Dams · Wetlands

Ramsar Wetlands Crisis 2020: North East India

There are three Ramsar sites in eight states of north east India which includes Deepor Beel in Assam, Loktak lake in Manipur and Rudrasagar in Tripura. There are no Ramsar wetlands in remaining North East India states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalya, Sikkim. Here is an account of issues these Ramsar sites are facing.

Ramsar Wetlands sites: North East India

SN Names State Area (sqkm) GPS Coordinates Designated
1 Deepor Beel Assam 40 26° 7’18.90″N 91°38’33.16″E 19 August 2002
2 Loktak Lake Manipur 266 24°33’31.08″N 93°48’52.01″E 23 March 1990
3 Rudrasagar Lake Tripura 2.40 23°30’1.27″N 91°19’0.48″E 08 Nov. 2005

Deepor Beel in Assam: turned into landfill site, railway line posing threat

The fresh water lake of Dipor Beel in located close to the Guwahati city, in Kamrup district. The weltand literally meaning lake of elephants in olden time used to be a channel of the Brahmaputra River.  Considered as one of the largest beels in the Brahmaputra valley, 40 sq km area of the lake was declared a Ramsar site in August 2002.

Residents of about 14 villages are dependent on the Beel for their livelihood in the form of fishing, vegetable farming etc. The Basistha and Kalmani rivers and local monsoon run-off drains are the main sources of water to the lake. Khonajan channel drains the beel into the Brahmaputra river, 5 km to the north. It acts as a natural storm water reservoir during the monsoon season for the Guwahati city.

A whole range of bird and wild life depends on the wetlands for food and habitat. Despite so many services, Deepor Beel has been bearing adverse impact of municipal solid waste dumping and now the central government has proposed a railway line through the wetlands posing grave threats on its existence. Similarly, due to unplanned urbanization, the lake area has been reducing while the amount of liquid waste has increased over the years, affecting the health of Deepor Beel. 

In March 2015, after sustained pressure from wildlife activists, the Kamrup district administration had ordered[i] Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) to shift its garbage disposal project from Deepor Beel within three months. The GMC was using Paschim Boragaon area close to the water body, as a dumping ground for quite some time. The situation used to worsen during the monsoon as garbage was carried away into the water body, affecting resident and migratory birds and fish.

As per experts, it was shocking to know that the Guwahati city had chosen the ecologically important wetlands to dump its waste[ii] which was slowly choking the ancient water body. Originally, the Beel had its natural linkages with the river Brahmaputra. But, due to construction of residential buildings, NH-37 and a railway line, the main link was disrupted. And that brought in problems of its own, not just for wildlife but the fishermen who live off the wetland.

Farmers alleged that due to the link being broken, elephants that used to come down to the area to drink water were unable to and, therefore, end up using their fields, thus leading to crop damage. Fishermen used to welcome the elephants as their presence would clear the wetland of vegetation. However the presence of the railway track had disrupted the elephants’ access from the nearby Rani Reserve Forest to the wetland.

In addition to the illegal construction, the Beel was heavily infested with water hyacinth, and other weeds due to the inflow of enormous quantity of the untreated Guwahati city sewage and other effluents from a nearby refinery. Though the state government had brought in a legislation to protect and conserve Deepor Beel in 2008 problems continued. To make matters worse, the fishermen were stopped from fishing in the area.

26 Deepor Beel

In January 2016, the district administration banned community fishing[iii] in the Beel, an annual ritual happening in the first week of January. The locals said the practice of community fishing to welcome the New Year was an old one and the administration’s decision was unnecessary and unwelcome. Same had happened in 2015 too.

“It (community fishing) is part of our culture and tradition. Our forefathers have been doing it and we are continuing the ritual,” said a local of Keotpara village who did not wished to be named. Every year, in the first week of January, hundreds of villagers from the areas around Deepor Beel, including Keotpara, Mikirpara, Paspara, Azara and Tetelia, take part in community fishing at the pond.

In 2009, the state government had declared a 10.1 sq km area of the water body as Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary. Earlier, the Beel was maintained by the state fisheries department but the forest department took over in 2009. More than 820 families from Keotpara in Azara dependent on the wetland for their livelihood. They had been requesting the forest department to allow them to fish during festivals every year, but in vain.

In May 2016, admitting Rohit Chaudhary’s plea revealing unregulated “illegal” dumping of garbage and sewage on the wetland having disastrous effect on the wetland’s ecosystem, the NGT had asked the State Chief Secretary to submit a detailed report[iv] on whether any municipal solid waste was being dumped on Deepor Beel and if any construction activities were going on in & around the wetland. It also asked if the GMDA & GMC were following rules.

