Our experience tells us that the floods of Assam keep getting worse year after year. There are very few occasions in the past when one could recall floods like the one we have had this year. The intensity of the present floods can be assessed both from the number of deaths as well as the extent of damage to public property and structures. There have been very few floods in the past when so many bridges have been washed away or damaged. Several sections of the railway tracks of the Northeast Frontier Railways have been damaged by the floods this year in Bihar as well as in Assam. There is every reason to believe that the floods next year could be even worse.
Floods and Food Supply
Apart from the toll of lives and the large-scale damage to property and public installations, there is also the additiol fear of what floods of a long duration can do to the food supply of the State. With the railway tracks breached at several places and the highways in no better condition, there has been good reason to worry about how long food supply to the State and the north-eastern region will remain affected. On Thursday, some local television channels claimed that the food position in the State was rather critical because of supply lines to the State being disrupted for weeks together. It was claimed that Assam had food supplies to last only for three more days. One fails to understand how there can be any accurate predictions about the existing food supplies in the State made by agencies not directly connected with the food supply magement of the State. The stocks of essential food supplies are not held in just one centralized warehouse. They are stored in numerous warehouses scattered all over the State. Only the appropriate government authorities can hazard any kind of informed estimate about the overall food situation. On Thursday, Assam’s Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Rihon Daimary held a review meeting on essential commodities at Guwahati. The meeting was attended by government officials and representativeness of the Kamrup Chamber of Commerce (KCC), Food Corporation of India (FCI), Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and other bodies. The Minister was assured that there would be no shortage of essential commodities during the next 10 to 15 days. Representativeness of the KCC said that wholesale traders had potato stocks for at least 15 days and about 5,000 bags of onions. FCI officials assured the minister that the corporation had sufficient stocks of rice for at least two months and wheat for one month in its warehouses. IOC representatives assured the Minister that kerosene, diesel and petrol stocks were adequate and there would be no shortage of LPG cylinders for at least eight to 10 days. Minister Daimary directed all departments and other stakeholders to ensure that unscrupulous elements did not resort to hoarding or profiteering by citing the floods and by creating an artificial scarcity. However, despite the minister’s directives, unscrupulous elements are unlikely to let slip such an opportunity for making tidy profits. The most domint motivation in such situations is the urge to make the most of a crisis situation regardless of the costs inflicted on hapless consumers.
While the initiatives of Rihon Daimary are aimed at reassuring the people, one is not entirely convinced that the stocks of food grains and essential commodities are entirely adequate for the situation we are facing. The floods have already taken a toll of 49 lives, and over four lakh flood-hit people have had to take shelter in the 903 relief camps set up by the local administration in different localities of the flood-hit districts. People of 2,584 villages of 24 districts are still reeling under the floods. Floodwaters of different rivers have affected 345,750.48 hectares of crop land in all 31 districts of the State. The other associated and major source of devastation and damage is large-scale erosion of land which has primarily been responsible also for the destruction of bridges and highways. There is a general feeling that the assessment of available food and essential supplies is an exercise that ought to be taken well ahead of the monsoon months every year instead of putting it off till the floods have done the usual damage. This is an exercise that has to be undertaken every year before the floods so that it can be far more effective in ensuring that there is no suffering to the public due to shortages caused by floods and a temporary breakdown of transport and communications.