It’s the world’s biggest river island and the first such in India to be declared a district. Now plans are afoot to declare it the country’s first carbon-neutral district by 2020. It is by no means a mean task, but ambitious projects, with the help of locals, NGOs and corporate houses, are getting underway to achieve this. The roadmap for the project is developed by IORA Ecological Solutions, an environmental finance, policy advisory and project development group. Mitigation through forestry and biodiversity conservation will be the starting points in this carbon-neutral agenda, followed by other interventions over the next three years.
“To begin with, we are now collecting data for preparing a carbon audit. Information on electricity consumption, emission levels by different industries and emissions by agricultural practices like burning of crops. Also, what is the total forested area,” said Pallav Jha, the District Commissioner of Majuli. “At the moment, it’s the rural emissions, be they agriculture-based practices or burning of fuel, that we have to check. But we have to keep in mind the increase in vehicular pollution in the near future — when Majuli gets connected with the mainland by a national highway, as declared by the central government,” Jha told IANS.
Years after crying apathy over its poor connectivity, the central government promised a bridge connecting Majuli — Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s constituency — to the mainland, and is also thinking about an access-control highway along the Brahmaputra for easing the traffic flow. With better connectivity, this ancient seat of Vaishnavite culture, which is already an attraction for tourists, more people and more traffic is expected to pour in into Majuli. This is good news for tourism and will create more job opportunities for the locals, but its impact on the environment is also being carefully considered.
“The connectivity to Majuli should be completed in the next three-four years. Keeping in mind the increase in vehicular pollution and increase in carbon footprint that it will be bring along, we may impose a Green Cess on tourism,” the District Commissioner said. But that is for the future. At the moment, efforts are on to make locals aware about the implications of climate change and nudge them towards adopting changes in their lives. Organic farming, for one, is being encouraged.
“The Agriculture Department has been helping in planning exposure visits for farmers to see the benefits of organic farming, both for their crop and the environment. They have also been promoting horticulture,” Jha said. “There are young, bright entrepreneurs in small places in Assam, like Bishwanath Chariali, who are doing commendable work in organic farming and we are taking their suggestions in reaching across to our farmers here,” Jha added. Development of fisheries is also being encouraged.
Launched by the Assam government as Sustainable Action for Climate-Resilient Development in Majuli (SACReD), this project is part of the French Development Agency-assisted Assam Project on Forest and Biodiversity Conservation to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As part of efforts to check fuel emissions, the District Commissioner said that LPG connections will be given to those who lack these. “As part of a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, 1,000 green stoves will be given to those who don’t get an LPG connection,” Jha said.
Over and above that, the District Commissioner said, public participation will be sought to raise ‘organic pockets’ for wood for fuel so that indiscriminate deforestation can be checked. Plantation drives in any case are already underway across the riverine island. In the absence of electricity, most people in Majuli — much like everywhere else in Assam or the rest of India — resort to use of kerosene lamps.
To address this, a 5-10 MW project by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) will help electrify villages that are now bereft of power. The contribution of solar energy to light up homes in an eco-friendly way has also been taken into accout. “There is an NGO called Ecosolutions which is on board with us to distribute solar lamps,” Jha said. The government plans to extend this programme to other districts once Majuli succeeds in its aim.