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Activist moves tribunal to save rivers

File picture of the Umkrah river in Shillong

Shillong, Aug. 3: A petition has been filed before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to reclaim and protect two highly polluted and endangered rivers, Umkhrah and Umshyrpi, in the heart of the state capital.

Environmentalist Naba Bhattacharjee filed the petition before the tribunal’s eastern circuit bench on Friday.

Bhattacharjee wanted the tribunal to direct the Meghalaya government, including the Shillong Municipal Board, Meghalaya Urban Development Authority (MUDA), Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and others, for immediate intervention to formulate a time-bound action plan for reclamation and protection of the rivers.

The Umkhrah and the Umshyrpi are inextricably related as the confluence of the two rivers form the Ro-Ro river in the northwest of the town before emptying into the Umiam river which is the main source of the Umiam lake.

Umkhrah and Umshyrpi originate from Shillong Peak.

“Discharge of the two rivers into Umiam lake also poses a threat to the reservoir of Umiam hydel project and they need immediate attention to reverse the process of total annihilation,” Bhattacharjee said.

He added that the Umkhrah and Umshyrpi are intricately linked with the rich Khasi culture and tradition.

“Denigration of both streams have taken place over the last few decades because of unregulated and rampant dumping of solid waste, direct discharge of sewage and sullage, haphazard construction on banks of both the rivers and a host of other anthropogenic factors impinging on both the river systems rendering them endangered,” Bhattacharjee added.

The petition also drew attention to the Environment Protection Act 1986, which provides adequate provisions for notifying a state regulatory authority for conservation of water sources, including rivers and waterbodies.

The National River Conservation Plan is a flagship scheme of the Union ministry of environment and forests for abatement of pollution and conservation of rivers in the country, Bhattacharjee said.

He said the state government should immediately review and implement the now dormant Meghalaya Protection of Catchment Areas Act, 1990 and Rules 1996, according to present circumstances to save the catchments of Shillong in particular and the state in general, including the watersheds.

The catchments are also in danger which has led to severe water crisis in Shillong, Bhattacharjee added. The petition will be heard on October 7 in Shillong.

Earlier, a research by the Central Pollution Control Board confirmed that Umkhrah and Umshyrpi are contaminated with sewage.

According to the Meghalaya State Development Report, 2008, the Umiam reservoir was constructed in 1965.

The report also stated that over the years, the pace of development in the catchment area of the upstream of the reservoir had led to considerable silt-load in the reservoir.