Positive Impacts of the River:

  • People and communities in 22 districts of Assam use River Brahmaputra for meeting their livelihood in the form of wading of cattle, fishing, and cultivation of different types of crops, irrigation and riverine transport.
  • During 2013-14 the total no. of passengers transported through inland water transport system in Brahmaputra stood at 70, 39,000. Total amount of goods transported through this system was 3, 56,552 Metric Tons. These figures show comparatively higher magnitudes of transportation of men and material in the economy of Assam.
  • Ten ports/ferry ghats in five districts of Assam, namely, Kamrup, Barpeta, Sonitpur, Jorhat and Dibrugarh Assam are fully operational for transportation of men, material and animals.
  • Operation of ferry services has given rise to creation of employment for 5344 persons.
  • River Brahmaputra and its tributaries carry more than 30 per cent of the total water resources potential of the country.
  • In the last few years there has been a spurt of activity in identifying 46 dams in the Brahmaputra basin in Assam of which three of them are in various stages of operation and are expected to produce more than 2000 MW of power.
  • Nineteen important tourist hot spots in the state are situated in places on the banks of river Brahmaputra.
  • Cruise tourism has emerged as an important adventure and pleasure tourism across the river. CNN International in 2013 has recognised Brahmaputra cruises as one of the top 10 most adventures cruises.
  • Total number of tourists to the state increased from 3493527 to 4463479 during the period from 2006-07 to 2013-14 showing an increase of 28 per cent. This has resulted revenue accrual of ₹191 lakhs in the form of rental charges for different types of accommodations. Sizeable chunk of this tourist flow and revenue earned can be attributed to tourism activities on river Brahmaputra.
  • Against the current economic demand of 279.53 thousand tonnes of fish, there is a shortfall of 12.83 thousand tonnes. The gap between present production and requirement is partially met by importing fish from other states. This shows that there is considerable scope for increasing fish production in Brahmaputra and its tributaries.

Negative Impacts and Concerns:

River bank erosion, denudation, saltation and sandcasting etc. have both directly and indirectly affected the livelihood of the people of the state in the form of displacement, loss of livelihood, land and jobs.

    1.There has been internal displacement and migration to urban areas because of loss of land by the natives like the Missings and other marginalized communities.

    2.River bank erosion has wiped out more than 2500 villages and 18 towns including sites of cultural heritage and tea gardens, affecting the lives of nearly 5 lakh people. Satellite image estimation shows that the total land loss per year due to erosion of Brahmaputra ranges from 72.5 to 80 sq. km/year during 1997 to 2007–08.

    3.Flood hazard of 2004 broke all the previous records of flood damage, affecting 28.5 million hectare of land, 12.57 million hectare of cropland, 12.3 million people, and 10,560 villages besides claiming 251 human lives and innumerable cattle and wildlife. All the 27 districts were affected by the flood and the total damage was estimated at ₹6500 crore.

    4.Erosion hazard posed by the Brahmaputra is also extremely severe in several vulnerable sections like Majuli, Palasbari, Rohmoria, Bhuragaon and Bokuwal.

    5.Majuli, the world's largest inhabited freshwater island and the legendary nerve centre of Neo-Vaishnavite cultural heritage of Assam, has already lost as much as 371 sq. km of its landmass to the river in the last 50 years.s

    6.Industrial units like Numaligarh Refinery, Upper Assam Industrial Areas of Oil and Coal Fields, Numaligarh Refinery, and Jogighopa Paper Mill which are discharging their effluents in to the river, are polluting the aqua life and water of the river.

    7.The typical flow of river Brahmaputra has given rise to formation of large number of Chars. The geographical spread of the Chars is all over 14 districts of Assam en route the journey of the river. There is an element of geographical instability of the chars primarily caused by the erosion, silting, and inundation due to floods and change of the course of the river Brahmaputra.

    8.The char areas inhabit 9.37 per cent of the total population of the state while they possess only 4 per cent of Assam’s agricultural land. During the 10 year period from 1992-93 to 2002-03, the area of the char land has increased by 1.37 per cent whereas population in these areas has increased by 56 per cent. This has led to an increase of density by two times of the density of population of the state leading to an enhanced stress on the limited resources.

