Located to the south-west of Guwahati city in Assam, Deepar beel is a Ramsar Site and wetland as per the Ramsar Convention.
Besides being a Ramsar site, Deepor Beel is also a Wildlife Sanctuary protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and an important International Bird Area Site as identified by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Birdlife International since 2003.
However, the wetland is reeling under the threat of contamination, leading to a degrading ecosystem and deteriorating habitat. The dimensions of unlimited anthropogenic activities are multiple. However, one of the most prominent among them is municipal waste accumulation including Plastic waste build-up.
It happens to be a matter of grave concern that the internationally significant Ramsar Site is gasping for breath due to human interventions, flouting of crucially sensitive environmental norms and nuances, especially when it comes to plastic waste accrual.
The irretrievable damage of the priceless environmental resources has endangered biodiversity, broken ecological chains, changed terrain geography, affected local livelihood, conflicted with the indigenous way of life and overall posed a question over the efficacy of domestic laws, institutions and practices in adhering to Ramsar norms.
A Pilot Study (interview with local environmental activist Sri Pramod Kalita and environmental scientist Dr. Narayan Sharma) has revealed that water contamination in the Beel has reached unprecedented levels due to various reasons including draining of filth and effluents from Mora Bharalu, Bahini and Basistha through Pamohi channel, leaching of toxic water from garbage dumping yard in Boragaon and accumulation of huge chunks of thermocol and plastic waste from Beharbari fish market.
It may be mentioned that Guwahati city alone produces 550 tonnes of solid waste per day and all of these are dumped at the Boragoan waste dumping site on a daily basis. What is more alarming is the fact that this waste is dumped without segregation at the source, as a result of which plastic waste is not separated from municipal waste.
This in turn has rendered the concept of the sewage treatment plant futile, as sewage cannot be treated if not segregated at source. The end result is adjutant strokes (death of strokes and migratory birds due to toxic consumption has been constantly reported from Deepor Beel site) and rag-pickers sharing foraging spaces in the heaps of unsegregated and untreated solid waste with noxious stink infusing into the air and toxic content permeating into the water body.
A more dangerous ramification can be gauged in the form of its impact on the indigenous ways of livelihood, including fishing and cultivation. For instance, Rabi Cultivation (Cultivation of ‘Bao Dhan’) along with other forms of vegetation in the area has been impacted due to increased toxicity and heavy metal content in the water body
RTI activist Rohit Choudhury has multiple times, voiced concerns about the aforesaid issue, and in response to the same, the Assam government has ensured the NGT, that continued endeavours are being made to shift the municipal dumping site from West Boragaon to some other sites.
The NGT had directed the shifting of garbage dumps by December 31, 2019. However the Government has also informed of constraints faced by the administration, as attempts to shift the waste dumping site to Chandrapur, Udalbakra or Sonapur were either countered with heavy criticism from local residents and various community student organizations or had geological constraints.
In the wake of such difficult discourses, it is very important to introspect and retrospect into the situation on the ground with special attention to what it is and what it ought to be. Among various reasons responsible for the dilapidated states of affairs, the locals have pointed out fragmented approaches of various stakeholders (multiple ministries and government departments) and the problem of overriding jurisdictions of various legal institutions.
Lack of stringent and targeted parent legislation for execution of Ramsar Convention, lacunae in the existing laws, non-participation of Local Bodies or NGOs in policy formulation process, absence of penal sanctions against rule violators are various legal gaps pointed out by activists, experts and critiques . Prevailing laws are also ineffective as most of the legal regimes only indirectly touch wetland protection or for that matter Ramsar Site protection.
The effective management of solid waste in general and plastic waste in specific, therefore require a thorough appraisal of the existing laws, institutions, and practices including the status of real-time government interventions, public awareness and participation and field execution of policies, technicalities and promises.
In a nut-shell, phase-wise administrative intervention at a war footing in the form of expediting the hunt for alternative dumpsite, segregating waste at source, deviating plastic and thermocol routing into Deepor Beel from various channels, and restoring the already contaminated water and soil quality through holistic scientific operation is the clarion call of the hour. All said and done, the government needs to aspire, for the other stakeholders to collectively conspire.