GUWAHATI, June 4 - Even as the State is set to celebrate another World Environment Day tomorrow, the growing degradation of the forests and water-bodies in and around State capital Guwahati remains a matter of grave concern. Conservationists bemoan that government authorities have totally failed in checking the degeneration of the water-bodies including wetlands, and also the forests.
Take, for instance, the case of Deepor Beel, a Ramsar Site wetland having immense ecological value for the city. The core area of the water-body also happens to be a Bird Sanctuary.
�Encroachment, dumping of municipal waste, operation of brick kilns in its vicinity, and picnic activities have severely damaged the wetland�s ecosystem, but the authorities have not made any meaningful intervention till date. Growing pollution levels in the water is a major concern for its aquatic fauna,� conservationist Moloy Baruah of Early Birds said.
As for other wetlands of the city, like the two Sola Beels and Silsako, and Khamranga on the city outskirts, those have undergone drastic degradation and shrinkage. �These wetlands are bearing the brunt of mounting anthropogenic pressures. Khamranga, which falls in the Amchang sanctuary, is heading towards extinction even though it is directly linked to Amchang�s well-being,� he added.
A source in the district administration said that the administration was aware of the problems plaguing the wetlands and that a survey was on for removal of all kinds of unauthorised structures near Deepor Beel. Besides, he added, the administration has initiated a number of steps including a ban on transportation and earth-filling around Deepor Beel, study of the existing land use pattern around the wetland, and imposition of strict regulations concerning any misuse of land in and around Deepor Beel.
Recently, the Gauhati High Court, after hearing a PIL, observed that the Assam Government was yet to designate the wetland authority as was suggested by the Central Government in November 2013. It also stated that as far as specific water-bodies of the city were concerned, Deepor Beel was one of the 115 identified wetlands for conservation under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010, and the Central Government had released Rs 362 lakh so far to the Assam Government for proper upkeep of Deepor Beel, but the utilisation certificate and physical progress report for Rs 50.34 lakh released eight years earlier, were yet to be forwarded by the State Government.
The city forests, which include a number of reserved forests besides the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, have also undergone extensive deforestation and large-scale encroachment.
�Widespread encroachment took place at Amchang under direct political patronage even after it was upgraded to a sanctuary. Comparison of satellite imagery taken in 2004, when Amchang was declared a sanctuary, and in 2012, makes it clear that a substantial area of the forest is under encroachment,� Baruah said.
Political patronage behind the encroachment has complicated matters further, with the consequence that the few eviction drives made occasionally had little impact on the illegal settlers.
A forest official, while acknowledging the problem of encroachment, claimed that some success had been made of late in evicting encroachers. �We have successfully evicted some of the encroachers recently, and the eviction drive will continue,� he said.
Baruah, who had been in the forefront of the movement to declare Amchang as a sanctuary, rued the apathy of the State Government and said that unless the illegal settlers were evicted immediately, little would remain of the vibrant wilderness located at a stone�s throw from the State capital.
Baruah added that with the once-sylvan city hills losing much of their greenery, the city�s natural environment was being subjected to tremendous stress. �Along with loss of green cover, a large number of animals and birds have lost their habitat. If we want the city�s temperatures to remain two degree less than what is at present, the forests and the wetlands must be restored,� he said.