    9.High growth of population, low literacy, poor health infrastructure, inadequate physical infrastructure and uncertain livelihood opportunities together has trapped the char people in a perpetual state of poverty and underdevelopment.


Findings from Case Studies & Surveys:

  • River Brahmaputra has been and continues to be the life line of the people of Majuli, Guwahati and Dhubri. However, during the past five decades, because of manmade and natural negative developments, the benign Brahmaputra has turned largely devastating threatening the foundation of the socioeconomic and geo-economic life of the natives.
  • Total earnings from the biggest Ghat at Majuli per day estimated at ₹1, 18, 500 and employment for at least 35 persons.
  • A simple quantitative local river bank economy model constructed for Dhubri urban area shows that this river contributes daily basis to about 30 per cent of the total average person days created in this area. On an average 2600 people get direct daily employment in the ferries, in bamboo transportation trade, retail shops and services units along the river. Daily average indirect employment created is estimated to be around 5000 person days. Further, when it comes to gross amount of sales undertaken, the figure is noteworthy at ₹ 3.31 crores.
  • Approximately 59%, 18%, 13% and 4% of the surveyed households depended on the river Brahmaputra for agriculture, fishing, transportation of men and material and log collection respectively.
  • This colossal river over the last century has become extremely forceful, live threatening and menacing bringing in huge damages to land, crops, animals and other household and common properties like buildings and roads. On an average a family in surveyed villages lost an asset worth ₹60,533 in the year 2014-15 due to floods.

Broad Recommendations:

To reduce the devastating effect and to continue to realise its benevolence on the socioeconomic life, immediate, short term and long term measures in the form of environmentally, economically, socially and culturally sustainable measures need to be taken up by all the relevant stake holders that includes the Government, the industrial houses, the affected and affecting communities and the civil society. Since the current and potential socioeconomic developmental outcomes centred on Brahmaputra are inextricably linked to the social, economic, political, cultural and environmental dynamics of Assamese society, an all-out holistic multi stakeholder based approach would be the appropriate response.

Specific Actionable Recommendations:

    • To arrest negative impact of frequent floods and change of the course of the river modern science & technology needs to be supplemented with traditional local knowledge and practices.
    • Since riverbank vegetation has a crucial role to play in stabilizing bank sediments to reduce erosion, and provides a shield between the river and the rest of the catchments, efforts should be made to protect the existing vegetation and create new vegetation through plantation wherever it does not exist. Involvement of the local inhabitants in this exercise is a must. 
    • Infrastructure in Ghats has to be developed for smooth movement of people and vehicles.
    • At tourist spots, star and budget hotels need to be constructed to attract more tourists. For example, at Majuli there is no single standard hotel/resort for overnight stay by the tourist.
    • A nominal river bank environment development fee can be imposed on every tourist and tourist vehicles entering the river islands. This fee should be included on the price of the tickets sold at the ferry ghats/ports. The state Government and local bodies can think of imposing a Brahmaputra development fee from different users and beneficiaries to be exclusively used for the development of vegetation and environment on the banks of the river.
    • Similarly, provision of river bank vegetation bonus can be introduced by Government to be awarded to local river bank communities to encourage an element of healthy competition amongst them. 
    • Programmes and policies of flood management and prevention of river bank erosion need to be converged across Government Departments and stake holders.
    • Industrial units that have been identified and shown in the findings section and discharging their effluents in to the river must be held accountable. A four pronged strategy of appropriate tax/fee imposition, legislation, administrative stipulations and moral persuasion should be undertaken.
    • Since the settlers in char areas mostly dependent on cultivation of land for their livelihood this creates excessive pressure on land. Thus immediate measures need to be taken at the level of Government and NGOs to provide the settlers with alternative non-agricultural job opportunities.
    • As the Char settlers suffer from vicious circle of poverty and underdevelopment, external intervention through Government and other civil society agencies is a must. The specific interventions should be expansion of their capabilities through better provisioning of education and health facilities.
    • The last socioeconomic survey for the Char areas was undertaken in 2003-04. Hence there is a need to immediately undertake a fresh socioeconomic survey for these areas.
    • Since the gap between demand and supply of fish in Assam is huge, and the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries provide ample scope of fish cultivation, concerted effort must be made to exploit this untapped potential. The Institution of Fish Federation particularly should be efficiently leveraged at the grass root level in this context
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