- The Chite Lui is a river that runs through Aizawl in Mizoram and has high sentimental value attached to it. However, rampant urbansation has left the river dying.
- The state government passed the Chite Lui (Prevention and Control of Water Pollution) Act, 2018 this year prohibiting dumping of animal carcasses, bio-medical waste or any garbage. The opposition, however, terms it as a cheap gimmick to garner votes ahead of polls on November 28.
- The project to revive Chite Lui came back in action in 2017 after a decade of being at a standstill. In October 2017, scientists studying the river, stressed upon the importance of a detailed river survey on river flow data and water quality data in order to have a sustainable and scientific river restoration plan.
This is the second article in a two-part series on the role of environment in the upcoming elections in Mizoram. Part One examines the issue of land use for agriculture, especially the slash-and-burn or jhum in the state elections.
James Lalrinchhana, a senior bureaucrat in Mizoram remembers his childhood days when he and his friends would swim in the Chite Liu river that runs through the capital city Aizawl. “It was our favourite past-time to swim in the river after returning from school every day. The water was quite deep and it was fun,” he reminisces. “But things have changed now as there is hardly any water left in the river even to dip the ankles.”
Chite Lui is a small river in the northeastern state, important, not as much for irrigation or drinking water, as for the sentimental value attached to it.
According to legend, a young boy Fiara Tui, was often troubled by his cruel stepmother. In the spring one year, water was scarce. People were desperately searching for drinking water. Fiara’s stepmother ordered him to fetch water as a challenge and a punishment. The young boy was successful; he discovered water flowing, hidden under trees and bushes. It is believed that this hidden water source was the Chite Lui river.
Popular Mizo poet Rokunga wrote poems and songs about Chite Lui. Stories and songs about the river are very popular in Mizoram, even among Mizo tribes in Myanmar.
But the present condition of the river is nowhere near the romanticism involved with it. It is a stark example of how unplanned urbanisation coupled with illegal encroachment and ignorance are dealing a deathly blow to the river.
The dying Chite Lui
Situated in an alluvial valley at an altitude of 800-1000 metres, the river originates from Bawngkawn range in north Aizawl and flows through a distance of around 20 kilometres in eastern Aizawl before joining the Tuirial river at the southern end of the city. It is a tropical mountain river which is mainly rain-fed and has several small tributaries like Tlak Lui, Bangla Lui, Darnam Lui, Theihai Lui among others.
The river flows through Aizawl and has now been reduced to a stream with growing urbanisation. It is becoming narrower day-by-day and losing its identity because of the waste thrown in it and rampant encroachments. An estimated 150 tonnes of waste is generated everyday in Aizawl and most of it is carried to the dumping ground outside the city while the rest slides into the river.
Lalremruata (21), a taxi driver by profession who lives close to Chite Lui in East Aizawl concedes that the river is connected with their sentiments and people should stop polluting it. “We understand the significance of the river in our lives. We do not throw waste into the water but people who live in upper areas directly dump the waste out of their windows that slowly goes into the river. They should use dustbins. We should all work hard to save the river which is turning dry with each passing day,” he said.
Quite true to his words, the condition of the river is in dire straits. A study done by Mizoram Pollution Control Board (MPCB) found the oxygen level in the river to be 3.1 mg per litre against the desired level of 6 mg per litre (October, 2018). “The low level of oxygen is certainly harmful for the aquatic life that depends on it. The quality of water can change if concrete steps are taken to snuff life into it by the eradication of waste material,” said Lalramnghaki Pachuau, a scientist at MPCB.
Plan to save Chite Lui revived after a decade
The plight of Chite Lui was first taken up in 2007 by Zoram Research Foundation (ZRF), a grassroots organisation working with local communities on livelihood and traditional water management in Mizoram. “We were shocked to see the condition of the river that was dying each day. We raised our voice, to save the river, in various seminars, television discussions and other platforms. We also tried to approach political leaders of different parties but to no avail. We couldn’t do anything as various stakeholders were necessary to save the river,” said Rochamliana, the general secretary of the foundation.
