Meghalaya Urban Affairs Minister Hamletson Dohling assured in the August House, during the Budget Session 2018-19 on April 16, 2018 that the government will examine the issues raised by the Opposition Members asking to stop direct discharge of sewage from households into the two major rivers in the city – Umkhrah and Umshyrpi – to prevent further pollution of their water bodies.
Dohling who is a former member of a Pressure Group before he turned Politician had spearheaded the expose of the undrinkable water being supplied and had also informed that Meghalaya Urban Development Authority (MUDA) had also conducted an on-spot inspection regarding the unauthorized construction all along the Umkhrah River with show cause notices to 18 persons directing them to dismantle the unauthorized construction immediately. The same was stayed by the Supreme Court and the matter is still pending adjudication in the Apex Court.
However, he also said that a total of 35 households in different locations including Macab Road, Demsieniong, Polo Demsieniong, were issued with notices for direct discharge of sewage and they have constructed sanitary toilets. Besides that a total of 69 hotels, 19 guest houses, 37 restaurants, 14 automobile servicing centre and 11 hospitals are operating in Shillong with valid consent Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs).
He was responding to the Congress leader and MLA from Nongthymmai Charles Pyngrope during the question hour. Others who participated in the discussion include Congress MLA Zenith Sangma, lone KHNAM MLA Adelbert Nongrum and NCP MLA Saleng A Sangma.
In the past, with equal passion, the general public has raised the cry for saving the Wah (river) Umkhrah and Umshyrpi in East Khasi Hills. Some time back in the past, Wah Umkhrah was a crystal clear river passing through the picturesque pine city of Shillong, where State’s first Padmashree awardee, Silverine Swer recalls herself as young girl swimming in it, while anglers recall fishing along the bank of the same river. Today the same river is the concern of as many as 19 social and civil organizations along with district administration, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and Defense authorities; all are putting efforts to sensitize the public for cleaning up the very same river that can be mistaken by any visitors to the city as drains.
Also former Union Minister for Water resources, Harish Rawat while accepting the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Rs 42.29 crore for the flood control and beautification of Wah Umkhrah and Wah Umshyrpi submitted by Member of Parliament (MP) Vincent H Pala along with Former General Administration Department Minister AL Hek was assured by the UPA government which had also expressed concern over this issue.
Meghalaya has been boasting of the Traditional Institutions, but the high rise building, including the Educational Institutions along the Wah Umkhrah and Wah Umshyrpi, yet another river- turned- drain, has narrowed down the rivers in the city, right under the nose of the respective Headmen and District Administration. How does one rectify such senseless attitude towards the environment is every one’s guess. The beautification project should also include the cost for knocking down such encroachment.
Urban Affairs Department, on the other hand, is involved in various litigations with the alleged encroachers along the bank of the river who claim to have been victimized by the authorities and various pressure groups. Let the final judgment come from the Judiciary, hopefully it will be binding too, not just political propaganda for gathering vote on sympathy grounds.
Earlier, the KHADC had earmarked about One Crores of rupees to clean up Wah Umkhrah within its jurisdiction, which is a welcome sign; but will one time cleaning change the scenario? It is sad to note that the habitants away from the river banks do not find it necessary for them to be part of cleaning programme or awareness. This section of the population confidently claims they are not responsible for the problem and blame it on the population dwelling along the river banks. Such blame game has divided the society; now all refuse to see that we are all sitting on a volcano when it comes to dumping all over the city.
The blame game had in fact contributed to the choking of the already shrunk rivers turned drains, yet no one claims to have contributed to such nuisance. Any garbage once out from one’s own compound is said to be the problem of the district administration. The concept of Wah Umkhrah and Wah Umshyrpi being the property of the government has been furiously abused while neither the public nor the government could prevent it under the present situation. It needs awakening call from the likeminded people who have the will power to prevent further abuse and create awareness for protection of natural resources and conserving our water bodies.
Otherwise, the said project of Rs 42.29 crore will also drown into the same river with no improvement; which would also necessitate an enquiry as to how the amount was spent. Besides, it is time to seek the detailed report of the conglomeration of as many as 18 to 19 associations forming a Task Force for clearing up the said rivers which has just evaporated along with the river flow.
MUDA while conducting inspection as mentioned by the Minister should conduct the checking during dry season, this time the early monsoon had already clean up both the rivers. The authority (MUDA) has shockingly closed its eyes to the unauthorised construction near the riverside’s, also the main road and bye-lane, where even in residential and commercial areas, the extension of shops are obstructing the flow of vehicles, causing risks to the pedestrian particularly the students, as such stalls keeps mushrooming in the vicinity of educational institutions. The authority should conduct similar inspection during school hours.
Another concern is the most unhygienic form of waste disposal of waste by Municipality Board in the city, allowing the garbage to be exposed openly not only to mosquitoes and flies but to the stray dogs too. In most cases, ‘dustbins’ of this kind are located near to educational institutions and some are even found near hospitals or public places.
The trucks collecting the waste normally set fire to the collection at night after being transported to the dumping yard during the day. Yes, the collection is being done during broad day light. As the young children are on their way to schools, the authority concerned never reverted back the timing of collection since 1991. During the then curfew bound state due to Law and Order breakdown, garbage collection was done in the morning hours instead of night. It is time for the authority to resume late night collection to prevent the advent of vector-borne diseases.
Such problems are not confined to the state capital alone as almost all the districts are facing similar problems. The recent ban on unscientific rat hole mining is also indicative of the abuse of the environment. The National Green Tribunal can actually suggest that all such garbage can be utilized to restore mining area by refilling the earth after extracting the coal. This will also ease the pressure on the dumping ground in the open. Marten too can be turned into an open space for the public, like the Hanging Garden in Mumbai. All it takes is a simple political will to be more innovative in solving the chaotic management of dumping waste on a daily basis while at the same time restoring the environment with the assistance of UNGA resolution on disaster reduction, endorsing the Sendai Declaration and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030.
Hence, the authority should not just confine itself to rivers, but needs to ensure all round surveillance on pollution and controlling this in the most scientific manner.