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Umiam Lake under assault by garbage from Shillong

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SHILLONG, June 9: From a vantage point where hundreds of tourists capture unforgettable memories, the Umiam Lake appears serene and breathtakingly picturesque. However, as one draws closer to the lake at Mawlyndep, the garbage deposited by the rivers Umkhrah and Umshyrpi accumulates around the Umiam Lake. After heavy showers, when the lake fills to the brim, it belches out the garbage, which is then deposited along the banks. The garbage includes clothes, tons of thermocol discarded by fish vendors, hundreds of shoes and slippers, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) containers for junk food sold in every shop on Sunday.
On June 5, World Environment Day, the Meghalaya Institute of Governance collaborated with Operation Clean-Up, the Union Christian College, and the Dorbar Shnong of Mawlyndep, led by Rangbah Shnong Gino Karbuki, along with the residents of the area, to clean up different sections of the Umiam Lake.
The challenge that Mawlyndep faces is that it cannot dump its garbage at Marten and lacks a scientifically managed garbage dump. All the garbage collected on June 5 has been temporarily stored in one location. The Dorbar Shnong must devise a plan to dispose of it, which can only be done by incinerating all non-biodegradable waste. Alternatively, the Shnong could dig a deep hole and dump all the garbage into it. However, both options are unsustainable and harmful to the environment.
Addressing those who had gathered to clean the Umiam Lake on June 5, the Rangbah Shnong Mawlyndep, who has been consistently encouraging the residents to clean the lake, expressed concern about the government’s apparent indifference to the problems faced by the people of Mawlyndep, a village where many rely on fishing for their livelihood. Kharbuki said that if the garbage flowing all the way from Shillong ends up at the Umiam Lake, then a time will come when the water will be too polluted to support riverine life. What happens to livelihoods then, Kharbuki asks.
Director, Meghalaya Institute of Governance (MIG), Aiban Swer, who was there with his team from the MIG, said, “We need to have a holistic view of this situation and create a trap for the garbage so that it can be collected and disposed of. At the same time, the garbage from Shillong and elsewhere has to be stopped in its tracks through better garbage management strategies upstream.” Swer lamented the apathy of the residents of Shillong who don’t care about the fate of their rivers and their one and only Umiam Lake that generates electricity. He also pointed out that the Umiam Lake is now heavily silted with the garbage that has settled inside the lake, thereby reducing its depth considerably.
The MIG has been giving its attention to the Umiam Lake fiasco and has been cleaning the lake from time to time, but to no avail. The garbage continues to litter the sides of the lake, giving it not only an unsightly appearance but also polluting its waters.
On June 5, students and other young volunteers from Operation Clean-Up, including Jiva Cares, Shubham, and concerned individuals, took a pledge to reduce the amount of garbage generated per day. They committed to carrying a cloth bag in their handbags and rucksacks and refusing to accept plastic bags from vendors. Additionally, they vowed to use reusable materials as much as possible. These small measures have the potential to make a significant difference. Furthermore, they pledged to be responsible citizens by refraining from littering and preventing others from doing so.
While speaking to this correspondent during the cleaning drive, the young participants expressed their concerns. They stated, “The government has a duty to focus on the rivers and lakes of the state. We fail to comprehend why the government repeatedly fails to ban single-use plastics, despite the availability of alternatives such as cloth bags in most departmental stores. We are saddened and angered because our future is being jeopardised.”
The students also felt that World Environment Day (June 5) has become merely symbolic, and people tend to forget about environmental issues afterward. They emphasized, “Every day should be considered World Environment Day. The trees we plant today require nurturing to reach their full potential.”
On June 5, silver pines were also planted in and around Mawlyndep by those involved in cleaning Umiam Lake.

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