Flash Floods In Guwahati Are A Warning Sign That The City Is Heading Towards Doom

Posted by Kumar Deepak in Environment
August 18, 2017

The government and civilians of Guwahati have blood on their hands for the brutal and shameless killing of river Bharalu due to corrupt, blind and aberrant development in the city. The expanding population and mass immigration in Guwahati stems from depleting livelihoods and a lack of employment opportunities in Assam and the rest of the northeast Indian states. There is an additional risk and vulnerability of flash floods due to a moderate rainfall for six to seven hours.

Picture Credit: Moharana Choudhury

Guwahati is the gateway channel for the seven sisters of the northeast region of India. According to the 2011 census, the population has surpassed nine lakh. With a growing demographic, the city is struggling with congestion and an overload of generated waste. A booming real estate industry exists to design and construct houses for the middle-class urban inhabitants on the outskirts of the city, despite the fact that there is unplanned construction forming congested colonies without proper drainage channels. These new congested colonies are becoming so densely populated that they severely lack basic urban amenities.

Mass immigration is the major cause of the drastic demographic transition. Every year, the monsoon gives rise to urban flash floods. Natural and artificial drains are clogged and over-flooded after heavy rainfalls that overflow to cause floods and water-logging in the city. The under-capacity drainage and sewerage networks collapse under the load. 

Picture Credit: Moharana Choudhury
There has been continuous and intensifying destruction, degradation of hills, deforestation and depletion of biodiversity due to illegal, unplanned and unsustainable development ambitions of some powerful hands which have their own vested interest. This model of development causes flash floods after a heavy rainfall that flows downhill to the urban settlement and causes water-logging due to poorly structured municipal drainage network, leaving communities vulnerable. 

Unfortunately, the entire river system is becoming a dumping ground for municipal solid waste, industrial hazardous waste, urban medical waste, plastic trash and other forms of domestic garbage. This points to the ongoing inaction and failure of Guwahati Municipal Corporation in managing municipal solid waste and providing an advanced sewage network in the city. Illegal and unplanned construction around the river Bharalu is another cause for concern to prepare and mitigate and ultimately rejuvenate the river network.

Picture Credit: Moharana Choudhury

River Bharalu Restoration And Conservation Project

The Assam Pollution Control Board considered the seriousness of the restoration and conservation of river Bharalu. Environmental degradation to Bharalu caused due to the heavy influx of contaminated hazardous substances and dumping of waste is the major reason for urban flooding. Such heavy degradation of river Bharalu has not only caused depletion of biodiversity but has imposed serious health risks for the urban inhabitants. The sources of contamination have been traced to the discharge of untreated waste at several points, the flow of street contaminants, and the dumping of solid waste into the river and its banks.

The State Pollution Control Board in its detailed project report states that the river water is not potable for human use. The average Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) at its eight locations was estimated between 56 mg/l to 85 mg/l which is much higher than the National River Conservation Directorate. The Dissolved Oxygen (DO) level of the river water ranged from 2.2 mg/l to 3.7 mg/l, below the NRCD’s prescribed standard limit of 5mg/l.

A lack of civic amenities along the river is a reason for the river being abandoned by the public. The heavy siltation reduces the carrying capacities of the Bharalu and Bahini channels. The river restoration and conservation measures include waste water management, solid waste management, water augmentation, improvement of channel conveyance, development of waterfronts, provision of civil amenities alongside the river and community awareness programmes. Restoring and conserving the river ecosystem and its biodiversity is a part of promoting social and cultural dynamics to encourage tourism and enable a healthy environment to the urban inhabitants.

The overall approximate cost of the project is estimated to be over ₹298.424 crores with a budget of ₹7.868  crores to be spent on water augmentation to divert the regulated flow from Basistha to river Bahini. Desilting of rivers for conveyance would have a gross cost of ₹23.651 crores for the desiltation of Bahini, Bharalu and Dead Bharalu river channels.

