Environment & Water Resources depts, KHADC fail to prevent river pollution
SHILLONG, Sep 12: Since 2019 a team of concerned citizens have converged with a common concern to clean up a section of the Umkaliar river which flows into the Umkhrah. Working under the umbrella of Operation Clean-Up (OCU) the group decided to concentrate on cleaning this single section until they see results. Three years down the line the OCU is disillusioned at the lack of cooperation from the government (barring the East Khasi Hills deputy commissioner).
Week after week they return to see the same amount of garbage – tonnes of it collecting at the Umkaliar which then flows on to the Umkhrah. The Umkaliar is located under the new Dorbar Shnong of Urkaliar. The Umkaliar river is fed by streams that flow across many villages (Shnong) beginning from Lapalang, Nongrah, Rynjah, Umpling, Nongmensong and Wahkdait.
The team has been cleaning the Umkaliar river twice a month with a short gap during the pandemic. But even during that period they met for the clean-up programme after wearing protective gear including masks and gloves etc. Since 2022 they have started the regular clean-up.
The group comprises of Jiva Cares, Meghalaya Home Guards, Col Sishupal Security Company (CSSC), KC Secondary School, NGOs Shubham and MakeSomeoneSmile, Martin Luther Christian University, the Sikh Youth Organisation and other concerned individuals.
In 2021 members of the OCU had a meeting with Environment Minister James PK Sangma and explained to him the challenges they face in sustaining their efforts to clean the Umkaliar. They had hoped that the department would make some immediate intervention but were disillusioned by the lack of response. Sources close to the government also claim that there was a detailed project report on saving the Umkhrah lying with the Water Resources department but that project too has come a cropper.
Since the Umkaliar flows through several Shnongs the OCU members feels that a wire fencing or any appropriate mechanism be placed at the boundary between one Shnong and the next to trap garbage. This would also help to fix responsibility since each Shnong tends to blames the next one for the garbage flowing down the river. Invest India, an investment promotion and facilitation agency of the central government, has been trying to explore possibilities of bringing in such innovative mechanism to Meghalaya through its CSR wing.
Garbage that collects at the Umkaliar comprises tonnes of clothes (pants, jackets, blankets, saris shoes, sandals and what have you), plastic carry bags and packages. The river is also loaded with empty cement bags. An audit of the garbage would reveal that household garbage and debris from construction activities are all dumped into the river.
Week after week when the OCU return to clean the river they find the same amount of garbage with no attempt by the residents residing upstream to stop dumping their garbage into the river.
The OCU then appealed to East Khasi Hills Deputy Commissioner Isawanda Laloo who has been a supporting pillar and provided the team with assistance from the Shillong Municipal Board to cart the garbage to Marten and a JCB to help with lifting garbage from the river.
In response to the OCU plea, the deputy commissioner has called a joint meeting of the Rangbah Shnong of those villages through which the Umkaliar flows on September 13. The endeavour is look for cooperation and collaboration in preventing further dumping of garbage along the path of the Umkaliar river and for each Shnong to be responsible for policing their respective areas.
The OCU members feel that if the Shnongs work in tandem and the KHADC also lends its weight behind this initiative there is hope to revive the Umkaliar and subsequently the Umkhrah.
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