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Concern over neglect of Barpeta wetlands

By Haramohan Barman

BARPETA, Nov 18 � The wetlands of Barpeta district are neglected by all the stakeholders including the local people and the government alike. The neglect of Kapala beel under Sarthebari revenue circle, Boira beel under Barpeta circle and Sarbhog beel under Sarbhog circle by the concerned authorities, is appalling, to say the least.

Not to speak of the Revenue department of the State, the sole owner of all the land, the Department of Fisheries, in general, and The Assam Fisheries Development Corporation ( AFDC) in particular, which manages and leases out the beels in lieu of a huge amount, have been turning a deaf ear in respect of their development. For the AFDC, these are only feudal slaves who earn for the masters, but do not have any right to consume. The AFDC seems to be least concerned about the impending dangers posed to the beels, either by natural or man- made hazards.

These beels have tremendous scope for development to attract tourism. But the Assam State Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) has not explored the potential hidden within them. The local people, some of whom are directly dependent upon these wetlands, hardly raise their voice for the improvement of the water bodies. Most of the people living on these wetlands, are either ignorant about the importance of preservation or indifferent towards the effect of their probable extinction.

These beels are the natural habitat of a large number of indigenous fishes like Rohu, Bahu, Barali, Kawoi, Magur, Shol etc. Besides, some exotic fishes are also available in these fisheries. It is only because of the valuable fishes, that the AFDC earns a huge amount by leasing out the beels. But it is a matter of regret, that the government corporation is indifferent to its development, which will not only benefit the local people, but also help it in earning more revenues. Besides, it will help endangered fishes and other aquatic creatures to live safely.

Most of the beels are replete with various types of aquatic plants. These are sustainable source for bio-fuel, bio-fertiliser and energy. Some of them have great food value and can even be used as medicines. But with the increasing level of water pollution, both the aquatic flora and fauna, are gradually facing extinction. As most of the areas are covered by invasive weeds, lack of a proper management will surely make these valuable plants extinct.

But the most significant prospect of these wetlands is that they can be developed as ornithological parks. More than 150 species of birds can be seen in all the three beels of the district. While some are residents of the locality, some are migratory. With the advent of winter, a large number of birds from across the globe visit these wetlands, making them an attractive place for ornithological studies.

It is a matter of regret, that in spite of tremendous educational and economic value, the wetlands are still a neglected lot. No responsible authority of the Government has executed any fruitful measure for the conservation and development of these great resources. Even a proposal submitted by the Social Forestry Department to the Government to declare these wetlands as designated areas under the Assam Hill and Ecological Sites (Protection and Management) Act, 2006 is lying unattended for long. It is learnt that considering the importance of these wetlands, the DFO of the Social Forestry Division, Barpeta, Suvashish Das submitted a proposal to the Government of Assam through the Deputy Commissioner, Barpeta on June 5, 2010 to declare Kapala, Boira and Sorbhog beels as designated areas under the Assam Hill and Ecological Site (Protection and Management) Act, 2006. But the proposal faced a plight similar to any other important proposal, to save the environment and nature.

It is hoped that the Government will soon consider the importance of these wetlands and come forward with specific plans for their protection and development, which will not only generate revenues, but also boost the study on nature and restore the ecosystem also.

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