The pleas had also expressed concern over the future of elephant herds that come down to wetland from the nearby Rani reserved forest and other species of fauna in the Deepor Beel and pleaded with the tribunal to issue a directive to authorities to ensure norms were adhered to.

In absence of clear instructions[v] and signage’s, the picnickers were also seen causing disturbance to wildlife around the Deepor beel by loud music, fishing, boating, throwing garbage in the lake, entering prohibited areas etc. As a result the administration had to impose section 144 around lake areas in December 2016.

In a tragic incident, 20 carcasses of the endangered greater adjutant stork were recovered[vi] from Deepor Beel in January 2017. The number later increased to 26 and the exact reason for the large-scale deaths was unknown but officials guessed it to be a case of food poisoning and blamed unruly picnicker reason behind the degradation of the natural habitat in the area.

At that time too, the NGT also issued notice to the government to explain the causes and remedial measures taken from preventing such incidents in future. As per experts, the rising waste dump at the wetlands had adversely changed the eating habits[vii] and food choices of the greater adjutant storks from hunting to a scavenging bird.

Unlike protected areas the wetlands had no eco-sensitive zone or buffer zone to protect the eco-system from anthropogenic interventions and pressures. In Deepor case the trash was spilling over into the wetland, in the face of notice asking GMC to relocate it since 2012. 

While Guwahati is only city in north east selected for smart city project, the condition of civic amenities were quite concerning with no waste management facilities and frequent water logging being routine affair. The city went underwater for three days in 2016 monsoon. Earlier development projects railway lines, roads etc. had already fragmented the Deepor Beel area and under smart city plan the government was proposing more infrastructural and recreational facilities[viii] including waterpark, tourist lodges etc. in and around the wetland with the sole intention of revenue generation.

Surprisingly, all the department and civic agencies were involved in the smart city planning except the forest department proving that government was mainly focusing on monetisation of Deepor services while deliberately ignoring causes affecting the Beel. Several reports had mentioned that the city was prone to flooding and climate change would bring more intense rainfall leading to more flash flood and the wetlands including Deepor must be protected to combat the adverse climatic impacts but government had paid little heed to them.

This was evident from affidavit submitted to the NGT in March 2017, in which chief secretary stated that the location of the dumping site did not violate[ix] any provision of law.

Meanwhile a research paper on impact of waste dump on aquatic bio-diversity of Deepor Beel revealed presence of heavy metals[x] among other toxic pollutants putting great strain on fish, birds diversity dependent on it and damaging the eco-system irreversibly. As per another report, once, the wetland was also a haunt for the rare Goliath Heron. It was last reported from Deepor Beel 30 years ago.

The Dec 2017 report, again found, rowdy picnickers[xi] to continue assembling on the banks of the water body, playing loud music & littering the area, despite restrictions by administration.

In January 2018, the administration again prohibited community fishing[xii] in the wetland by imposing section 144 terming it illegal and causing irreparable, irretrievable damage to the wetland ecosystem. Concerned people were also demanding complete ban on picnics in and around the wildlife sanctuary during Magh Bihu.

Meanwhile, by October 2018, there was no end to abuse of wetlands from dumping of Municipal Solid Waste[xiii] (MSW) as well as industrial and medical waste at Boragaon site close to wetlands which GMC was doing since 2004. NGT had in November 2015 asked GMC to shift it to Chandrapur area, but there was no initiative on ground. The locals, fearing adverse effects, were forced to keep their windows shut during the monsoon season to escape impact of foul smell coming from the wetland.

The Beel had become a tank due to encroachment[xiv] on all sides. Even the outlets streams joining the Brahmaputra River were grabbed upon preventing fish migration cycle from river to wetlands & back to river. There were rumours of fish contamination and restriction of ‘Beel Mara’ community fishing festival.

Adding more trouble for the wetland, the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) had proposed construction of 570 metres long two tunnels on the southern stretch of railway track running through the Deepor Beel area as a permanent solution to prevent elephant fatalities. The project also involved diversion of[xv] approximately 65,550 sq m (570 metres by 115 metres) wetland area for the construction of the ramp of the corridor to approach Deepor Beel apart from railway and reserve forest land.

However, the NGT had asked the NFR to stop laying of the second railway track and directed the railway authorities to follow its January 18, 2018 order. In December, 2018, the NGT again granted of two months to the government for shifting the MSW Plant from Deepor Beel. But without any solution the two months deadline also expired in February 2019.

