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Mon, 10 Dec 2018

Northeast Today

Son Beel: Struggling for Survival

Son Beel: Struggling for Survival
December 13
14:13 2017

November Edition, Special Story, NET Bureau, Sayantani Deb

At a time when Sarbananda Sonowal led Assam government is mulling to promote the water tourism of the state by organising river festivals like Namami Brahmaputra and Namami Barak, Son Beel — Assam’s largest wetland is crying for attention. Northeast Today reports

52-year-old Pankaj Paul, a boatman by profession and singer by passion, dreams to entertain people with songs like, ‘Yeh Chand sa Roshan Chehera’ ‘O Maajhi Re’, while riding the boat over beautiful Son Beel. The quinquagenarian believes his wish will get fulfilled someday and the concerned authority would listen to his plea and will take steps to promote Son Beel as a tourist destination.

“Since my childhood I wanted to become singer but due to lack of opportunity I ended up being a boatman. Even after becoming boatman I dream to entertain people with my songs and make their boat rides memorable,” said Paul, adding, “Even though it may take some more years from now, but I believe that one day my dream will be fulfilled.”

“Son Beel is not only the largest wetland of Assam and Northeast, but it is India’s largest wetland. If it is developed properly then it can become one of the most famous tourist destinations of the country,” he stated.

While interacting with Northeast Today, Nirmal Kanti Das, a business man and member of the Son Beel Fishermen Cooperative Society, said, “Due to utter negligence from both the previous Congress government and the present BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government, Son Beel in a way is still alien to the rest of the country.”

“In 2014, during the election campaign of Lok Sabha polls, former union minister and the current Guwahati LS MP Bijoya Chakraborty assured to develop Son Beel. Even during the last Assam assembly elections, the current state tourism minister Himanta Biswa Sarma promised for a special package.

Unfortunately till date nothing has been done in this regard,” he informed.

Regarding the socio-economic condition of the area, he said, “Most of the people residing in and around Son Beel come from financially backward class. Due to lack of tourist inflow, the boatmen and fishermen earn a mere amount of Rs 100 to Rs 200 per day.”

During the monsoons, due to the inundating water it becomes difficult for them to work in the wetland and as a result they mostly remain unemployed for minimum five or six months. Besides, from some last few years devastating flood has made a number of villagers homeless.

“During monsoon most of the villages around Son Beel remain under water and we have to take shelter either at Son Beel Kalibari Subhas High School or Netaji Nagar High School,” shared Ramu Das, a resident Pasteki Arjunagar village, adding, “Since the past 4-5 years, taking temporary shelters in relief camps have become a part of our life. Every year we have to take shelter in relief camps for a minimum of 1 month.”

It may be mentioned here that the Pasteki Arjunagar village under Gamaria GP is the poorest of all the villages and in 2017 two children of this village died in flood.

“Flood forces many of the villagers to shift their original occupations. During flood most of us either go to Hailakandi or Karimganj to work as daily wage labourers,” Das said while speaking about the sorry state of affair that they go through during floods. It is estimated that every year crops worth around Rs 2-3 crore are destroyed in the floods.

Divulging more facts and information, Akhil Ranjan Talukdar, secretary of Karimganj Congress Zila Parishad said, “For developing Son Beel, it is very essential to divide it under three heads – agriculture, tourism, and fishery- because the place has tremendous potential in agriculture, fishery and tourism sector. In Son Beel, through proper planning and excavation, various types of fishes could be farmed. Besides, there is also an immense potential for rigorous agriculture in the area around Son Beel.”

“Monsoon is the best time to visit Son Beel. However, due to severe flood tourists’ inflow is gradually decreasing. Thus, a proper step to control flood will be beneficial for the place,” he added.

Suggesting a measure to mitigate flood, Talukdar said, “If a sluice gate is constructed at Kachua then it can save around crops valuing around Rs 2 crore.”

Talukdar informed that in foreign countries and even in some parts of India, expert verification is done for conserving wetlands, lakes etc. However, unfortunately till date nothing such has happened in Son Beel.

“Most of the people living near Son Beel are fishermen and hence with the promotion of fishery sector, many poor fishermen will be benefitted. Similarly, agricultural development will help farmers and tourism will promote trade and commerce of the area,” he explained.

Comparing Son Beel’s tourism potential with that of the Dal Lake and the Chilka Lake, he said, “Son Beel consists of 24 beels, which if examined in a scientific way could be used for various purposes. In every beel we can build park, boat house, restaurants etc., which will definitely boost the tourism sector of the state.”

