GUWAHATI, March 8 - Most of the demands for dredging the riverbeds in India are the products of the commercial needs of the traders. But, these demands can only be justified by environmental economists. This was one of the outstanding opinions expressed by a section of the participants at the three-day workshop on environmental justice, ecological economics and water infrastructure in the North East with relation to hydropower and waterways that was held in the IIBM conference hall here recently.
Experts taking part in the deliberations maintained that in order to manage the waterways, the entire National Waterway No 2 of the country, that is the Brahmaputra, needs to be surveyed extensively.
Shripad Dharmadhikary of voluntary organisation MANTHAN said inland waterways include mainly rivers under the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI). Inland waterways project is one of the biggest water-related projects in the country, next to the big dams. IWAI plans to develop many rivers into large waterways. The law passed in 2016 in this respect designated 111 river routes as �national waterways�, which include the Ganga as National Waterway No-1 and the Brahmaputra as National Waterway No-2.
Large-scale dredging is required for channelisation and straightening of the rivers to make them operable as waterways. But dredging activities put the livelihood of the communities living on fishing, at risk, if one goes by the examples of Odisha and Goa.
Whose needs are being catered to by the waterways is yet to be answered by the policy makers who conceived this approach, as, the approach of developing the rivers into major waterways is not guided by any clear idea about the ecology of the regions concerned and the livelihood-related issues of the communities inseparably linked with the rivers. Two major waterways that connect Tripura with Bangladesh and Myanmar, which can be regarded as trans-boundary ones, are also significant in terms of geo-political issues, he said.
Prof Chandan Mahanta from IIT Guwahati maintained that the national waterways are lagging behind in terms of assessment of the NE region.
He observed that the ecological concerns on National Waterway No-2 include the shifting of the dolphin habitats as well as decline in the number of fish species. Port building is one of the important requirements for river navigation, which is not possible in many areas of the State, including Hatsingimari in South Salmara because of the high water level of the Jinjiram river during the monsoon season. Therefore, a need is there for conversion of macro navigation to micro navigation in terms of ecological and economic principles. There is also a need to generate awareness among people in terms of knowledge, sharing technical, socio-political as well as legal issues. To manage this waterway, the entire project demands an extensive survey, he asserted.
Dr Sanchita Barua said following the 1950 earthquake, increased siltation resulted in loss of depth by the Brahmaputra and all the wetlands connected with its system got alienated from it. This had a telling impact on the habitats of the local fish species and their productivity also declined.
Dr Partha J Das from Aaranyak said dredging of the trans-boundary rivers is to be viewed also as part of creating greater connectivity among the neighbouring countries. But, most of the demands for dredging the rivers have come from the traders which can be justified only by the environmental economists, he maintained.