In March 2019, NGT directed the Railway authorities to adopt a long-term measure[xvi] for ‘freeing the elephant corridor from the railway tracks’ near Deepor Beel by constructing either an ‘overpass or an underpass’, suitably designed by experts stating that the proposal for the realignment of the railway track was illogical.

As per the documentary titled Vanishing Storks of Assam, over 200 bird spices were dependent on the wetlands but its original wetland area had shrunk[xvii] to about 500 ha from over 4000 ha over the years due to anthropogenic reasons affecting the bird diversity including of endangered greater adjutant stork for which Assam is considered the last global strong hold.

On the matter of railway tunnel near Deepor Beel, the NGT in May 2019, directed[xviii] the Railway authorities and union environment ministry to submit information on status of project in affidavit within two months. Similarly the GMC was asked to shift the waste dumping site within two months to the new site.

In the same month, the CM asked the authorities to carry out an exhaustive survey[xix] to study the extent of coverage of Beel, work on reviving natural channels and transformation of wetland into an attractive tourist destination.  

Meanwhile, the residents of Deepor Beel in June 2019 came out to highlight the dangers[xx] that would be posed against the wildlife in the area by the proposed construction of the double-line railway track which would pass through the water body and the elephant corridors near the Rani forest. The residents further highlighted the continuous contamination of water in Deepor Beel because of the Boragaon dumping ground.

In July 2019, there was protest against construction[xxi] of double railway track along the northern boundary alleging that it would pose a serious threat to the biodiversity of Deepor Beel and would result in more elephant mortality and man-elephant conflicts. Earlier following objection railway department had to abandon it first plan of making the line along the southern boundary and started construction on the northern alternative.

Meanwhile the environmental degradation and threats to public and Deepor Lake continued[xxii] in the wake of increasing waste pile near the wetland. The waste dump problem had remained unresolved[xxiii] and the railway line project was posing existential threats to it. 

Given the significance of wetland eco-system, the NGT in August 2019 asked the state government to declare ‘Deepor Beel’ as an eco-sensitive zone[xxiv]. The report also mentioned that the lake was bearing the brunt of adverse human activities such as filling of wetlands for habitation, cutting sides of wetlands, fishing, killing of migratory birds etc. The degradation of water quality, sedimentation in the lake’s surface and deforestation activities in and around the water body called for its conservation.

The ESZ establishing entailed declaring up to 10 km around a protected area a buffer zone[xxv] and restricting industrial and other human activities. The Tribunal had stopped[xxvi] the ‘change in land utilization character from railway gate number 273 to the starting point of northern alignment of railway track and Azara railway crossing at Segunbari, Mikirpara and Matia elephant corridor’ in order to ensure that the elephant corridor was kept free for elephants’ access to the Deepor Beel and also to avoid man-elephant conflict.

Meanwhile, in September 2019, the locals of Chandrapur area called for a 12 hour bandh to protest against[xxvii] GMC decision to shift the Boragaon dumping ground to Chandrapur area.

Observing sorry state of affairs, the Guwahati High Court in November 2019 had directed[xxviii] the authorities concerned to apprise court of steps taken to protect and clean the water bodies in around the city, specially mentioning Deepor Beel. As per a report, the Bharalu river a tributary of Brahmaputra had turned into a sewage nala[xxix] whereas it was source of clean flowing water to the city few decades back.

Studies were mentioning that the city was facing climatic threats but ignoring[xxx] the importance of water bodies. In Deepor case, instead of involving lake dependent people in better management of the Beel, the government departments were trying to keep famers, fisherfolks away from wetlands adversely affecting their livelihoods. 

In Dec 2019, locals living near Deepor Beel noticed low arrival[xxxi] of migratory birds, which they believed was due to increasing pollution, deforestation and disturbance caused by humans.

The hilly areas in and around Guwahati were being encroached by people thereby keeping away migratory birds from taking shelter. Similarly, the Deepor Beel had also undergone rapid change due to irrational industrialization, careless agricultural activities, eroding forest cover in the adjoining areas, and illegal human settlements within the vicinity. Another report mentioned of decrease in number of migratory[xxxii] birds to Assam areas including Brahmaputra river and Deepor Beel, over the years.

Once again, the forest department and fisherfolks were confronting[xxxiii] each other, ahead of annual community fishing festival. While on conservational grounds the forest department had restricted fishing, the fisherfolks were preparing for it as part of their cultural identity.

