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Should Sonbeel continue to be neglected?

Special Correspondent
Silchar, April 25: Sonbeel, the largest wetland in Barak Valley next to Chatla, which has often hit the headlines of the local media for being developed as a tourist destination, it appears, continues to be in a state of neglect. The wetland known for its varied aquatic species, exquisite natural beauty and greenery has the potential to become one of the most attractive places of interest for not only nature lovers but also for those who want to take up exploratory studies on nature and its flora.
Way back in 2005, a blueprint was prepared which showed the inclusion of Sonbeel to develop it as an eco-tourist spot. With all fanfare to give wide publicity, a budget of Rs 4 crore was allotted to include the wetland in the tourist circuit. But, nothing happened on the ground. Again Rs.6.5 crore was approved and sanctioned during the 11th plan of 2007-08 to give shape to the tourist circuit. Nothing happened. Particular focus now has been given by the state tourism department for exploiting the eco-tourist spot in the Karimganj district.
The wetland is surrounded by 35 villages with a population of 80,000. According to Kallol Choudhury who made a survey of Sonbeel covering an area of 80 sq km referred to the satellite imagery that shows the scenic wetland as an idyllic place with sylvan beauty and lush green hills. After sunset and in moonlit nights, it takes an elegant look with nature’s bounty in it. The residents of the villages around, according to Choudhury, are dependent on the wetland for fishing and agriculture purposes as a supplement to their sustenance.
There has also been talk about making Sonbeel a bird sanctuary where varieties of migratory birds flock during the winter season. The tragic part is that in the absence of any prohibitory measures, the migratory birds are mercilessly killed by some local residents for food. Apart from that, indiscriminate fishing has told adversely on the fish supply though pisciculturists say the water and soil of Sonbeel are suitable for fish breeding and its production can be increased through proper care and protection, pointed out Kallol Choudhury. Once Sonbeel is developed as a tourist spot, naturalists, bird watchers and scientific researchers will find it a suitable place to visit.
Economically, the local population will be benefitted. Tourists can also undertake rafting, angling and boat ride. Unfortunately, there is wide gap between planning and implementation. Nothing concrete as an action plan in regard to Sonbeel has emerged. How things are done and implemented can best be exemplified from the foundation stone that was laid for tourism lodge at Sonbeel by Rakibul Hussain, then minister of forest and tourism, on February 15, 2009. It was a Rs.65 lakh project and a visit to the spot tells the sad tale of its being buried in the abysmal of time. There is no trace of any tourist lodge and also no information about the money allotted.
One of the greatest attractions of the wetland are more than 150 years old Hijol trees, the botanical terms being Barringtonia acutangula, which abound around it. The way these trees are becoming weak in their roots due to corrosive effect of soil after monsoon the day is not far off when they will be lost forever. As there is no any effort to conserve these trees which are like mangroves of Sundarban, according to naturalists, the beauty of Sonbeel will also be lost in the same way.

About the author

Ankur Kalita