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The cyclical scourge

The flood situation in Assam is indeed going from bad to worse every passing day. Over five lakh people have been

Assam floods

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  29 Jun 2020 2:00 AM GMT

The flood situation in Assam is indeed going from bad to worse every passing day. Over five lakh people have been directly affected across 21 districts, about 25,000 people have taken shelter in relief camps, while close to 20 lives have been already lost. The Brahmaputra and several of its tributaries have been flowing above the red mark. While heavy rains in the catchments, especially in Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya have sent many rivers swelling, there are more man-made reasons than natural ones behind the annually worsening floods. Being the most severely affected by flood and erosion in the country, Assam accounts for nearly 9.5% of the total flood-prone area of India. Several hundred lives have been lost, lakhs of cattle and other livestock and poultry birds have perished, thousands of houses damaged, as also millions of acres of standing crops; no farmer and villager have ever received any proper and systematic compensation for the loss caused for no fault of his. As far as relief and rehabilitation materials are concerned, a section of unscrupulous government officials have benefited more than the hapless villagers. Likewise, infrastructure – roads, embankments, bridges, schools and other government buildings – worth thousands of crores of rupees, all public money, have been damaged. Alongside floods, Assam also has this dangerous problem of river-bank erosion; more than 4.27 lakh hectares of land has been eroded away by the Brahmaputra and its tributaries since 1950, which is about 7.50% of the state's total land area. As assessed, the annual average loss of land is nearly 8,000 hectares. The width of river Brahmaputra has increased up to 15 km at some places due to bank erosion. A recent trend, say in the past 20 years, is that of massive silt deposit on cultivation land by the overflowing rivers. Dhemaji alone has lost about 30 per cent of its paddy-growing area due to sand and silt deposit. All these impacts have caused massive displacement of people and increasing landlessness, which in turn has made the average Assam villager poorer over the decades. The scarce local government resources on the other hand have to be diverted every year from development activities to relief operations and reconstruction. In many cases, entire villages have shifted and relocated from their original habitats as their land has been eroded away. It is a matter of serious concern that the Union government has refused to respond positively to the repeated demand of the people and the State government that Assam's twin problem of flood and erosion be declared as a national disaster and national problem. Several schemes and initiatives launched from time to time have only proven to be half-hearted attempts with severe lack of sincerity, accountability, transparency and permanency. Grant of land patta or permanency to people occupying the sar areas in the heart of the Brahmaputra has changed the very character of the mighty river, leading to bank erosion. Occupation of water-bodies parallel to the various rivers has reduced the capacity of the natural flood-cushion, thus causing inundation of new areas which hitherto never had any history of floods. Moreover, Assam's flood problem cannot be addressed within the geographical boundaries of the state. The Brahmaputra and a few of its tributaries are in fact international in character, originating in Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar. There is also the inter-state angle, as most Brahmaputra tributaries originate in another state. Massive deforestation in the hills and mountains in Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya – from where the rivers flow down – has led to huge top-soil erosion, which in turn has raised the river-beds. The Centre has to understand and accept this. The State government has to boldly and properly present the case before New Delhi. The Members of Parliament from the state must engage in thoroughly understanding the overall issue of flood and erosion, so that they can raise their voice loudly and with facts and figures. Environmental activism too should cover encroachment on the river-beds and wetlands.

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