The annual fishing in the wetland revived an old system[xxxiv] of selling and buying fish that was called ‘aska’ in Assamese. According to this system of buying and selling, fish was sold without being weighed.

Even after several deadlines from NGT, the GMC failed to shift[xxxv] the waste dump site by the end of January 2020. Interestingly the report said that the authorities had decided not to shift the dumping site but install solid waste management projects at four different locations in and around the city, hence stated that there was no need to shift the Boragaon dumping site.

Government had reportedly allotted Rs 10 crore to GMC for the project. The district administration had identified four places to set up the integrated solid waste management project in Chandrapur, Sonapur, Bashistha and Udalbakra. However, the officials were facing resistance by the local residents at these sites.

As per the latest report by Rahul Karmakar, the area of Deepor Beel has shrunk by at least 35 per cent[xxxvi] since 1991. The Beel officially has an area of 4,014 ha or 15.5 square miles which was about 6,000 ha in the late 1980s, hydrological experts said. The main reason for this was wetland losing connectivity with small rivers like Kalmoni, Khonajan and Basistha that used to flow via the Mora Bharalu channel. They say, expansion of the city, encroachment upon the natural channels and municipal waste dump as other reasons behind shrinking Deepor Beel.

Loktak Lake in Manipur: Succumbing to ill-consequences of NHPC’s hydro project

Loktak lake is the largest freshwater lake near Moirang town in Imphal. The 266 sq km area of the wetland was declared a Ramsar site in March, 1990. In local language Loktak means end of stream. The lake is referred as the “lifeline of Manipur” as it is highly productive and provides habitat to biota and livelihoods to people. It’s also an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is widely famous for the phumdis (heterogeneous mass of vegetation, soil and organic matter at various stages of decomposition) floating over it.

But over the years, NHPC’s hydropower project especially Ithai Barrage has led to severe impact on the lake eco-system and serious disturbance for local community. Despite this, the NHPC has been pushing more hydro projects on the lake streams. As a result, local people and concerned have univocally and repeatedly protesting against proposed projects and demanding removal of Ithai barrage which is getting louder year after year.  

The February 2017, Floating Life documentary[xxxvii] boldly straddled a fictional tale and the real-life struggle of the fishermen of Loktak Lake. Similarly, feature film Lady of the Lake was also on the same back drop, involving the local people as actors.

Another video report in July 2017, by the India Water Portal called for wise use of Loktak lake, rather than allowing hydropower to destroy it. Poor understanding[xxxviii] of the seasonal flows of water and a narrow focus on hydropower generation had transformed the naturally fluctuating lake into a reservoir, resulting in the long-term damage to the wetland.  

Further, in a detailed report Iboyaima Laithangbam explained how Loktak HEP and other threats were leading to the slow death[xxxix] of the lake….. “The phumdis float during the rains and sink during the dry months, sucking nutrients from the lake bed to replenish their roots and float again when the next monsoon cycle begins. This has been their life cycle for centuries but it is now at grave risk as the Loktak HEP constantly keeps the water level in the lake high thus hampering the nutrient supply to phumdis.

Unable to feed from the nutrients on the bed, the phumdis are thinning out and even breaking away. Worse, local residents themselves are breaking off pieces of the biomass to sell elsewhere as rich fish culture soil. Edible plants, fruits and roots endemic to the phumdis, and once a thriving food source for Manipuris, are slowly dying.”

Given the wide spread negative impacts, the CM Biren Singh in August 2017 had himself urged Prime Minister (PM) Narendar Modi to review and decommissioning of the Loktak Project[xl] as a permanent solution for frequent floods in the State. He said, the Ithai dam had become the main cause of flood in the State and in needed to be removed. The report further mentioned that Loktak project was taken up long before only to get some power but now the State was having sufficient power. Damages done by the flood were leading to higher losses to the State.

In September 2017, several civil society representatives stated that Ithai dam had caused loss of agriculture land[xli] and led to extinction of several native fish species. The barrage was also held responsible for recurring floods and damage to biodiversity in upstream and downstream. They said that the barrage and HEP were doing more harms than good to the people.

It was also stated that there was absence of MoU between the NHPC and the state government on the operation and functioning of the Loktak HEP and NHPC was given a complete free hand without any monitoring, regulation and accountability mechanism. They also appealed to the central government to decommission the Loktak HEP[xlii] immediately and demanded NHPC to compensate against destruction caused by the project since its commissioning.

