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Kishore Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-11-14

Rampant sand mining destroys Assam’s Kharkhari river, renders paddy farming unsustainable along its banks

 

Vast tracts of paddy fields along the river Kharkhari in Assam’s Kamrup district are lying fallow when paddy fields across the state have turned Golden yellow and farmers are ready to reap their harvest. An agrarian crisis is brewing in about 40 villages along the river due to severe water shortage resulting from lowering of the riverbed caused by rampant sand mining.

Kharkhari is a distributary of Kulshi river- prime habitat of the shihu or freshwater dolphin (Platanista gangetica), India’s national and Assam’s state aquatic animal. Kharkhari has branched out from river Kulshi at Hatigarh under Pantan reserved forest and flows about 50 km. It crosses the NH-37 at Kharkhari, a walking distance from Kamrup West Forest division office at Bamunigaon.

During a recent visit to the affected villages for a field study the villagers told this correspondent that the heyday of farming activities is now a thing of past for them following rapid degradation of the river over the past 10 years.

Unscientific and unsustainable sand mining has proved bane not only for the river but for the paddy farming, the mainstay of 95 per cent of the residents of villages like Palashatari, Andhertari, Chandrapur, Ganakpara part 1 and part 2 etc. Earlier water from the monsoon-fed river spilled over inundating the agriculture fields recharging the water sources to the much needed relief for the farmers but now agriculture field is water starved. Rampant extraction of sand and gravel has led to coarsening and degradation of the riverbed and resulted in deepening of the river.

“Gone are the days when we practiced paddy farming on large scale. Now, we have to shun paddy farming in about 500 bigha land around the river owing to water scarcity. Paddy farming is no longer sustainable for us,” Baren Rabha (35) said.

Now, extraction of even one cubic meter sand from the river is very rare while it was once famous as a quality sand-storage river. As a fall out of the exploitative mining the depth of the river bed has increased from 6 feet to 30-35 feet; Erosion has hit at several stretches along the river. In the lean season, the river ceases to flow indicating the functional death of the river. Villagers say that due inadequate water flow in the river, ground water sources of the paddy fields have also dried up.

Forest department officials said the government used to allot sand mahal in the Kharkhari river. However, no tender has been floated since 2005 as the river does not have any sand storage zone and its flow has almost stopped. “On the basis of the report filed by Assistant Conservator of Forest, the sand mahal has been closed since April, 2016. The area of the mahal was 2.25 hector,” Divisional Forest Officer, Kamrup West Forest Division Mrinal Baruah said.

To cope with the crisis, distraught villagers have switched over to cash crop farming such as ridge guard, ladies finger, sugar cane. Gopikanta Boro, who took voluntary retirement as personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force, had planned to undertake extensive paddy farming as post retirement engagement. “I had no other option but abandon the plan of paddy farming due to water crisis and limit my agricultural activities to vegetable farming despite having land resources for expanding my farming into new areas,” said Boro.

The distraught farmers have been appraising the agriculture department since 2014 about the crisis grappling them but in vain. The villagers have also been demanding construction of a bridge over the river to cut short the distance from their areas to the nearest Chhaygaon market by 10 km but their repeated pleas have fallen on deaf ears. They have to cough up additional cost in transportation for transporting agricultural produce on a longer route via Bamunigaon to Chhaygaon market. “The bridge would have reduced the current transportation cost to one third.” Krishnakanta Boro, a soldier-turned farmer said.

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 )

Photo- Kishore Talukdar

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