established three schools in our district. But after they were established, I moved away to try my hand in poultry farming. I started the first poultry and pig breeding farm in the North bank in 1982. But my initiative failed because I could not manage to procure feeds. I then thought of starting a feed producing centre. But that idea failed as well. In rural areas where people don’t get enough to eat, who would spend their money in buying feed for poultry?
At the same time, I was doing a study on Remi fibre, which is an indigenous wealth of Assam. I found out from my studies that if we could blend Remi fibre with other materials like Polyster, we can give birth to a lot of other industries. I did a lot of study on Remi and got actively associated with its production. In fact, I had introduced the degumming technology for the first time in the Northeast.
All this time, I kept thinking about the potential areas where we could use Remi if we failed to use it as a textile material. At that point of time, I got the idea of using it as an erosion control measure. Although my initial idea of using Remi to control erosion did not materialise, my interest in finding a method to control erosion deepened. By that time, the erosion problem in the North Bank had also increased and I began concentrating all my efforts towards finding a solution for the problem.

About the author

Ankur Kalita