Agreeing to the demand, the then governor Najma A. Heptulla also showed concerned over loss of fish diversity[xliii] due to the Ithai barrage. Revealing the negative impact of Ithai dam on people and environment, Jiten Yumnam in his detailed report urged the state government and NHPC to become accountable[xliv] to the people to redress and end the prolonged and unresolved multifaceted implications of Loktak HEP, considered as a curse for Manipur.

On the contrary, amid the rising concerns and decommissioning demand[xlv], the NHPC was seen pushing[xlvi] construction of 66 MW Loktak Downstream HEP at an estimated cost of Rs 1250 crore across the Leimatak River in complete disregard of the indigenous peoples. Renewing decommissioning demand, the local concerned and affected people called for the protection of wetlands with due recognition[xlvii] of indigenous peoples rights and to stop the 66 MW Loktak Downstream project.

Loktak’s rich biological diversity included 233 species of aquatic plants and 57 species of water birds. But due to development activities such as hydropower, irrigation and water supply the lake was facing threats. Acknowledging the Loktak eco-system, the Global Wetlands Outlook 2018 editorial mentioned the wetland could be called the jewel of India’s natural heritage[xlviii].

However, the fishing community have been facing various forms of hardship[xlix] due to climate change and factors relating to the commissioning of the Loktak Project in 1980s.

Like other lakes, the government was seen alienating the wetlands dependent people by various steps. In January 2019, state government’s plan to set up a bird sanctuary at the Loktak lake in Bishnupur district met with stiff opposition[l] from the villagers in nearby areas. Earlier, the villagers of the lake islets had agitated against setting up of the Keibul Lamjao National Park, the natural habitat of the endangered brow-antlered deer. They wanted the land demarcated for the park to be made available to them for cultivating paddy.

27 Loktak

Birdwatchers had also blamed human intrusion, bird poaching and hydro project near the lake for the decline in the number of migratory birds and brow-antlered deer in the Keibul Lamjao national park.

As per another detailed and pictorial report, the unique lake was gasping for breath[li] due to haphazard planning. Researchers blamed changes in the hydrology due to the construction of dams, blockage of migratory routes for fish, drying up of wetlands from siltation and exploitation for declining indigenous fish variety in the lake.

It mentioned a study supported by Society of Wetland Scientists to indicate that the highest loss was in phumdis with thin vegetation (49.38 sq km) followed by phumdis with thick vegetation (8.59 sq km), while there was an overall increase in open water bodies (27 sq km) in the past 38 years.

In Nov 2019, the fishing community strongly objected[lii] to the Loktak inland waterway project to be developed on the water body at an estimated cost of Rs 25.58 crore, claiming it would destroy its biodiversity and the livelihood of fisherfolks. As per O. Rajen, secretary Loktak Lake Area Fishermen’s Union Manipur, the project could spell disaster for both the fishing community and sensitive biodiversity. Around 4,000 fisherfolks residing in and around the lake were dependent on the lake for a living & fishing was their main occupation.

Though union environment ministry had prohibited fishermen from plying of motor boats in the lake but was promoting same even without proper impact assessment and consultation. “Use of motorboats will greatly disturb the eco-system of the Lake. It will not only affect the breeding of fish but also disturbe the annual migratory birds that visit the lake,” said Rajen.

Rajen said that the project is also against the order passed by the Manipur High Court on August 7, banning new project or development programme in the Lake. Environmentalist Ram Wangkheirakpam also said the project was against the idea of conservation of the lake under the Ramsar Convention and it had also ignored the National and State Wetland rules.

Raising concerns against the project, fishermen said after enactment of the Loktak Protection Act in 2006, they were already facing many hardships[liii] as there were irregularities in paying compensation for phumdi clearance, ban was imposed on certain equipment used in fishing forcing them into poverty.

Trishna Mohanty, in his detailed report, explained the adverse impact[liv] of NHPC’s 105 MW hydropower project on the Loktak lake over the years. The report also shed light on rich cultural connection between the lake and people. “For Manipuris she is Loktak Lairembi (Goddess Loktak), and for the several thousands of fishermen who depend on her for their livelihood, she is ema (mother). And although she is the fountainhead of Manipuri culture, her own identity has been in a state of flux for decades.

Legend has it that Loktak was formed when gods wooed the valley’s people. The lake has witnessed the very idea of Manipur take shape. It was on its shores that the beloved Meitei folklore of princess Thoibi, Khamba & their timeless romance came to life. Poubi Lai, a mythical creature integral to the Meitei belief system, is believed to reside in the heart of the lake.” 

