Deepor Beel, a wetland with an area of 40 sq km which is home to 219 species of birds should have been the ideal tourist destination. Instead, it has been turned into a dumping ground for an entire city’s waste
Environmentalists in Assam and elsewhere woke up to disheartening news on the morning of Republic Day. 22 carcasses of the endangered scavenging bird Greater Adjutant Storks or commonly known as hargillas were found at Deepor Beel, a wetland with great avian and aqua-diversity. While the death of these birds is a great blow to their conservation potential as their numbers are dwindling rapidly, this also highlights the fact that Deepor Beel has become poisonous for its residents.
The beel has been bearing the burden of the unplanned growth of Guwahati and there has been little respite. Foremost among its problems is the accumulation of municipal solid wastes, including toxic disposals, which are increasingly finding their way into the very core of the wetland. Continued discharge of the city’s untreated sewerage through the Bahini and Bharalu rivers besides the dumping of municipal solid wastes in close proximity at Boragaon by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) have pushed the wetland’s pollution to alarming levels. The problem has got aggravated during the monsoons, with rainwater sweeping large amounts of garbage from the dumping site to the beel.
Even within the beel’s core protected area (which forms the sanctuary), municipal garbage, particularly plastic waste, can be seen floating on the water. A closer look will further reveal a blackish, oily film coating the water over large stretches. Invasive weeds such as water hyacinth, too, are expanding to more and more areas.
Community Fishing: A Way of Life
Deeor Beel is surrounded by villages like Keotpara, Mikirpara, Tetelia etc inhabited by the fishing community who have been dependent on the beel for centuries. However, since the last few years, fishing in the beel has been banned by the administration in a bid to save its ecology.
This has rendered almost 1200 families helpless whose only means of sustenance was community fishing in the beel. A local who didn’t wish to be named says, ‘It (community fishing) is part of our culture and tradition. Our forefathers have been doing it and we are continuing the ritual. They have stopped us from fishing but they have not stopped dumping of waste here which is the major cause of pollution. Both fish and birds have become scarce. Earlier, we used to use the water from the beel for our daily chores. Now, even if you wash your feet with the water, it will itch as it has become so toxic.’