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Smart City in the making, Guwahati finds no easy answers to flooding

Geography, absence of a sewerage system and recent encroachment leave Guwahati vulnerable.

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Guwahati |
Updated: July 12, 2016 7:25:33 am
guwahati, smart city, smart city list, guwahati smart city, guwahati water logging, guwahati sewage system,Brahmaputra , guwahati rains, guwahati drainage system, guwahati flooding, water logging in guwahati, adrf, sdrf, indian express news, india news A rickshawpuller takes extra help while ferrying a resident of Anil Nagar, Guwahati . (Express Photo by Dasarath Deka)

FOR NEARLY a week now, at least two localities in Guwahati, Anil Nagar and Nabin Nagar, have been almost entirely submerged — not by the waters of the Brahmaputra but because of artificial flooding caused by heavy rains and complicated further by a poor drainage system.

Residents of the two localities are being provided food and drinking water by the authorities while the NDRF and SDRF are using boats to rescue and transport them. In many other localities, residents are suffering flash floods and waterlogging, something not heard of in Guwahati say 25 years ago.

Guwahati, said to be the country’s second oldest continuously inhabited city, and described in the national Act East Policy as India’s Gateway to Southeast Asia as well as Southeast Asia’s Gateway to India, has been selected as one of the 100 Smart Cities being developed. Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority’s vision statement, which describes the city as one of the most admired state capitals of India, envisages 24×7 drinking water, a proper stormwater drainage system, a modern and scientific sewerage system and improved public transport and traffic infrastructure.

The fact is that only 25% of Guwahati’s residents get piped drinking water, while no organised sewerage system exists.

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With the PWD and the municipal corporation raising the levels of roads almost every year, thousands of houses have been left at a lower level. Many of the city’s tin-roofed single-storey houses, called Assam-type, have become unusable, as have the ground floors of hundreds of double or multi-storey buildings. In the absence of any sewerage system, residents’ headaches multiply when septic tanks too get submerged in flash floods. And when the waters recede, it brings skin disease, fever, jaundice and various other water-borne diseases.

“Guwahati is a bowl-shaped city where water stagnation is a natural phenomenon. Rains bring down a lot of silt from the hills, which in turn quickly fills up the city’s drains. Dumping polythene bags in drains is also a major reason for the choking of drains. We need both short-term and long-term measures to tackle this problem,” admits state chief secretary V K Pipersenia.

“While Guwahati has been blessed by nature with a number of hills and beautiful wetlands, there has been massive encroachment on the hills and wetlands, thus leading to floods at the slightest shower,” said conservationist Nandita Hazarika in a presentation at Exercise Jalrahat, the first national exercise on urban floods organised by the Army recently after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had unveiled the National Disaster Management Plan on June 1.

A study by Columbia University’s Earth Institute two years ago had identified the absence of a clearly laid-out drainage system as one of the major reasons behind urban floods in Guwahati, in addition to encroachment of the hills and wetlands. “Drains in Guwahati have been built by different agencies. Thus maintenance too is also vested with different agencies,” Hazarika said.

Legislation aimed at tackling the problem — Assam Hill Land and Ecological Sites (Protection and Management) Act of 2006 and Guwahati Water-bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act of 2008 — remain only on paper. The 2006 Act blames destruction of hill land for heavy erosion, landslides and soil movement with rainwater, while the 2008 one says all this has been caused by encroachment and aggravated the problem of artificial floods. Nearly a decade later, not one significant eviction drive has been carried out under these Acts.

The government has often admitted that over 80 per cent of the 19 hills in the city have been encroached, and some portion of land even regularised by influential people. The area of the water-body Deeper Beel, the Northeast’s only Ramsar Site, has shrunk from about 42 sq km to less than a fourth, just about 10 sq km, while the Barsola, Sarusola and Silsako beels too have shrunk rapidly in recent years.

Encroachment by a large number of private individuals is one thing; the state government too has allotted land to many public and private institutions and firms in the wetlands. A youth hostel, for instance, was constructed on the Barsola Beel in the 1980s, while the government allotted land to Bhupen Hazarika, Assam Tennis Association, Asam Sahitya Sabha, Ginger Hotel, OKD Institute of Social Change and many other institutions on the Silsako Beel.

Hundreds of industries, warehouses and multi-storey apartment buildings, meanwhile, have wiped out the most part of Deeper Beel.

Meanwhile, the government has proposed expansion of Guwahati’s metropolitan area from the existing 328 sq km to about 3,471 sq km. This envisages inclusion of over 1,000 villages and 30 urban centres spread over 15 revenue circles in six districts — Kamrup (Metro), Kamrup, South Kamrup, Nalbari, Darrang and Morigaon. A Metro railway too has been proposed.

There is very little mention of how to reduce Guwahati’s annual flooding.

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