The locals’ minds are still fresh with the tragedy due to the consequences of the implementation of the project even after 37 years. Many people lost their precious agricultural lands and homes after the lake was flooded following the implementation of the hydro project. The fishing community of Karang claimed to have spotted a new kind of unknown aquatic insects[lv] around the island in the recent past besides experiencing rise of mosquito population.

In SANDRP’s Guest Blog Shripad Dharmadhikary and Ram Wangkheirakpam analyse and critique[lvi] the proposed Loktak Inland Waterways Improvement Project (LIWIP). They conclude that the project has not done any social or environmental impact assessment, its benefit cost ratio is unscientific and flawed and the project has not taken statutory clearances or held public hearings. Such a project with such direct implications should not go ahead without any of these. It also violates the High Court orders and Ramsar convention norms.

Tripura: Rudrasagar lake; siltation falling level affecting farmers

Rudrasagar Lake is also known as Twijilikma. It is located in Melaghar village area of Sipahijala district close to Gomti river. The 2.40 sq km area of the lake was given the Ramsar tag in November 2005. The lake is a natural sedimentation reservoir, receiving flow from three perennial streams namely, Noacherra, Durlavnaraya cherra and Kemtali cherra.

After settling the sediment from the received flow, clear water discharges into the river Gumati through a connective channel namely Kachigang. A palace known as Neermahal (Water Palace) is situated near the north-east bank of the lake. It was constructed by the then Tripura king Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur during 1935-38 as summer resort.

For years the lake has been suffering low water level[lvii] losing its attraction. At certain time of the year it used to look like a pond. Recently High Court of Tripura, in consultation with various authorities including Wetland Management Committee had ordered the government to maintain the water level in the lake at 11 meter.

28 Rudrasagar Lake

In November 2019 the situation around lake became tense following a dispute over the low water level of the lake depriving the local people of cultivating land within its vicinity. The residents also demanded the immediate release of water to facilitate them to cultivate on the banks of the lake and threatened to forcibly open the sluice gate.

As per report the water level in lake was supposed to be at 11 metre, but for many years, the authority had not cared for it and the level was generally at four feet. As a result, a large part of the bank of the lake where the locals used to cultivate paddy every year was remaining dry.

On November 19, 2019, demanding release of water from the lake and channel it into Gumati river, thousands of farmers from nearby 17 villages had sat on protest against[lviii] the government. In subsequent order the HC had ordered reduction in the stipulated water level from 11 meter to 10 meter. But the agitating farmers were demanding to further reduce it to less than 8 meter. The protest significantly moved the government into action.

The former Chief Engineer of the Water Resource Department Tapan Lodh had said that the Rudrasagar Wetland Development Committee (RWDC) headed by the Tripura Chief Secretary over past decades had remained casual about this vital issue leading to a serious situation. He also said that the RWDC should have conducted a study and taken suitable measures to protect and develop the hydrological, environmental and economic (livelihood) balance of the Rudrasagar Lake. Similarly protection of diverse flora and fauna and varied fishes of the water body was extremely vital, but nothing was done.

On February 12, 2020, the state HC directed[lix] the state government to breach the two earth filled roads[lx], which were constructed along Rudrasagar Lake –in Melaghar to stop access of the vehicles to Neermahal the water palace. The court mandated the compliance of the direction within next two weeks while asking the government to file a plan for restoring the original lake area up to a minimum of 240 ha and also undertake a de-silting of the lake.

Examining two separate reports filed by Wetland Authority of Tripura and Amicus Curiae Indrajit Chakraborty, the court also advised the government to undertake eco-restoration drive in the lake. The reports alleged that there were brick kilns operating in the actual lake area, which though had been closed down as per the orders of the Court, the area occupied by such brick kilns was not reclaimed and added back to lake area.

The court further observed that there were certain parts of the lake which are being cultivated through heavy machines causing serious damage to the site and course of three tributaries which are main source of water to the lake. Only one of three rivers was active and supplying water to the lake and rest two has dried up. If those are not cleaned before monsoon, the natural flow of water will be disturbed.

The Court asked the state government to clear the debris of the defunct brick kilns, piled up in and around the lake before onset of monsoon in June 2020. Such an important site cannot be allowed to fall in total decay on account of inaction of the authorities.

Summary All the three Ramsar wetland sites in north east India are under severe ecological threats and degradation. The Rudrasager in Tripura is suffering from siltation and falling water level affecting the farming community dependent on the lake. 

The situation of Deepor Beel and Loktak lake warrant immediate intervention. Despite repeated NGT orders, the Boragaon landfill site affecting the Deepor Beel has not been shifted. The alternative site selected at Chandrapur has now been shunned following public protests. The civic agency now plans to shift it to four sites around the city.