Another resident of Son Beel, and a college principal Surojit Das said, “Here we often see people killing smaller fish, which is effecting the fish production of the area. Fish production in Son Beel is decreasing with every passing year and this is greatly affecting the economic condition of the fishermen. But unfortunately, regarding this no concrete steps have been taken by government.”

Further getting candid with Northeast Today, Das slammed government for constructing guest houses far away from Son Beel.

“The government guest house has been constructed in Ramkrishna Nagar and the place is quite far from Son Beel. Night view of Son Beel is beautiful thus with the construction of guest houses in near-by villages instead of Ramkrishna Nagar will help the tourist to enjoy the night view of this beautiful wetland. Besides, it will also provide an income opportunity to the locals.”

Das believes that the economic condition of the people could be improved by constructing a bridge between Son Beel and Ratabeel.

“During floods, people become homeless and their crops also get destroyed. Thus, with the construction of a bridge between Son Beel and Ratabeel would help in tackling floods.”

Vehemently criticizing Assam government for initially not including Son Beel in the celebration of Namami Barak, Das said,“Son Beel is the pride of the entire state. Thus, exclusion of Son Beel in the celebration of Namami Barak proves the government’s apathy towards this wetland.”

Even though the majestic wetland was excluded from the Namami Barak celebrations, however, after the intervention of local legislator Kripanath Mallah, there is a chance that Son Beel may just get included in the festivity.

Former Karimganj DC Sanjib Gohain Baruah, while interacting with Northeast Today said, “Son Beel has immense potential in developing the area in an eco-friendly manner. Tourists do visit the area but due to lack of proper accommodation, most of them are forced to return to the nearest town of Karimganj or Silchar.”

“Emphasis should be given to promote eco-friendly tourism without affecting the environment of the area. Photographers from far and near come to the area to capture its varied natural features and as such photography tourism, which has assumed special significance, with progress in digital photography, will also be a major focus area,” he added.

Facts about Son Beel

1. Situated in Karimganj district of Assam, Son Beel is a home to over 50,000 populations.

2. 14 km long and 4 ½ km wide, it is the second largest wetland of Asia and the largest wetland of India.

3. The place is surrounded by 100 villages and 12 gaon panchayats (GPs).

4. The 12 GPs of Son Beel are—Gamaria, Gandhinagar, Anandapur, Bhairabnagar, Nagendranagar, Bharuwala, Govindganj, Rakeshnagar, Binodini, Subhashnagar, Kaliganj, Nayatila

5. During winter season it turns to a farm land where rice (called ‘Buro’ rice) is cultivated and after winter from March onwards this piece of land gets slowly filled up with water and turns into a lake

6. The depth of this lake is very less so when there is too much of rain then the lake overflows and the excess water channels through the Kakra/Cachua river to the Kushira River and slowly it flows to neighbouring Bangladesh

7. It is also famous for its mixed characteristics of Lotic and Lentic ecosystem.

MLA’s Version

Interacting with Northeast Today, local MLA Kripanath Mallah, said, “I am trying my best to develop Son Beel as famous tourist destination of the state. Recently, with the help of Assam Tourism Department we have prepared a signature project for Son Beel.”

“This Rs 200 crore project for Son Beel includes construction of roads, setting up of solar lights, water-sports, restaurants etc in the wetland,” he added.

Namami Barak

The first ever river festival in the state, Namami Brahmaputra, held in spring, is all set to be replicated in the Barak Valley in November.

President Ramnath Kovind has been invited to inaugurate the Barak festival that is to be held between November 18 and 20. The government is waiting for his response.

As per Inland Water Transport director Bharat Bhushan Deb Choudhury, Namami Barak is an attempt to showcase the tourism potential of the valley and to attract both domestic and international tourists.

“The festival is also an attempt to pay tribute to the river Barak and explore and promote its socio-economic development as also the rich cultural heritage surrounding the river,” he said.

Last Words

A lack with such magnanimous potential to boost tourism- not just of the district or Assam but also of the entire nation- should not be left unattended and let it die an untimely death. When so much emphasis is given to promote tourism and campaigns like ‘Awesome Assam’ are already being launched, the government should also look towards Son Beel and fully utilise its tourism potential. The Barak Valley, over the years, has complained of being neglected by Dispur. The Namami Barak thus offers the Sarbananda Sonowal-led Assam government with an opportunity to break this belief and show the people of Barak valley that his government is here to equally develop the region, which in the last 70 years have witnessed almost zero development.

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