GUWAHATI, Nov 22 - As rampant encroachment on the Silsako Beel has pushed the wetland to the brink, a greater danger awaits Guwahatians, who might face the worst of urban floods if the water exit channel is not restored.
At a time when the administration�s eviction drives are hitting one roadblock after another, the question arises whether the interest of lakhs of Guwahatians would get priority over the people encroaching upon the beel illegally.
A recent eviction drive by the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) on the Silsako was strongly protested by the people living on the wetland. Arguing that the administration has no guts to drive out the high and mighty who are occupying a major portion of the land, the protesters were adamant on not leaving the land.
The GMDA, on the other hand, made it clear that it was firm on demolishing any structure or other form of encroachment falling under the purview of the Water-bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act 2008, whereby the Silsako Beel along with four other urban water-bodies were protected from further deterioration.
As per government data, out of 440 bighas of notified area of the Silsako Beel, approximately 180 bighas are still under encroachment. Removal of that encroachment and subsequent excavation of the same is essential for creating enough water retention capacity for doing away with the flash floods of the city.
�We will not let the people of Guwahati suffer. The wetlands have to be cleared for a smooth flow of water,� GMDA Chairman Dhiren Baruah said.
However, it is certainly the lack of timely action by the government that led to the worsening of the situation. According to public activist Prof Deven Dutta, eviction measures started too late, emboldening the encroachers.
�There are laws for protecting any government land against illegal encroachment, which was blatantly ignored in the case of Silsako and many other government lands. The queer attitude of the government, coupled with the entry of some instigators in the scene, gradually worsened the situation.
�Even if the government wants to steer clear of the matter by evicting small houses and shanties, several private and semi-government institutions, land of a powerful minority leader, a former Governor, a hotelier and land recently allotted to a trust are a part of the beel. Together all these weaken the stand of the government,� he added.
When asked, the GMDA replied that the three high-rises constructed by Himmatsingka near Pathar Quarry fall outside the notified area, while Hotel Ginger and other structures in the vicinity obtained settlement and building permission prior to promulgation of the Waterbodies Act in 2008. However, any further construction activity cannot be taken up at the site.
The GMDA further argued that boundary demarcation and eviction exercises were carried out several times in the past since 2008. But this time the GIS has clearly delineated the cadastral boundaries on a satellite image, identifying all encroachments, including big buildings, which would be removed in a phased manner.
Subodh Sharma, who has been associated with this issue since long, also pointed out towards addressing the root cause of the issue. �Land allotment in and around the beel would have never been possible without patronage from inside the government,� he said.
�Once a big swamp, the Silsako is today not even half of its original size. Haphazard land allotment through some government agents led to encroachment. To add to the problems, many people got their land converted into myadi patta, again not without government patronage,� said Sharma, whose organisation Mahanagar Unnayan Samity, Guwahati has made several representations to the government regarding preservation of the beel.
�The government must identify the genuine citizens and make arrangements for their rehabilitation in some of its projects like JNNURM. The beel should be dug deep with the help of the amphibian dredgers along with physical boundary demarcation,� he said.