The water quality of the Deepor Beel has been contaminated with heavy metals, sewage and toxic industrial waste affecting aquatic life and fish diversity. The adjutant stork habitat and food habits have also been adversely altered. The lake area is shrinking due to encroachments, change in land use and growing urbanization. The fresh water flow into the wetland has significantly gone down. The Bharalu river in Guwahati is adding to pollution woes while the outlets connecting it to Brahmaputra river has been chocked & encroached upon.

The previous developmental works have disconnected the access of wildlife to the lake and also affected the fisherfolk livelihoods. Despite this new railway line is being built close to the Beel further slicing off its area and damaging the Ranipur forest reserve. The government again is proposing tourism projects for revenue generation without caring much about restoring wetland health. The culture practices of traditional fisherfolks are being systematically snatched away by the state government.

The damages of NHPC barrage and hydro project on Loktak lake eco-system and dependent communities continue to unfold. The state government and civic societies have of late been demanding the decommissioning of the barrage. Though the CM and governor had accepted the negative impacts and agreed on the demand, nothing effective has been done regarding this. On the contrary the NHPC is proposing more projects on the rivers connected with the wetland which would further jeopardize the lake’s remaining eco-system.

All the three wetlands of NE India with Ramsar tag has been facing these serious problems for many years now. So does the Ramsar tag help conservation of the wetlands? If yes, how does it help? We do not see any evidence of that in the context of Ramsar wetlands discussed here.

Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

Also see

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: North India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: West India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: East India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: South India

End Notes:

[i] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/GMC-to-shift-Deepor-Beel-dumping-site/articleshow/46667626.cms 

[ii] https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/rjydvnJokm3z2qpGunBJwM/Can-saving-a-wetland-become-an-election-issue-in-Assam.html

[iii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/Locals-angry-at-ban-on-fishing-at-Deepor-Beel/articleshow/50401789.cms

[iv] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ngt-notice-to-assam-on-garbage-dumping-on-wetland/article6529069.ece 

[v] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/Sec-144-around-Deepor-Beel-to-keep-away-unruly-picnickers/articleshow/56090581.cms 

[vi] https://thenewsmill.com/price-picnic-deepor-beel-20-greater-adjutant-stork-found-dead/ 

[vii] https://thewire.in/environment/adjutant-storks-garbage-deepor 

[viii] https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2017/03/17/guwahatis-smart-city-dreams-dependent-on-wetlands/ 

[ix] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/garbage-dump-near-deepor-beel-not-violating-laws-govt/articleshow/57846459.cms 


[xi] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/deepor-beel-falls-prey-to-picnickers/articleshow/62239448.cms 

[xii] https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/north-east/angling-in-deepor-banned-till-jan-31/cid/1438842

[xiii] https://www.sentinelassam.com/guwahati-city/threat-to-deepor-beels-existence-remains-unchanged/ 

[xiv] https://www.guwahatiplus.com/article-detail/gmc-dumping-ground-a-threat-to-deepor-beel 

[xv] https://nenow.in/north-east-news/assam/nf-railway-plans-tunnels-on-deepor-beel-stretch.html 

[xvi] https://www.sentinelassam.com/top-headlines/national-green-tribunal-asks-railway-authorities-to-free-elephant-corridor/ 

[xvii] https://www.eastmojo.com/documentary/2019/03/29/the-vanishing-storks-of-assam 

[xviii] http://theshillongtimes.com/2019/05/09/ngt-directs-railways-to-fix-timeframe-to-construct-tunnel-at-deepor-beel-area/ 

[xix] https://www.sentinelassam.com/guwahati-city/cm-sarbananda-sonowal-directs-survey-to-be-carried-out-in-deepor-beel/ 

[xx] https://www.guwahatiplus.com/article-detail/deepor-beel-residents-oppose-proposed-new-double-line-railway-track 

[xxi] https://www.sentinelassam.com/guwahati-city/protests-against-double-railway-tracks-at-deepor-beel/ 

[xxii] https://thewire.in/environment/life-in-the-garbage-heap 

[xxiii] https://www.guwahatiplus.com/article-detail/dump-yard-and-railway-line-leaves-hapless-deepor-beel-at-their-mercy 

[xxiv] https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/aug/22/ngt-directs-assam-government-to-declare-deepor-beel-as-an-eco-sensitive-zone-2022734.html 

