Of Dibrugarh and Dykes
It will simply not do to overlook the fact that the Brahmaputra, whatever else it may be, is also our river of sorrow. Yet after year, it has taken a toll of several lives and made hundreds of families homeless by inundating and often destroying their homes during the monsoon months. The adverse effects of the Brahmaputra on the town of Dibrugarh were first noticed during the terrible earthquake of 1950 that rocked large parts of the Northeast, particularly the States of Aruchal Pradesh and Assam. Some of the effects were of a permanent ture because the earthquake also led to the Brahmaputra changing its course. Immediately after the earthquake of 1950, the Brahmaputra started nibbling away huge chunks of Dibrugarh town to the extent that about half of it was lost to the river. That was when protective dykes were built to save the rest of the town from being eroded by the river. Some of these dykes are more than 60 years old and others constructed later on are more than 50 years old. These dykes are in urgent need of reconstruction because they are badly dilapidated and could seriously jeopardize the lives and properties of people living in the city and beyond.
Unfortutely, the ongoing work of raising, strengthening, upgrading and construction work of the Dibrugarh Town Protection Dyke along the Brahmaputra from Maijan to Mohanghat has been affected because the Army (19 Jat Regiment) has objected to the work near its camp at Paltanbazar in the town. The objection of the Army has kept construction work along a stretch of about one kilometre near Paltanbazar pending. This has caused legitimate panic among the inhabitants of the town because during the prelimiry phase of the construction work several deep pits had been dug along the stretch spreading from the river channel to the dyke. The 60–year–old dyke has remained open and dilapidated at several places along the one–kilometre stretch. People fear that with the onset of the monsoon (that has begun in March in that area during the past few years) the river water may inundate the town. It is important for the Army to realize that any obstruction to the ongoing work of reconstructing and/or renovating the dykes merely because an army camp has been established in that area could spell disaster for many more people than there are in the army camp. The Army should not refuse to move a camp to another area if its occupation of the present site can be a major source of hazard to thousands of people during the monsoon. After all, it is unlikely that the army camp at Paltanbazar in Dibrugarh could have more than a couple of thousand personnel. It is important to bear in mind what could happen to many more thousands among the civilian population if the Army were to come in the way of a very important work of renovating dykes to protect a town and those inhabiting the areas beyond. There are two considerations that should make the shifting of the army camp considerably easier. The first is that we have a unified command structure of administration in which the Army is an active partner. It should be much easier for army commanders to appreciate the problems that would be faced by the civilian population if the repair work on the dykes cannot be completed in time to save lives and property. The second consideration is that on innumerable occasions the army has pitched in to rescue people in flood–affected areas and save lives. Our soldiers are, therefore, far more familiar with the havoc that rivers can play during the monsoon months in places like Dibrugarh that have fairly heavy rainfall. In facilitating flood prevention measures the Army would be reducing its rescue and rehabilitation responsibilities during the monsoon months. Filly, it would be far more graceful for the Army to heed the appeals made by a large number of people and organizations to the higher authorities including the Prime Minister of India to resolve the present impasse caused by the intransigence of the Army on vital issues affecting the lives of thousands of people.