Focus on Deepor Beel, Dighali Pukhuri and Jur Pukhuri
GUWAHATI: The Gauhati High Court has made significant observations on the poor state of many water bodies in and around Guwahati — the Gateway to the Northeast — and directed the authorities concerned to inform the Court of the steps initiated for their upkeep. Special mention has been made of the Deepor Beel, the Dighali Pukhuri near Gauhati High Court and the Jur Pukhuri at the Uzan Bazaar area. All these sites are significant for many aspects.
The Deepor Beel is a large and permanent floodplain freshwater lake located at Shantipur in the south-west part of Guwahati city. The government of Assam established the Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary in the year 1989, to protect different species of birds living near the lake. It is a major tourist attraction of Assam. ‘Beel’ means wetland or large aquatic body in Assamese. The Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary, under Guwahati Wildlife Division, is an important Ramsar site since 2002. Its basin is drained by a system of rivulets and hill streams that connect the neighbouring hills and the forests to the river Brahmaputra through an outlet called the Khanajan.
On the “exact steps taken for cleaning and maintenance” of the sanctuary area of Deepor Beel — which is stretched over 4.10 sq km of area — the Gauhati High Court on November 15 directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Assam, to file an affidavit after verifying all the facts. The Deepor Beel area is under the Forest Department. “In case no steps are being taken, we hereby give sufficient time to enable the authority to take steps and then file a report”, the Court said.
This direction was given after the bench comprising Chief Justice Ajai Lamba, and Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua took suo moto cognizance of the Public Interest Litigation: 3/2017.
On behalf of the Chief Conservator of Forest (Legal), Office of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Head of Forest Force, Assam, had informed the Court on July 18, 2019, that “a tentative plan and estimate has been made for development and maintenance of the entire area”. The Chief Minister of Assam is the Chairman of the ‘Deepor Beel Conservation and Development Society’.
The Dighali Pukhuri is a rectangular man-made pond is about half a mile long. In historical times, it was created and used by the Ahoms as a naval yard. The lake was once connected by a channel to the Brahmaputra. Its access to the Brahmaputra was eventually closed, and during the British colonial times, that portion was further filled on which the Circuit House was built. Later, the Gauhati High Court building too was built in the newly filled area.
Stating that the Dighali Pukhuri pond is under the control of the Tourism Department, Government of Assam, the bench directed the Department “to make permanent arrangement so that the water bodies are cleaned and maintained on regular basis considering the fact that these water bodies are located in the heart of the town, and are surrounded by houses/flats. “
The Court observed, “Even to the naked eye, it is evident that the said pond area is not being maintained properly. The water is murky. The water body is in the heart of the town, surrounded by houses. Such poor maintenance results in breeding of mosquitoes and consequent various diseases.”
RKD Choudhury, senior Government Advocate, appearing for the Tourism Department informed the Court that Expression of Interest was floated for the purpose. He also contended, “The various parties have joined the process. A final decision would be taken within 15 days as to who would be entrusted with the work of cleaning the water body.”
On the other hand, built centuries ago, Jur Pukhuri is believed by many to be deserving of the status of being one of heritage sites of Assam. Jur Pukhuri or the twin ponds were built by Swargadeo Siva Singha to fulfill the requirements of water of the Ugratara Temple located on their bank.
Though the Jur Pukhuri pond in Uzan Bazar is required to be maintained by the GMC (Guwahati Municipal Corporation), the funding part is looked after by AMRUT Mission. The Counsel for GMC informed the Court that “funds have not been released by Mission Director, AMRUT Mission; and therefore they are unable to take any action.”
The Court said, “We hereby direct the Mission Director, AMRUT Mission be impleaded as respondent and be served with a copy of the petition and a copy of this order. We further direct that in the interregnum period, Mission Director, AMRUT Mission, should consider release of funds for cleaning and maintenance of the water body.”