[xxv] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/national-green-tribunal-seeks-eco-sensitive-zone-tag-for-assam-wetland-deepor-beel/article29226299.ece 

[xxvi] https://www.sentinelassam.com/top-headlines/declare-deepor-beel-sanctuary-eco-sensitive-zone-ngt/  

[xxvii] https://www.guwahatiplus.com/daily-news/gmc-to-relocate-boragaon-dumping-ground-to-chandrapur-locals-call-for-12-hour-bandh   

[xxviii] https://www.sentinelassam.com/top-headlines/clean-and-maintain-water-bodies-gauhati-high-court-tells-dispur/ 

[xxix] https://www.eastmojo.com/in-depth/2019/09/26/assam-and-dirty-flows-the-bharalu-through-the-heart-of-guwahati   

[xxx] https://india.mongabay.com/2019/11/study-maps-livelihoods-most-vulnerable-to-climate-change-in-guwahati/ 

[xxxi] https://www.newslivetv.com/guwahati/deepor-beel-witnesses-low-turnout-of-migratory-birds/ 

[xxxii] https://www.sentinelassam.com/editorial/will-government-protect-avian-migrants-to-assam/ 

[xxxiii] https://www.newslivetv.com/guwahati/locals-ready-for-community-fishing-in-deepor-beel-section-144-imposed/ 

[xxxiv] https://www.sentinelassam.com/guwahati-city/community-fishing-at-deepor-beel-begins/

[xxxv] https://www.guwahatiplus.com/daily-news/despite-ngt-order-gmc-not-to-shift-dumping-ground 

[xxxvi] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/conservationists-concerned-over-assams-shrinking-ramsar-site/article30724405.ece

[xxxvii] http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/entertainment-others/the-water-runs-deep-4507494/ 

[xxxviii] http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/floating-national-park-calls-help

[xxxix] http://www.thehindu.com/society/can-hope-float-loktaks-phumdis/article19276922.ece  

[xl] http://kanglaonline.com/2017/08/cm-biren-calls-for-review-of-loktak-project-removal-of-ithai-barrage-ne-floods-pm-announces-rs-2000-crore-relief/ 

[xli] https://cramanipur.wordpress.com/2017/09/04/cries-for-decommissioning-ithai-barrage-get-shriller/

[xlii] http://www.easternmirrornagaland.com/villagers-demand-government-remove-ithai-barrage-in-manipur/

[xliii] https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170921/jsp/northeast/story_174214.jsp 

[xliv] http://kanglaonline.com/2017/12/fallacies-of-66-mw-loktak-downstream-hep-project-in-manipur/  

[xlv] http://www.ifp.co.in/page/items/20746/20746-ithai-barrage-a-fatal-threat-to-natural-drainage-system-of-manipur-valley

[xlvi] http://kanglaonline.com/2017/12/cram-decries-the-proposed-loktak-downstream-hydroelectric-project/ 

[xlvii] http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.Press_Release.Press_Release_2018.World_Wetlands_Day_Decommission_Ithai_Barrage_20180203 

[xlviii] https://www.hindstantimes.com/editorials/why-the-new-report-on-wetlands-must-be-treated-as-a-red-flag/story-61UOcU0ZETuXzhRwipq4BI.html  

[xlix] https://nenow.in/north-east-news/manipur-climate-change-hits-hard-fishing-community-of-loktak-lake-island.html

[l] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/protest-against-proposed-bird-sanctuary-in-manipur/article26055282.ece 

[li] https://www.eastmojo.com/in-depth/2019/10/26/manipur-loktak-lake-gasping-for-breath-due-to-haphazard-planning   

[lii] https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/manipur/manipur-inland-waterways-project-will-destroy-loktak-lakes-biodiversity-says-fishing-community/   

[liii] http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=11..070220.feb20

[liv] https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/manipurs-loktak-lake-chokes-from-a-catastrophic-project-flagged-off-50-years-ago/article30759633.ece 

[lv] https://nenow.in/environment/manipur-loktak-lakes-divine-beauty-lost-forever.html

[lvi] https://sandrp.in/2020/03/01/critique-of-the-loktak-inland-waterways-improvement-project/

[lvii] https://www.sentinelassam.com/north-east-india-news/tripura-news/decreasing-water-level-of-rudra-sagar-causes-concern/

[lviii] https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/tripura-govt-in-a-fix-over-releasing-water-from-rudrasagar-lake/1672091

[lix] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/42990838/?type=print

[lx] http://www.uniindia.com/hc-directs-tripura-govt-to-undertake-eco-restoration-drive/east/news/1886122.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.