> Nature > Conservation  
Kishore Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2016-06-08

Assam’s lone Ramsar site torn in negligence

 

Even after 13 years of declaration of Deepor Beel, a unique natural wetland on the western boundary of Guwahati, as a Ramsar site, the Assam Forest Department is still clueless about the area covered by this lone wetland of the state with this important global tag. While such ignorance and indifferent attitude of the forest department towards this globally significant wetland explain why the achievement of wise use principle of Ramsar convention is still a far cry, wildlife activists and locals have also raised alarm over a sewage canal being dug along the western side of the wetland to drain the city’s untreated effluents.

In a response to an application under the Right to Information Act, the office of the Divisional Forest Officer, Guwahati Wildlife Division, jurisdiction of which covers this wetland of global significance, says it has “no official documents regarding the designation of Ramsar Site tag of Deepor Beel.” In November 2002, Deepor Beel was included in the Ramsar list as site number 1207. Forest Department sources say Ramsar Site area of Deepor Beel is 4000 hectare.

On March 9, 2016 Public Information Officer in the office of DFO, Guwahati Wildlife Division, stated in reply to the RTI application that “Deepor Beel Ramsar site is not an addition under this division. Therefore, the Division has no document relating to this site.”  

Expressing shock over the official ignorance, a local youth Pramod Kalita exclaimed ifforest department has no information on Ramsar Site and is unaware of the area covered by Ramsar Site how it could manage and conserve it!”

The objective of designating a water body as Ramsar Site status under Ramsar Convention is to enable conservation through local and national level action with the international cooperation for sustainable development and wise usage. But in case of Assam’s globally tagged water body, the deplorable status lays bare the government apathy. Yes, so indifferent the official attitude towards it that the area of Ramsar Site has so far not been demarcated. Demarcation is inherently essential before going to take any wetland-friendly measures. Even the possession process of Deepor Beel Wild life sanctuary from civil authority was done in May 2014. However, deferred demarcation of Wild life sanctuary area invited troubles.

Assam government issued a Gazette notification on February 25, 2009 declared a part of the wetland as Deepor Beel Wild life Sanctuary in 2009. However, the Guwahati Wildlife Division division took the possession of wildlife sanctuary in May 2014. A team of Assam survey, Guwahati Wildlife division including Kamrup (Metropolitan) district administration carried out the exercise from May 14 to May 17 in 2014 before handing over the possession to Forest department.

Local allege that it is beyond their comprehension why government could not demarcate the area of this Ramsar Site even after 13 years. The treatment being meted out to the wetland as wasteland is degrading the ecosystem gradually. In a study on physico-chemical properties on water in some selected sites of the wetland by the Clarion, an International Multidisciplinary Journal, the result of water variables like water colour, odour, dissolved oxygen, biological oxygen demands, total dissolved solids etc varies with location. It has found that “more or less all the sites of the beel were contaminated and a quick action is required to sustain the health of the wetland.”

Pollution Control Board of Assam has prohibited the dumping of sewage into the water body. PCBA advised to shift the dumping site to another place immediately however nothing surfaced.

Now, for the safe disposal of untreated waste of Guwahati a sewage canal is being dug by the northern side of the wetland. The digging of canal started in March is being run through the wetland territory. But the act of digging the canal has drawn flake from various quarters. Wildlife activist Laxman Teron says that safe disposal of the effluents is the priority of all but the canal meant for safe flowing of garbage to Brahmaputra could hardly serve the purpose. “In lean season the waste will flow to Khanajan but with the rising of water level of the Brahmaputra the waste will make return flow to the wetland,” Teron reveals.  The sewage canal is designed to run to the Khanjaan which is linked to the Brahmaputra to get rid of the problem of effluents causing water pollution. Teron says the canal will turn out to be a curse for wild elephants particularly for their calves. Elephant herds traditionally and regularly migrate to the wetland from nearby Rani-Gorbhanga reserved forest have a knack for travelling up to the northern side of the wetland to feast natural fodder but now the canal will hamper the movement.  “The Large-bodied animal move large area to keep their digestive system intact. So, here the herd will habitually migrate towards the canal’s side and if the calves of the herd skid into the canal it will be fatal fall,” Teron warned.

It is regrettable to see that all the development steps undertaken go contrary to the interest of environment and wildlife itself. In 2000, it was the Railway track followed by the construction of surface road. Both have turned terror tracks for elephants and other fauna. Now, it is the canal under construction which, according to wildlife activists and locals, is poised to turn into a deathtrap. Along this 4-km stretch of elephant crossing zone speed restriction either by train or by vehicular traffic is totally ignored. What goes unnoticed and unreported is the crushing of amphibians and reptiles including cat species under the wheel of train and speeding vehicles. Expert says speed bump along road by protected area or reserved forest could be boon for wild fauna. Construction of four speed breakers along 1.5 km of highway which pass through forest in Zanzibar in East Africa helped reduced the mortality of threatened red colobus monkeys by 85 percent. Unfortunately, there is not a single speed bump along the 4 km stretch of Rani-Koinadhara road barring two in front of the manned level crossing near Deeper Beel watch Tower. “the road was constructed slicing off a stretch of Rani-Gorbhanga reserved forest the but no considerate thought seems to have spared for the safe movement of its fauna,” locals rued. Every organism counts and hence steps need to be taken to save their lives. If government is truly serious about the conservation of the high profile wetland, why speed limit violation has not been tackled?  “Land and water being state subject, the state government should accord importance in the management of the wetland irrespective of its status,” Teron maintains.

Inflow of untreated water of growing Guwahati city is instrumental in degrading the water of the wetland. Considerable death rates of fish are irrefutable proof. Residents allege pollution have taken toll on tilling activities.  Dhrubajyoti Kalita who owns a Dairy farm of buffalo near the wetland says his commercial farm with about 150 buffalo sustained blow with the vanishing of rooted floating vegetation like Hygrorhyza aristata from the wetland periphery. “It is water pollution that triggers disappearance of natural green fodder for buffalo,” Teron says .  

United Kingdom which is spread over 241930 square km has 169 Ramsar sites but Assam with 78440 square km geographical area could not manage the single wetland of global importance. What for?

Photo and Text-  Kishore Talukdar

(Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at tdrkishore@gmail.com )

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