Saturday, July 20, 2024

Workshop draws up plans for cleanliness of Umiam Lake


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SHILLONG, June 23: Meghalaya Institute of Governance (MIG), in collaboration with the Union Christian College (UCC) and Operation Clean-Up, organised a consultative workshop at the UCC campus on Saturday to discuss a clean-up programme for the Umiam lake. The purpose of the consultation was to find a permanent solution to the recurring problem of garbage carried by the rivers of Shillong landing up at the Umiam lake. This has been happening for years now with villages around the lake having to clean up the mess.
Aiban Swer, Director of MIG who along with his team has been involved in cleaning up the lake with UCC, stated that this time the MIG is looking at long-term solutions and initiatives that are doable. That can only happen with the collaboration and unity of all the seven villages surrounding the lake.
Seven villages encircling the Umiam lake have decided that enough is enough as far as picking up garbage from the lake is concerned.
“We have done enough all these years and have been cleaning the lake regularly but to no avail. In 1997 there was even a situation where all the fish died and were strewn across the surface of the lake. Now we will demand that the government puts in place a functional waste management system in the villages. The Shillong Municipal Board (SMB) should be penalised for the criminal act of being blind to the fact that garbage from the Shillong rivers continues to be emptied in the Umiam lake,” said a visibly agitated, Jinu Kharbuki, Rangbah Shnong of Mawlyndep.
The seven villages comprise Umiam, Umsaw Khwan, Umniuh Khwan, Umbir, Mawlyndep, Mawdun, and Nongpathaw. What was interesting and proved to be a truly participatory consultation was the presence of women self-help group leaders from all the seven villages.
The leader of a Village Organisation (VO), Phulmillian Majaw of Nangiaisan, Umsaw Khwan, expressed dismay that during the cleaning up of the Umiam lake the group came across hundreds of used syringes. “We collected a sack full of syringes which we think could be dangerous as they could infect those who were cleaning up the lake regularly with their bare hands. Where are the syringes coming from? Are they from hospitals?” she asked.
The Rangbah Shnong in unison felt that the three top polluters are single-use plastics, use and throw plates and cutlery and the Styrofoam pieces from boxes used to transport fish to Shillong.
They also complained that motor vehicle workshops are also draining all the oil and other chemicals into the rivers which finally lands at the Umiam lake. They felt that it is high time the government strictly implements the much talked about ban on single-use plastics and promote cloth bags which can provide livelihoods for many.
Amongst those who attended the stakeholders’ meet were also the hoteliers around the lake. A representative of Ri Kynjai resort, who was formerly in Sikkim said, “If Sikkim can strictly enforce the ban on single-use plastics why is Meghalaya unable to do so? At Ri Kynjai we train our staff to be extra careful about not allowing any littering around the hotel campus and we carry our garbage to Marten twice a week.”
Amesha Lyndem, a lecturer at UCC and coordinator of the stakeholders’ meet, was emphatic that even while the students regularly clean the lake area there is need for a final solution to the garbage mess which must be addressed by the government.
Bhanu Suri, who represented IIM Shillong, expressed enthusiasm to be part of the entire process of helping to solve the problem of Umiam lake which was the vantage point that attracts tourists on their way to Shillong.
“Umiam lake is a jewel in the crown of Shillong. How can we watch with indifference at the beauty of the lake which is assaulted by unruly citizens who dump their garbage in rivers? I come from Mumbai where any plastic below 50 microns thickness is banned and ruthlessly implemented. Meghalaya too should do this,” remarked the IIM representative.
Swer proposed that a joint action committee comprising all the seven villages should form the Umiam Lake Development Society and work in tandem to ensure that all necessary action is taken to prevent any further onslaught on the lake.
Damon Lyndem, adviser of the Mawlyndep Dorbar and influencer, suggested that a check dam be constructed at the mouth of the Umiam to prevent further degrading of the lake.
“Umiam lake provides livelihoods to several households and this should be kept in mind. Further degradation of the lake will affect the livelihoods of people downstream,” Lyndem said.
Jiwat Vaswani, Vice Chairman of Operation Clean-Up, urged those present at the meet to teach their young ones about the need to conserve the beautiful lake which is a tourist’ delight.
“Our parents left behind a clean environment which we inherited but the rate at which my generation is polluting this earth, especially its rivers will make life unsustainable for the next generation. We really ought to think seriously on this,” Vaswani said.
After the three-hour long brainstorming meeting, the Rangbah Shnong and other elders of the village and the village organisation members all planted fruit trees around the UCC campus. The trees were donated by Jiva Cares.


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