Over 85 lives have been lost and nearly 44.96 lakh people were adversely affected in the second wave of floods that hit Assam this year. Time for a long-lasting solution
Guwahati: The flooding in Assam which started from June 12, according to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), has been wreaking havoc in the state. The situation is improving now but it’s unknown that when the grim reality will become obsolete again for the people of Assam. Due to no significant improvement in the lives of those affected, with all livelihood from human beings to wildlife alike, the state has been enduring a certain indignation and is in teeters over whom to blame for this?
The revulsion of the people stems from the fact that the Centre’s immediacy in its response for the flooding has been arbitrary and fairly newborn which is in stark contrast compared to its prompt response to the 2018 Kerala floods, wherein the total relief aid from the Centre alone equaled up to more than a massive $150 million from the overall figure of a mammoth $350 million which the state received from all over the country compared to the $16 million the government released for Assam around two week ago after much of the damage had already been done.
Apart from the monetary aid, other relief operations by the Central government for Kerala included the deployment of 40 helicopters, 31 aircraft, 500 boats, 182 rescue teams, 18 medical teams of defence forces, 58 teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and seven companies of the Central Armed Police Forces (CRPF) which helped in saving more than 60,000 human lives and controlling the situation from blowing out of proportion compared to a mere 137 boats which the Centre deployed for rescue operations in Assam, according to ASDMA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit of Assam in the year 2016 announced the set-up of a high-level committee for studying the problem of flood in the state and also the allotment of Rs 100 crore per year dedicated to this cause. But the inception of such a committee never even started let alone come to fruition which could have otherwise prevented the ruination of the state which is now facing severe adversity with more than 18 districts, together 2,669 villages and localities, 65 revenue circles, 1,35,227 hectares of crop area, 38,37,354 people, 35,00,000 animals and 2,931 houses affected, according to figures from ASDMA as of July 21.
It’s not just the astonishing discrepancy in the monetary and relief aid between the two states for the same problem of flooding in a time period of less than a year that has left the ethos of Assam perplexed, it’s also the discrepancy in the sentiment building undertaken by the people of the country, from authorities to organizations to influencers alike, that has truly hurt the Assamese today.
Talking about the Assam state government, an RTI was filed a year ago in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) to extract details about how much donation was received in the CM’s flood relief fund in last few years. The RTI also enquired about the utilisation details of the funds, but ironically the RTI was not addressed with the answered enquired for.
Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal keeps posing with the cheques received for the flood relief but when, where and how the funds will be utilised is not informed to the public.
This year too, relief funds from various segment of the society, including Bollywood stars, business establishments and educational institutes were deposited at the chief minister’s relief fund. Among all, Bollywood superstar, Akshay Kumar, has announced a large amount of charity money amounting to Rs 2 crore for flood hit Assam, Rs 1 crore each to the chief minister’s relief fund and Kaziranga National Park rescue.
The Brahmaputra Board was set up under the Union ministry of irrigation (now renamed as ministry of water resources, RD&GR) by the Centre under an Act of Parliament called “The Brahmaputra Board Act, 1980 (46 of 1980)“ for the planning and integrated implementation of measures for the control of floods and bank erosion in the Brahmaputra Valley and for matters connected therewith. The Board office started functioning with headquarters at Guwahati with effect from January 11, 1982. Even after 27 years of its existence, the board has failed to come up with any concrete solution for floods in Assam.
A master plan was prepared by the board, but the plan was never implemented as many found it unfeasible.
But the state industry minister Chandra Mohan Patowary claims that the Brahmaputra river will be dredged from Sadia to Dhubri and national highways will be constructed on the banks. Patowary’s dream is like Mungeri Lal ke haseen sapne.
On July 17 this year, Union minister for Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat took stock of the flood situation in Assam and announced to release an amount of Rs 251.55 crore as Central aid following instructions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Union minister along with chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal also met with officials from the Brahmaputra Board at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati and discussed about measures that can be undertaken to reach a final solution to flood in Assam.
The Central government also formed a separate department under the NITI Aayog, named as the Northeast Water Management Committee, in attempt to deal with problems related to flood in Assam. The Union government has also decided to launch a pilot project at a particular location by conducting a hydrographic survey in order to find a long-lasting solution to flood in Assam.
Meanwhile, as per the latest report from Assam State Disaster Management Authorities, a total of 864 villages of 29 revenue circles in 13 districts are being adversely affected and still submerged under flood waters in Assam. And notably, up to 44.96 lakh people have been affected by the floods this time around.
At present, 417 relief camps are operational with 30, 925 inmates and 68 relief distribution centres across the state and at least 82 lives have been lost so far.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Narendra Modi government is expected to change the country in next few years – looking at the mandate they received in 2019 Lok Sabha polls –and Assam being a claimed important state for the Central government, will Modi 2.0 be able to solve the Assam floods issue which kills and troubles many Assamese people every year?
(Raul Johnson is a Guwahati-based environment crusader and RTI activist. Views expressed are his own)