En­croach­ment is killing Guwahati's only river and wet­lands that can save the city from peren­nial floods


Guwahati en­croaches upon its river and wet­lands, in­un­dates it­self ev­ery year

EV­ERY YEAR dur­ing the mon­soon, Guwahati in As­sam wit­nesses dev­as­tat­ing floods. Af­ter years of in­ac­tion, Chief Min­is­ter Tarun Go­goi set up a com­mit­tee on July 17 this year to study the prob­lem and sug­gest re­me­dial mea­sures.

The state ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­alised that floods are caused by a poor drainage sys­tem. Nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial drains in the city get clogged dur­ing heavy rains and spill on to the roads. The Bhar­alu, the only river which flows through Guwahati and car­ries ex­cess rain­wa­ter to the Brahma­pu­tra, has been re­duced to a dump­ing ground for garbage by the res­i­dents.

Il­le­gal con­struc­tions along the Bhar­alu make mat­ters worse. “The nat­u­ral drainage has been blocked in many ar­eas as a re­sult of en­croach­ment,” the chief min­is­ter told me­di­a­per­sons. It is not just the river. The en­croach­ment of the city’s pro­tected wet­lands, which took care of the wa­ter dur­ing floods,is dou­ble whammy.Go­goi has promised mea­sures to avert such dis­as­ters.

Since the past many years, floods have been throw­ing life out of gear in the largest city of the state.Houses have been dam­aged, prop­erty has been lost, agri­cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion have suf­fered. But the con­se­quences this year were un­prece­dented. On June 27, the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment recorded 57 mm rain­fall in Guwahati. This was the fifth high­est in a decade.Vast ar­eas of the city were in­un­dated. The Na­tional Dis­as­ter Re­sponse Force had to be called in to res­cue ma­rooned families in the flood-af­fected ar­eas. Nine per­sons lost their lives.

River be­comes a drain

Apart from the Bhar­alu river, there are three rivulets within the city— Ma­hab­har­alu, Bahini and Ba­sista. Through­out the Bhar­alu’s course, feeder drains feed waste wa­ter into it, re­duc­ing the river to a drainage pipe­line. Ac­cord­ing to a study car­ried out by the As­sam Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (apcb) in 2010, Bhar­alu and Bahini pass through the most pop­u­lated ar­eas of Guwahati.In the ab­sence of ad­e­quate waste dis­posal mech­a­nism in th­ese ar­eas, peo­ple dump solid waste into the wa­ter, wors­en­ing the pol­lu­tion. An in­de­pen­dent study by Lakhimi Go­goi, an aca­demi­cian as­so­ci­ated with the Narangi An­cha­lik Col­lege, As­sam, shows that the house­hold waste gen­er­a­tion in Guwahati is al­most 490 tonnes per day.

Even gov­ern­ment bod­ies, such as the Rail­ways, treat the river as a garbage dump­ing site. An in­spec­tion on Fe­bru­ary 11 this year by apcb of­fi­cials found that the diesel shed of the Rail­ways in New Guwahati re­leases un­treated toxic ef­flu­ent into public drains. This merges with the Bhar­alu, says R M Dubey, apcb chair­per­son.

“We rou­tinely clean the river.But dur­ing mon­soon the dug out silt slips back into the wa­ter. An­other ma­jor prob­lem is that as soon as the river is cleaned, it gets filled with plas­tic and other garbage thrown into the drains which flow into the Bhar­alu. Th­ese get col­lected in a heap near Bhar­alu­mukh pump­ing sta­tion-I. Most of it is non-biodegrad­able waste gen­er­ated by busi­ness es­tab­lish­ments,” ex­plains D K Roy, a se­nior en­gi­neer in­eer as­so­ci­ated with the wa­ter re­source depart­ment which is tasked with clean­ing the river. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, how­ever, blame me the floods largely on the en­croach­ment of the Bhar­alu. Over the years, il­le­gal struc­tures have mush­roomed on its banks.The wet­lands are not safe ei­ther. Sil­sako beel, a pro­tected wa­ter body, is sur­rounded by a grand mul­ti­plex hous­ing a ten­nis court, a ho­tel owned by the Tata Group,a ho­tel man­age­ment in­sti­tute and over 1,000 small houses.

Re­searchers point out that the in­tennsity of floods as well as the area af­fected by it in the city have in­creased. en­v­i­ron, n, a Guwahati-based re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion, tion, con­ducted a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion ation from 2011 to 2013 in parts of the city— Hati­gaon, Pan­jabari, Ganeshguri, Chris­tian Basti, Bhanga­garh, Pal­tan Bazar, Am­bari, Silpukhuri and Chand­mari (see ‘Inches from dis­as­ter’). The group con­cluded that the wa­ter level in th­ese ar­eas dur­ing flash floods as­so­ci­ated with heavy rain­fall rises by 7-15 cm ev­ery year. “If this con­di­tion per­sists, af­ter 10 years the av­er­age height of the wa­ter will go up to 70-150 cm from the present level,” says Amar­jy­oti Kashyp of en­v­i­ron. He adds that sev­eral ar­eas in the city which were ear­lier un­touched by wa­ter were flooded this year. On be­ing asked about this, Pra­teek Ha­jela, com­mis­sioner and sec­re­tary to the As­sam, gov­ern­ment, po­lit­i­cal depart­ment, ex­plained that fear­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of floods, house own­ers in ar­eas which are usu­ally safe are rais­ing the height of their com­pounds as pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure. This pushes the rain­wa­ter on to the roads and con­trib­utes to flood, he adds.

Will evic­tion help?

Fol­low­ing a di­rec­tive of the state gov­ern­ment to clear the Bhar­alu river and other wa­ter bod­ies in the city of en­croach­ment, the district ad­min­is­tra­tion em­barked on an evic­tion drive along the Bhar­alu from June 30. Ha­jela says that the state has chalked out a three-pronged ap­proach. This in­cludes clear­ing all il­le­gal con­struc­tions around pri­mary drains, si­mul­ta­ne­ous dredg­ing and ac­tion against those who gave per­mis­sion for con­struc­tion.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has also cracked the whip on en­croach­ers around Sil­sako beel. “We have dis­man­tled il­le­gal struc­tures at the beel. We will con­tinue with our drive to make way for smooth flow of wa­ter through Bhar­alu and other rivulets which carry ex­cess rain­wa­ter from the city to the Brahma­pu­tra,” says M Anga­muthu, in­charge deputy com­mis­sioner of Kam­rup Metropoli­tan district.He adds that there are sim­i­lar plans of evic­tion for the three rivulets in the city.

Tall prom­ises by the ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter floods are, how­ever, an an­nual rit­ual.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: MANASH DAS The Bhar­alu river's abil­ity to carry ex­cess rain­wa­ter to the Brahma­pu­tra has re­duced be­cause peo­ple

use it as a dump­ing ground for garbage

As­sam Chief Min­is­ter Tarun Go­goi blames floods in Guwahati on the block­age of the nat­u­ral drainage sys­tem

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