The project to save Chite Lui remained at a standstill for the next one decade till it was revived again in 2017 by Pu Kanaan Gopinathan, the then Deputy Commissioner of Aizawl who took a keen interest in saving the river.
Initially, a month long baseline survey of the river was done to gather information about the vulnerable spots where unearthed soil and waste were being dumped, including the measurement of the areas of localities where the river passes through and other inputs.
On June 2, 2017, the Save Chite Lui Coordination Committee (SCLCC) was constituted by the state government with the state governor as its patron member. Subsequently, the Save Chite Lui Action Plan (SCALP) came into force whose main objective was to create awareness among the people regarding the river by undertaking various awareness campaigns and also to build check dams and other techniques to prevent the waste from flowing into the river.
“We have reached to different schools and colleges and have been running awareness campaigns to save the river. We have also distributed pamphlets among people to make them aware about the importance of Chite Lui. The river has also been cleaned three times in the past one year with the help of the volunteers that comprise of students and people from different walks of life,” said Rochamliana who is also the general secretary of Save Chite Lui Coordination Committee (SCLCC).
He further pointed out that check dams would be built and other measures would be taken during the second phase of the action plan to stop the garbage from getting spilled into the river from its tributaries. “The waste from the tributaries gets crossed to the river and dirties it. We have planning to build check dams to block the garbage from entering the main river. The tributaries would be cleaned regularly so that they are not overfilled with waste. We will also conduct a study to measure the total area of the river that has been consumed by encroachments and development activities,” he added.
The National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers also assist the co-ordination committee in cleaning the river. “We extend full support to them to clean the river and spread awareness about it. Hundreds of our volunteers collected the waste such as polythene bags, plastic bottles, empty pockets of snacks and took them to the dumping ground by hiring vehicles,” said Dr Zirlianngura, the NSS officer-cum-deputy secretary for Mizoram.
Election year brings law to prevent pollution of Chite Lui
In October 2017, scientists and scholars from University of Minnesota and Mississippi Watershed Management Organization (MWMO) conducted a survey of Chite Lui. They did a comprehensive study of the river and provided suggestions and guidance for the conservation and restoration of the river.
Dr. Joe Webner Professional Hydrologist from University of Minnesota and Dr. Udai B. Singh, director of Mississippi Water Management Agency said, that the river has completely lost its profile and stressed upon the importance of a detailed river survey on river flow data, water quality data in order to have a sustainable and scientific river restoration plan.
The state government, fully aware of the sentiments attached to the river passed the Chite Lui (Prevention and Control of Water Pollution) Act, 2018 in this election year, that prohibited the dumping of animal carcasses, bio-medical waste or any garbage and made the violation of offence as cognisable and non-bailable offence.
The opposition, however, terms it as a cheap gimmick to garner votes ahead of polls on November 28. “They have done nothing for the water bodies in the state and several of them are in bad shape. The aquatic life has got almost destroyed because of the apathy of the state government. We will conserve and restore the water bodies if voted to power,” said H. Rammawi, a senior leader of Mizo National Front (MNF), the main opposition party in the state.
The state environment department, however, claims that the government is seriously concerned about the fate of river and hundreds of seedlings have been planted in the past two years along the river. “The government has planted several hundreds of seedlings during the Green Mizo Day observed every year in June. It is an attempt to preserve the flora and fauna and ecological balance of the region,” said Lalthagliana Murray, Mission director (Mizoram Bamboo mission), state environment and forest department.
Even the church that plays a pivotal role in the lives of the people has been undertaking awareness campaigns to save the environment for the past two to three years. “The state is known for its green cover and it needs to be preserved at any cost. We are trying to create awareness among the people regarding Chite Lui and other environment issues in churches. We ask people to refrain from such activities that hamper the environment,” said R. Lalnuntluanga, co-ordinator of Synod Social Front, the largest Christian denomination in Mizoram.
Banner image: The state government has recently passed the Chite Lui (Prevention and Control of Water Pollution) Act, 2018. The opposition claims it is just a gimmick in the election year. Photo from Save Chite Lui Coordination Committee.