How old untreated waste is polluting Deepor Beel’s sensitive ecosystem

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Prabhat and Prabin Sharma own an 85-buffalo farm in the village of Paschim Boragaon near Deepor Beel, the only Ramsar site in Assam. This is their home village and the family has been raising buffaloes for generations. Buffaloes graze on land adjacent to the wetland, feeding on the abundant greens. Recently, 14 of the buffaloes developed serious health problems after grazing here; four of them died soon after.

  • For the past 15 years, municipal solid waste from Guwahati has been unscientifically dumped next to Deepor Beel, a major wetland in Assam. It is the only Ramsar site in Assam.
  • Research shows significant contamination of water bodies including Deepor Beel from untreated legacy waste.
  • Waste poses a health hazard to people, livestock and wildlife.

It is suspected that this is due to pollution of the wetland adjacent to the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) waste dump. Farmers, residents, scientists and environmentalists say pollution from the landfill is harming residents, livestock and aquatic wildlife. The nearby flowing rivers – Bharalu, Bahini and Basistha as well as the Deepor Beel itself – have all been polluted over the years. GMC’s landfill site, set up in 2006, was moved to another location in 2021, about half a mile from the old site, although huge amounts of legacy waste still remain.

“Our cattle depend on grazing and we don’t use any other commercially available feed. A healthy pasture goes hand in hand with good milk production. Recently, a herd of 14 cattle was grazing on their usual ground near the old dump when their bellies suddenly swelled,” said Prabhat Sharma. A vet was called but four animals died during treatment – two dairy cows, a bull and a calf. The doctor gave injections to the other 10 buffaloes and treated them to release the gas from their bodies. The post-mortem report is expected until the time of filing of this report.

The dump is adjacent to the Deepor Beel wetland. Photo by Surajit Sharma.

The Sharmas immediately moved their barn to another location about four kilometers from their homeland. “Transporting such a huge herd is not an easy task, but after the relocation the animals are doing well. It is temporary now, but we have to think about permanent relocation if the government continues with its nonchalant attitude in dealing with legacy waste,” said Prabhat Sharma.

Even the indigenous fishing community, made up of more than 800 families, for whom the waters of the wetlands have been their source of sustenance for generations, now fear being out on the water for long hours. “Half our lives have been spent in the waters. We fished on the wetland and used to take most of our meals right on its shore, cooking with the same water. Now, spending a few prolonged hours on this water causes itching and rashes on the hands and feet. It happens to all anglers. Now we don’t drink this water. Although we are still selling the fish from the wetland, we are not consuming it regularly like in previous years,” said Guluk Das, chairman of the fishermen’s cooperative society.

Doctor Homen Kumar Das, who has a clinic in the area, said: “Fishermen come to me with skin problems on their limbs. For now, ailments can be cured with certain ointments. But these are clear indications of impending health risks.

In the Deepor Beel, which once boasted of high quality freshwater fish, farming has declined. For several years, the fishing community has released young fish plants for farming which are then sold. They estimated that once out of the water, the fish were usually dead within five minutes and gave off a foul odor after a few hours. “Even refrigerating them won’t work,” Das lamented.

More than 15 lakh tons of untreated waste

The government of Assam allocated about 30.10 hectares of land adjacent to the wetland to the GMC in 2006. Henry David Teron, Vice President of Deepor Beel Suraksha Mancha, a local citizens’ association for the protection and preservation of the site Ramsar and its Adjacent Areas, said: “The site which is now a dumping ground was once a lush meadow of Kansgrass (locally known as kohuwa good) and elephant grass. We saw large herds of pachyderms coming to breed in nearby forests,” Teron added. “The tribal community grew Bao dhan (Kekowa genotype; deep-sea brown rice) near the water body; it was in abundance. The wetland is a haven for native and migrating birds.

“We have seen the degradation of these fertile lands and waters and the gradual decline of several species of flora and fauna over the past 20 years,” he said.

Activist Rohit Chowdhury filed a complaint with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2020 alleging damage to the Deepor Beel Wetland caused by actions in violation of the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 ( now MSW Rules, 2016) and Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 (now Wetland Rules, 2017).

The NGT, in its final statement after the hearings, observed, in April 2022, “It is found that solid waste is not scientifically managed and legacy waste has not been remediated. The capacity of the proposed integrated waste management plant has not been specified. There is also no wetland water quality monitoring program. Despite the Tribunal’s long-term follow-up, no satisfactory progress has been made so far. The estimated waste generation would be 600 TPD (tons per day). It is therefore necessary to work in mission mode to remediate the legacy waste, scientifically treat the current waste, quickly set up a factory of adequate capacity, regular monitoring of the water quality of the wetland and other measures. which remain identified.

Residents alleged that the GMC lit the fire as a cheap means of garbage disposal, giving off noxious smoke. The MSW landfill continued to smoke even in the rain, days after the fire was extinguished. Photo by Surajit Sharma.

GMC dumped the Metropolitan City’s daily garbage collection at this site from 2006 until June 2021. The site was closed following an NGT order in 2019 against a previous case filed by Chowdhury in 2014 seeking an immediate end to the garbage dumping and sewage disposal. at the Boragaon landfill. The Green Court ordered in May 2019 that the landfill site be moved from Boragaon by June 2019.

However, the GMC only stopped the transfer of solid waste to the former site of Paschim Boragaon from June 28, 2021 and started transferring it to Chandrapur. At present, solid waste is transferred to another place called Belortol in Paschim Boragaon village from August 10, 2021. The current site is about half a kilometer from the old one, and also close to Deepor Beel.

The State of Assam, in an affidavit filed before the NGT in November 2021, said: “The treatment of legacy waste started at West Boragaon in January 2021. It is estimated that there are approximately 15 lakh MT of legacy waste accumulated at the West Boragaon landfill site. until now.”

In mid-May 2022, a fire broke out on the waste which continued for more than a week despite the monsoon episodes. Although the municipality denied it, locals and conservationist Promod Kalita, who is also a resident of the area and fights vigorously for the cause, alleged that the GMC started the fire as a way cheap to eliminate hundreds of thousands of metric tons of garbage. , releasing noxious smoke.

“Prayers and protests, and even orders from the NGT were ignored by the Corporation. The government of Assam talks about several development and beautification activities to attract tourists to Deepor Beel but has failed to do the necessary to protect such an important body of water,” said Suchil Teron, president of Deepor Beel Suraksha Mancha.

This article is written by Barasha Das and republished from Mongabay

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