Deepar beel is one of the largest and most important riverine wetland in Assam's Brahmaputra valley. It is Located between Latitude: 26° 05' 'North to 26° 11’ North and Longitude: 91º 35’ East to 91º 43’ East. Deepar beel covers an area of 40.14 sq km and varies in depth from approx. 1 meter to 4 meter depending upon the season.
Deepar beel is one of the largest staging sites for migratory birds in India; some of the largest congregations of aquatic birds in Assam can be seen here, particularly in winter. The wetland supports a highly concentrated and diverse indigenous freshwater fish population. The wetland is a major fish breeding ground, which supplies fish stocks to other nearby wetlands and rivers. Because of the richness of avian fauna, Deepar beel has been selected as one of the Important Bird Area (IBA) sites by Birdlife International and is the only Ramsar Site in the state of Assam.
In addition to the invaluable fish and bird population of Deepar beel, a large number of wetland vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants grow here. The area provides the only major storm water storage basin for the City of Guwahati.
Earlier the wetland was spread over 4000 ha now it has shrunk to 500 ha. Between1990-2002, the wetland shrunk by 14.1 % (405 ha). Illegal construction in the buffer zone, dumping of garbage by the municipality, encroachment of the lakebed, brick kiln and soil quarrying in the lakebed are the direct threats on the wetland. The biodiversity which is the most important part of the lake’s ecosystem is also in danger.
Two PILs have been filed for this lake one against the encroachment and other for dumping garbage in the catchment area. The first PIL was filed by Unnayan Samiti secretary Biplabananda Choudhary against which a stay order was declared by the High Court. In the same year the Guwahati Municipal Corporation started dumping garbage in the nearby area of the lake. The residents feared pollution of the water body and outbreak of epidemic. They filed PIL in 2007 when the authorities turned a deaf year against their concern.
Both the cases had been decided in the High Court of Guwahati. The followings are some of the highlights of court proceedings, government and people actions.
As a response to the public out cry (initiated by Institute for Scientific and Technological Research), the State Forest Department proposed 414 hectares (out of total 4,000 hectares) of Deepar beel as a Wildlife Sanctuary (preliminary gazette notification) under Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
The Revenue Department had allotted a plot of six bighas of lake bed to the Tourism Development Corporation for construction of a tourist lodge despite the resolution of the high-level committee on wetland conservation.
Deepar beel Management Authority was formed by the State Government to oversee the conservation and development of Deepar beel . It remains effectively non-functional till date.
Declared Ramsar site in 2002.
Bird life International included Deepar among the five select wetlands from Assam-Syhlet region as an Important Bird Area with an outstanding grade.
A petition was filed by the Unnayan Samiti secretary Biplabananda Choudhary against construction on the lake bed by the state government as a part of Tourism development.
The Guwahati High Court issued a stay order on September 21 on the building project.
Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) started to dump waste in Paschim Boragaon closer to the water body.
A study conducted by the Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology under the Union department of science and technology found that water percolating through solid wastes has polluted the nearby water bodies, which are connected to Deepar beel. The institute had cautioned that contamination of Deepar beel would harm the biodiversity of the lake. The study highlighted the fact that the dumping ground is situated close to human habitation, which could create health hazard for the residents as the area would become a breeding ground of cockroaches and mosquitoes and other pests, which can transmit diseases like malaria, yellow fever, dengue and encephalitis.
Deepar beel finalized the venue for the 33rd National rowing competitions.
Assam Science, Technology, and Environment Council started a massive desilting and digging project at Deepar with an objective of increasing water storage and deterring further encroachment into the wetland.
The dredging activity by the Assam Science Technology and Environment Council got mired in legal and financial problems.
Campaign launched to save Deepar beel, the lone Ramsar Site of the State by the authorities. The participants included the faculty members, research scholars, students, officers, employees and workers of the Guwahati University, concerned citizens of the city and the students and teachers of the Gopinath Bordoloi Nagar Academy.
The residents near the dumpsite (in the lake) filed a PIL to save the lake.
A three-member committee was formed by the High Court. GMC was directed to spray pesticides in the neighbouring area of the lake to prevent health hazards.
Pollution control had given the state government issued a warning for outbreak of epidemic in the area.
The Guwahati Water bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Bill, 2008 passed. The objective is to preserve the wetland, minimize the problem of water logging in the city and create an eco-friendly atmosphere. With this Bill at its command, the Government of Assam is planning to re-acquire land in the periphery of Deepar beel , to undertake development projects, including water sports at the beel, and for this purpose a budgetary allocation of about US $3 million (Rs.12 crores) has been approved.
Despite prohibition by the government and its various steps for eco-tourism development, illegal earth cutting is continuing at Deepar beel. The conscious people in the locality feared that unless such illegal activities are stopped, the very existence of the beel will collapse. They therefore urged the authority concerned to halt such activities soon.
In May, Save Guwahati Build Guwahati, a Guwahati based NGO has made an appeal to the Kamrup (Metro) District authorities to take stringent measures immediately to bring an end to all illegal constructions in the lake area.
In June, The student organisation, All Assam Students Union (AASU) along with the residents had staged a protest demonstration and highlighted the threats faced by the wetland.
Forest department banned fishing in the freshwater lake in a bid to preserve the wetland ecosystem in January.
A huge community of more than 820 families from Keotpara in Azara depend on the lake for its livelihood, especially during the occasion of Magh Bihu. Nine villages have urged the forest department to allow them to fish during the festival as it's a ritual.