Interception of waste water along the river Bharalu has an estimated gross cost of 11.580 crores. There is an approximate allocation of 179.661 crores on the decentralized sewage treatment plants along Bharalu. Solid waste management has an approximate gross cost of 6.978 crores for managing solid waste directly dumped into the river and its banks. Development of Borosola Beel was estimated an approximate cost of 16.194 crores. Education, civic awareness and capacity building together require an approximate cost of 4.043 crores. River monitoring and warning system need an approximate cost of 3.908 crores and finally, a project manager for setting up of the project management unit and operation as well as supporting project management consultancy to implement the project has an approximate cost of 26.623 crores.

The framework conservation of the river Bharalu addresses the institutional aspects, waste water management, solid waste management and riverfronts development separately. As far as institutional aspects are concerned, a fully functional river in Assam and a lake authority with a clear mandate ensured funding, and capacity to restore and conserve the key water bodies to prescribed environmental levels will look like the proposed project.

Solid waste management needs a two-phase operation. The first phase (2014-17) requires immediate action and the removal of solid waste from the channel and banks, installation of garbage collection points along the banks, transportation to dumping sites and public awareness campaigns to mitigate dumping waste into the river. The second phase is a long-term plan for 2020, which will ensure an advanced fully-operational solid waste management system in Guwahati city with the goal of a livable urban settlement free of undesirable solid waste.

Waste water management is an important part of this project. The river receives untreated sewage and septic tank effluents. The first phase (2014-17) requires immediate action to intercept waste water coming from Bharalu catchment area and treat discharged effluents from decentralised sewage treatment plants (STPs) under an integrated sewage master plan. Long-term phase (by 2025) will cover the implementation of the Guwahati city sewage and drainage project with a fully pipe-lined water supply network. With the goal of a clean river Bharalu to a standard environmental level. 

Picture Credit: Moharana Choudhury

The river ecosystem restoration plan has an immediate action phase (2014-17). To construct and develop riverfronts along the lower reaches of Bharalu walkways and greenways. Development of Borosola Beel with cleaning, retention and improved walkways is a part of this phase. The long term phase will cover further development of the entire river and a fully developed Borosola as a water recreation facility. This phase will encourage public, private and cultural groups to use the river front.

Installation Of Advanced Heavy Pumping Points

The installation of integrated and sustainable pumping stations with massive outlets of 5-6 ft in diameter are under-plan on the banks of river Bharalu at the following three points: west of RG Baruah Road, west of GS Road, and Bharalumukh. 

One pumping point should be installed in the Bahini River to pump out the water directly from the Bahini basin into the River Brahmaputra at Bonda. The pumped water will have to be drained into Brahmaputra through massive outlet pipes installed alongside the river Bharalu. The pumping station should be well managed by outsourced professionals who have expertise.

Though this project is in the pipeline, an estimated cost might have gone higher. The situation remains catastrophic. I think that the government and people have adapted to living in hell.

Restoration And Conservation of Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds And Other Natural Water Harvesting Structures

Wetlands, lakes, ponds and natural water harvesting structures mitigate floods. Deepor Beel and Silsako Beel need to be urgently addressed to make them free from encroachment and illegal construction. Rejuvenating the natural water sources and water harvesting would have to be restored and protected. Measures should be taken to raise community awareness of the economics of the ecosystem as a natural capital flow in mitigating the intensity of urban flood.

Recently, a similar situation in Srinagar due to heavy showers turned into flash floods leading to massive destruction. We have seen catastrophes in Mumbai, Hyderabad and even in Delhi. It is one of the biggest challenges; at a time when the government of India has made a fiscal allocation of ₹500 crores for building 100 smart cities. It’s time to reconsider the challenges of global climate change.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 5th Assessment Report expressed deep concern over the rising risk of climate change in urban areas.The report forecasted localised and heavy rainfall within a short span of time in South Asia. Therefore, we need to develop climate resilient disaster mitigation and preparedness measures to minimise the vulnerability of urban flooding. We need to build resilience and enable sustainable development to accelerate successful climate change prevention tactics globally.

The risks are amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in poor housing and exposed areas. Multilevel urban risk governance will build a sustainable plan for an inclusive urban environment. The state chief minister had set up a committee on July 17, 2014 after a prolonged duration of inaction to study the problem and remedial measures. Such committees are just a time healer to control civilian anger and anguish and they have nothing to do with addressing public grievances. Building an advanced drainage network with a sustainable waste management structure will make Guwahati, a city gateway of global tourism. 

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