With the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems as well as many other rivers, Assam is rich in freshwater resources. But most of its people are hardly aware of their good fortune. The result of this ignorance is alarming levels of pollution of many rivers and water bodies in the State. In the Parliament recently, the Central government confirmed that the water quality of as many as 28 river stretches at 42 locations have been found to be polluted. These include stretches of the Brahmaputra, the Bharalu and Deepor Beel in greater Guwahati area and rivers like the Burhidihing. The water quality is being monitored at 101 locations covering rivers, lakes, ponds and groundwater sources. The major problem is untreated sewage flowing out constantly from human habitations into rivers. Water pollution is also caused by raw effluent generated from factories and chemical fertilizers and insecticides washed away from the fields. This is where the State government should have empowered local bodies to identify vulnerable points where polluted water is draining into rivers and water bodies. The next step should have been the setting up of water treatment plants at such points to neutralize sewage and other pollutants. The Union ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change should be helping out State governments in keeping rivers clean under the Centrally sponsored tiol River Conservation Plan by sharing project costs. But this Central-State-local linkage in keeping freshwater resources pure does not work smoothly most of the time, which is why the pollution problem is becoming serious. In Guwahati, the Bahini-Bhralu flows through the city and unloads its stinking, highly polluted waters straight into the Brahmaputra river. A water treatment plant at the Bharalumukh junction would have contributed much in keeping Brahmaputra waters clean in downstream areas. Without the all-pervading stench there, the riverside beautification project along the entire Fancy Bazar to Kamakhya stretch would been effective and fruitful. It is the people therefore who must make such rampant water pollution a public issue by organizing themselves into NGOs and civil society pressure groups. Freshwater is too scarce and precious a resource to be spoiled irreversibly due to lack of public awareness.
Food for thought