Saving Shillong’s Rivers  

The unprecedented heavy rains this summer lasted longer than usual and resulted in major flash-floods in the low lying areas of Pynthor-Umkhrah. One of the reasons for the floods is also because Meghalaya has no Land Use Policy and the swamp areas that earlier were used for rice cultivation have now turned into residential and commercial areas even while the Umkhrah river has been encroached without any questioning. Many attempts have been made by different groups to clean the two major rivers flowing through the city of Shillong – the Umkhrah and Unshyrpi but such efforts have not been sustained due to lack of resources.

In 2013 the Water Resources Department had prepared a detailed project report (DPR) of Rs 42 crore which was later revised to Rs 50 crore. The project is named ‘Flood Control on Flash Floods Along the Banks of Umkhrah and Umshyrpi Rivers,’ which includes installation of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs). These STPs are of two sizes – the smaller one for a few households costing Rs 3.5 lakh while the bigger STPs for about 300-400 households would cost Rs 15-16 lakh. This DPR was moving around until 2017 after which it suddenly lost traction and no one knows if the money for the project from the Central Water Resources Department has come here and been utilized or whether it has been shelved.

In the interim the Districts Councils too had jumped into the fray and stated that the rivers are under their jurisdiction and therefore they would take on the cleaning of these rivers. But that too remained a short-lived idea since the Councils have no steady resources. Hence the rivers remain orphaned with only intermittent efforts being made to save them. Meanwhile these rivers are used as dumping grounds. Their tributaries flowing through different localities falling under different Dorbar Shnong are also treated as garbage carriers. The rivers have both been encroached upon and used for sewage disposal. Earlier efforts by the Urban Affairs Department and the Shillong Municipality to compel all those living along the rivers to construct proper latrines and stop the flow of sewage into the rivers remain non-compliant. It is evident that a multi-pronged effort to clean the rivers is a much needed endeavour. The Dorbar Shnong being the main stakeholders should be taken on board and different groups that have taken it upon themselves to do the regular clean-up need to become partner stakeholders too. This is the first time that different groups such as the Team Jiva and Greentech Foundation are taking on the task of cleaning up Shillong on a daily basis with rare responsibility. This is the right time for the Government to revive the above project before a calamity in the form of a major flood hits the low lying areas of Shillong.

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