By Robin Kalita – IRTS (retd)

Guwahati is the biggest city of Assam and also the largest metropolis in the whole of Northeastern India. A major riverine city surrounded by Nilachal hills, and one of the fastest growing cities in India, Guwahati is also called the ‘’Gateway to North East India’’. Earlier known as Pragjyotishpura it has many ancient temples including the famous Kamakhya Temple giving it the title of “The City of Temples”.

But the Bharalu River, a tributary of Brahmaputra which originates in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya flows through the heart of Guwahati city and main source of livelihood has earned the dubious distinction of one of the most polluted rivers in India. The reasons are many but the main one is the disposal of all waste.

Basically a rain-fed river it carries a large volume of Guwahati city’s municipal wastes. Bharalu serves as the natural drainage of the city and the river carries sewage & wastage from markets, commercial establishments, hotels, restaurants, schools etc. Parties to this decimation have been the vegetable & fish markets, the hotels & restaurants and the insensitive, callous and apathetic citizens who throw household garbage into the river without batting an eyelid. Many inhabitants have even directed their sewage outlet pipes on to the Bharalu thereby little realizing that the serious health hazard caused by their action will backfire on themselves and the city dwellers as a whole one day.

The net result now is that the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of the river is 52 mg/L compared to the permissible limit set by the National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) at 3 mg/L. The obnoxious stink generated by the river is also a health hazard for the residents of the burgeoning City. Once upon a time, Bharalu provided potable water to the people living on its banks. It was also a source of a plethora of fish and other aquatic flora and fauna. The river is now so heavily polluted that a catastrophic disaster is imminent unless rehabilitation measures are initiated on an emergent measure as per experts.

But the solution does not lie only with corrective action by the Environmental organizations and Government Authorities; it calls for whole hearted indulgence of the Civil Society and the Denizens. Rotary Club of Gauhati South has taken a lead on this vital issue. In May 2021, it had launched an ambitious project on Environment and embarked upon engaging all stake holders in a challenging task of contributing towards reviving the river Bharalu from its present pitiable condition and rejuvenating it into its original form of a vibrant river. The Rotary project now christened “MISSION BHARALU “has launched awareness campaign in the print and electronic media. The Guwahati Municipal Corporation, the GMDA, and several other Government departments like Water Resources and Pollution Controlwho were already seized of the issue, had to be made stakeholders for working together in their various capabilities and responsibilities, to take forward the mission objectives.

In an attempt to kick start the project, a plan of action was drawn out for the short term and long term basis. The aim is creating mass awareness and an action plan to bring back life to the river. The plan include strengthening the Garbage Collection system/activity of GMC from localities and removing make shift markets from the banks of the rivers.

It also plans to set up Sewage Treatment Plants at vantage locations along the rivers, where adequate space is available even today and also at the end of the river at Bharalumukh where clean water can be discharged into the Brahmaputra. It also includes building guard walls on the banks of the rivers and arranges Aerators at different places for generating oxygen into the river.

The quality of life in a city is indicated to a great extent by the cleanliness of its inhabitants. The river Bharalu, a freely flowing clean river of the yesteryears, has been converted into a drain– and one of the dirtiest in the country – by inhabitants along its banks.

An International seminar on REJUVENATION OF BHARALU RIVER was held on 7th May. Inaugurated by Vice Chancellor of USTM University and attended & participated by a large number of experts, professors of universities & colleges including University of North Dakota USA, Curtin University, Australia, IIT Kharagpur, Chairman Pollution Control Board, Commissioner & Jt Commissioner Guwahati Municipal Corporation and many others. A report on the deliberations is being presented to Government of Assam. In addition, a Section 8 company is being envisaged for taking the project forward to the corporate sector. Meanwhile, meetings have been held with GDD and Forest Ministers and an action plan has been submitted to them.

It is a wake-up call for the Denizens of the city, particularly the Intelligentsia, Academia, Domain Experts and of course the Bureaucrats & Political Leadership to take up the issue of revival of the Bharalu to its original status of a clean and perennial river, before it is too late.“Mission Bharalu” is optimistic that this can happen and some day Bharalu will be a Tourism Destination with small boats traversing its length with tourists queuing up for a ride like any other river side cities.