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Assam floods: Unhappy human rights panel demands report

The year's first wave of devastating flood exposed the woeful lack of preparedness of Assam's Water Resources Department to protect the state from a disaster which has become an annual feature. The loss to life and property has been so high that it drew national attention, prompting the Assam Human Rights Commission to take a landmark decision to take suo motu action.

"The newspapers have come out with reports how crores of rupees were spent in the name of flood control measures in the state. But the result is there for all to see. People and animals are swept away, crops are damaged, houses are ravaged, it is complete devastation," Assam Human Rights Commission member Jyoti Prasad Chaliha told Firstpost from Guwahati over phone.

Flood affected. Reuters

A division bench of the commission comprising chairperson Justice Aftab Hussain Saikia and Chaliha has ordered the state government to form a high-level committee to enquire and submit a report in 12 weeks to the commission on the amount of money spent and nature of work done for flood control between 2005-06 and 2011-12.

"The three-member committee must be headed by an additional chief secretary rank officer, with one additional director general of police rank official and a technical expert from IIT or any engineering college in Assam as members. We want senior officers to do the enquiry. We do not want it to be done by junior officers who may be easily manageable," Chaliha said.

The commission was baffled by the fact that despite huge funds from different state and Central government agencies the state Water Resources Department perenially complains about shortage of funds.

"Crores of rupees are released by the state and Central governments in the name of flood control. Where does this money go? The department does not use it during the dry season and starts working late April or May. This results in very little time for implementation of corrective and protective measures before the monsoon set in," he said. The monsoon enters Assam by June.

"It is quite obvious that the patchy work stands no chance before the flood fury and is obviously swept away by the strong currents," Chaliha said.

Expressing dissatisfaction with the state Water Resources Department, the member said, "We want to stop the corruption that is going on in the department. The loot of such astronomical amount has led to massive violation of human rights." The panel was also unhappy with the tenure of officers in the department.

"As per government norms, officers should not stay for more than three years at one location. However, there are many instances where they have stayed for over five to seven years at one place. In fact, when they are transferred by the Election Commission during polls they manage to return within two or three months," Chaliha said.

"This gives the unscrupulous lot to evolve a system to loot public money," he said.

"People are saying that the Rs 500 crore relief announced by the prime minister recently is insufficient. Let me tell you Rs 500 crore is no less a figure if used properly," the commission member said.

When asked about the action after the report is submitted, Chaliha said, "That will depend on what the report finds."

Till date, Rs 33,000 crore has been spent for flood control since 1954 in Assam. So far in this wave of flood, 125 people have lost their lives.