Rapid urbanization, inefficient waste management and encroachment have turned the Mahananda into a drain. And farmers are losing their livelihoods
Rapid urbanization and lack of space to dispose of waste has often led to rivers being treated as landfills. The Mahananda, which flows through Bangladesh as well as Bihar and West Bengal in India, is among the rivers facing such abuses.
The Mahananda originates from the Paglajhora Falls near Kurseong in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. The water – originally clean and virgin – becomes dirty and polluted as it enters Siliguri in Champasari.
Down to earth visited the city and saw that the huge volume of garbage dumped in the river turned it into a drain. Several people illegally built stables along the riverbanks. They defecate openly on the river bed.
âNo effort has been made to revive the river. The children now play sports on the river bed while the pigs use the space to search for food in the dirt, âsaid Jyotsna Agarwal, secretary of the Mahananda Bachao Committee, formed by civil rights activists to do so. relive the river.
âWe now call him Mahaganda (impure). The illegal stables by the river have completely ruined it. Around 400 tonnes of waste is generated in the city every day and most of it is dumped into the river, âshe added.
She claimed that the Siliguri municipal company was considering the construction of a parking lot for vehicles and the construction of a building on the river bank. âThe committee asked the National Green Court to save the Mahananda. We have been fighting a battle for a long time to revive the river, but nothing has been done yet. “
Farmers face losses
Other smaller rivers in Siliguri – such as Sahu, Panchanoi, Fuleswari and Jorapani – have been encroached on to build houses and lodges. Massive deforestation, coupled with urbanization and tourism, has deteriorated the state of Sahu that farmers once relied on for irrigation.
The river flows on the outskirts of town where farmers grow sweet corn, one of the most cultivated crops in Northwest Bengal.
Naina Lal Sharma, a sweet corn farmer for three decades in the Farabari panchayat where the river flows, said: âWe can no longer depend on the river for irrigation because the drainage pipes are connected to it. The discharge gives off a foul odor, which makes it impossible for us to even sit there. “
He claimed that locals also celebrated religious ceremonies in the river. He stopped producing sweet corn for commercial purposes and now uses it as fodder for livestock.
Naina Lal Sharma, a sweet corn farmer, says he cannot depend on water from the Sahu River for irrigation. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Deforestation a concern
The Sahu only flows during monsoons; there is never enough water needed for irrigation. Farmers claimed that massive deforestation and the construction of hotels made rainfall irregular. âWe used to have a thick green blanket, but there are only a few trees left. It’s not raining much here anymore, âsaid Surendra Tamang, a farmer.
He added that deforestation has affected groundwater levels: âSweetcorn is a water-intensive crop. But there is never enough water.
The city’s water crisis has forced farmers to migrate to other cities. Santosh Chhetri (39) worked at a hotel in northern India and returned to Siliguri during the lockdown from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). He wants to come back once the situation has normalized: âWe don’t have a lot of options here. “
Deforestation has also led to an increase in human-animal conflicts as the area is located near the Baikanthpur Forest Reserve, from where elephants regularly enter the fields and destroy the standing crop.
Local politicians have acknowledged that the creeping encroachment along the river beds and the illegal sale of land has damaged the quality of the river.
âThe administration is hand in hand with the mafia. Most of the Sahu River has been sold, âsaid Sudha Singho Chattopadhyaya, a local gram pradhan.
The Sahu River has become a dumping ground for waste. Photo: Gurvinder Singh
Pranab Kumar Biswas, founder of a climate action organization, said encroaching rivers has led to soil erosion and flooding:
âThe rains have become eccentric due to global warming. Heavy precipitation of shorter duration causes flooding in several localities because the course of the river has already been disturbed due to encroachments. Indiscriminate sand mining has wreaked havoc on rivers.
Rivers lose their importance
Environmental activists have lamented that rivers – once a lifeline for farmers and residents – have been reduced to drains over the years.
Abhaya Bose, an environmentalist based in Siliguri, said the need for an hour is to raise awareness of the importance of rivers in human life. âThe administration must treat offenders more strictly. All water bodies must be cleaned regularly to ensure that aquatic life is not severely affected, âshe said.
Senior officials at the Siliguri Municipal Corporation said they would look into the matter.
“We are doing our best to minimize the discharge of sewage in Mahananda, but dealing with a growing population and lack of awareness of the importance of rivers has been a challenge,” a senior official said under cover of ‘anonymity.
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