Twin dangers - insecurity and encroachment - at Mathgharia
Concentrated Area: Mathgharia (24 A)
Ward No: 24
Population of the Ward: 78,000
Voter Population: 36,700
Population of Mathgharia: 11,750
Ward Councillor: Paresh Kalita
Safety at night has become a major issue for the residents of Mathgharia where danger lurks due to lack of street lights and hooliganism of drunken truck drivers.
Ward No 24 A – Mathgharia - the largest Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) zone in the city, is one of the busiest routes for vehicles carrying goods into the city.
This area, which is one of the oldest inhabited regions in the city, had all the scope to develop into an ideal residential area with lush greenery all around and the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden located nearby.
After travelling for about 2.5 kms from Zoo Road Tiniali along the Mother Teresa Road, Mathgharia falls on the right. With a view of the plush green hills of the Assam State Zoo cum Botanical Garden, on its right, and due to its proximity to Guwahati Refinery in Noonmati, this area has developed into an ideal residential area.
The hills of the zoo, however, have turned into a bane for the residents with the passage of time. They complained that owing to widespread encroachment on the hills and rampant hill cutting, there are landslides every rainy season.
Besides goods carrying vehicles that enter the eastern part of the city from the National Highway through VIP Road and Mother Teresa Road, several oil tankers of the refinery also remain parked in the Mathgharia area. Residents complained that a perennial problem is the pollution emanating from unloading of goods from the vehicles.
Eve teasing has been a common phenomenon in the area although other criminal activities have not yet been reported. “The only activity is among the truck drivers here at night. People from this area go to other parts of the city to work and return at night between 9 and 10 pm. While returning, the women especially feel insecure due to the presence of these trucks and the drivers. We have instructed our wives and daughters to come back home before 8 pm,” a resident named Gautam Baishya said.
Another resident Simanta Hazarika alleged that the trucker drivers have converted the road into a “roadside bar.” “Every night, under a lamp post that is unlit, the truck drivers sit together and start drinking. Earlier, the police interceptors used to take rounds in this area and these drivers would disappear. But now, they have managed to dodge them too, and thus, it has become a roadside bar for them,” he said.
The solution to the problem, claimed Hazarika and Baishya, are street lights at the right places. Karabi Das, a housewife who lives in the same area, added that youths were getting hooked to different kinds of addictions in the narrow and dark corners of the street.
“After 9:30 pm, youths would get together and indulge in several kinds of addictions. And why not? When they see people drinking every day, they also feel like doing it and thanks to darkness around, there is nothing to stop them,” she said.
Massive erosions due to unplanned hill cutting
Mathgharia is an apt example of encroachment that the city has been battling to stop for years. Located near the hills behind the Zoo, Mathgharia has been experiencing soil erosion during the rainy season, triggered by unplanned hill cutting and widespread encroachment.
“In the late 1970s, people started settling here from different parts of the state. Soon, the patta lands were all sold out and they started cutting the hills to build new houses. Those lands belong to the zoo actually but no steps were taken so far to check the illicit activities,” Bhagadutta Chaudhury, an elderly resident of the area, said.
Other residents claimed that most of the encroachers were either economic migrants or flood affected people from lower Assam.
“They have encroached so much of the hill’s land that now, we, who live at the foothills feel insecure. They don’t even cut the hill scientifically and have made the base of the hill weak. It is just a matter of days when the land beneath these houses cave in and fall upon us,” Sumit Saikia said.
The drains get clogged with eroded land coming down from the hills with the rains. The excess water spills over which renders the street unfit and dangerous for walking.
“Land erosion is a perennial problem in all the wards, but here the land belongs to the Zoo. The government can easily step in and evict the settlers,” Saikia added.
Councillor confident of remedy within 2 months
Councillor Paresh Kalita is hopeful of putting an end to all the woes of his ward within a couple of months. He is of the view that the government had been putting in efforts to resolve the lingering problems of the locality.
Kalita claimed that the residents had refused to approve the GMC’s plan to install street lights under a scheme named Project Jyoti some time ago. “We had approached the residents several times and held meetings to make them understand about the benefits, but they did not opt for it,” he said adding, “By the time, the residents understood the project, all the street lights were being set up in other parts of the city.”
He added that Guwahati Development Department Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, had also assured that the problem would be resolved in the next two weeks.
The councillor has also taken up the issue about the trucks with the transport and traffic departments. “But they said that these trucks bring goods to the rest of the city and it is essential for them to avail parking in this area. I had suggested that the trucks be parked in our area only after 12 midnight and they replied saying that they would examine the matter,” said the councillor.
Kalita has a different take on the encroachments that the residents have alleged. He was of the opinion that not all the constructions were inside the zoo property. “Most of the houses are built near the zoo, but they are not on the zoo property. The problem however is the unscientific hill cutting. They should have cut the hill sides in the form of steps to avoid erosion. We have held several meetings with the Kamrup (Metro) District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMA) to make the people aware about the dangers but they don’t seem to pay any heed at all,” Kalita claimed.