DATELINE GUWAHATI/Wasbir Hussain
Yet again, floods have caused death and destruction across Assam. A hundred lives have been lost, more than two million homes came under water, scores of houses have been swept away, and hundreds of cattle have perished. We saw the Prime Minister and Congress president touring parts of Assam, looking at the havoc below from the skies. We have heard them, as also Assam’s Chief Minister, talk of providing assistance to those affected. We have heard them say adequate measures will be taken to control the problem of floods in Assam. But we have heard these before, year after year, as the Brahmaputra and its tributaries cut a swathe across the State, fed by monsoon rains.
Let us take a look at Guwahati, Assam’s capital, definitely the political and trade hub of the region, and a city touted as the gateway to Southeast Asia. Well, large parts of Guwahati have been under water (rain water for a change) for four to five days as other parts of Assam were reeling under the impact of the floods. The local administration may feel good at certain adhoc steps they had undertaken like hiring cycle rickshaws and providing boats for residents in water-logged lanes and by-lanes to commute. Well, the local administration had undertaken other unprecedented measures like supplying water in jerry cans to individual households in water-logged areas of the city. Among the beneficiaries were members of the Fourth Estate, too!
Does this mean that Guwahatians may have been forced to live in a water-logged city sans drainage, but have no reason to complain? Do measures like providing free rickshaw or boat rides reason enough for the city residents to feel satisfied? Certainly not. The question arises—why has the situation reached such a pass that residents of Guwahati have to get in and out of their homes on rickshaws and boats to escape the filthy waters that have submerged their lanes and by-lanes. This is because the administrators in Assam and the city of Guwahati have basically been mostly men and women without imagination, ideas, vision or commitment. If Guwahati is in a state of helplessness, one can imagine the plight of the people in other parts of Assam who have to live without power or an all-weather road year after year. This is the reality and one feels sad to record this in black and white.
Now, is there any dearth of funds to tackle these problems? The clear answer is no. During his visit, the Prime Minister has announced an interim aid of Rs 500 crore to Assam to deal with the floods. One wonders how the State Government intends to spend this money. After all, this is just an interim grant and Assam wants Rs 10,000 crore more! What is the guarantee that this money will not be misappropriated by the still existing contractor-bureaucrat-politician nexus? Will Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi break tradition and set up a committee to route or monitor the expenditure out of the central allocation to deal with the floods? Can Mr Gogoi make sure, through an innovative monitoring mechanism, that only the deserving flood victims get the aid? Already, there are rumours that areas that had not elected a Congress legislator in the 2011 polls have not been receiving adequate relief during the floods. Now, who will tell us whether such reports are true?
In this backdrop, when people in the Government says things like they would take help of IIT Guwahati or western experts to help deal with the flood problem, one is forced to take it with a large pinch of salt. Those who have been ruling Assam over the years have done nothing to tackle the floods. One would like to know how many billion rupees have been spent since independence in the name of floods. If nothing can be done, the official or politician types should have the courage to say so. In that scenario, people in Majuli or Dhemaji can come up with better survival plans or strategies on their own.