Assam floods aftermath Part 3: Farmers find no respite in receding waters as layers of sand bury farmland
The aftermath of the floods has not only forced farmers switching to a different crop but also absorb a substantial loss.
Editor's note: The people of Assam have been affected to varying degrees by the floods. This is the third in a three-part series on how various people in the state are coping with the floods. Even after water level goes down life doesn't become easy for farmers as the raging waters end up covering farm plots with sand.
Guwahati: While floods in Assam are infamous for their unforgiving nature as it is, they have compounded the miseries of farmers in particular. Many have rivers gobbling up parts of their farmland and many more have their farms laden with sand. Owing to their predicament, many have quit farming and are now daily wage labourers.
According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority, the floods this year displaced 56 lakh people and left about four lakh hectares of agricultural land inundated. Roughly, this is 2.7 times the area of Delhi.
Hamid Ali of Chirang district told Firstpost he was making more than Rs 1 lakh per harvesting season from peanut cultivation. Now, he works in a brick kiln and collects daily wages.
He had to resort to growing peanuts in 2012 because rice couldn't thrive on his land after floods deposited sand on it. Three years later, he had to quit farming as unseasonal floods began to occur, especially during the harvesting time, washing away the crops.
"How can we continue farming if nature itself is not on our side!" he exclaimed.
For the same reason as Ali, Suhail Ahmed of Odalguri village in Chirang district had to switch to growing peanuts two years ago. He had been growing rice for 15 years. Ahmed said that for four years now, the river Aie has been regularly leaving behind sand on the farmland after floods. Earlier, the river would deposit fertile silt, which would help grow rice, he recalled.
The aftermath of the floods has not only forced his hand into switching his crop but also caused him a substantial loss. He said every year, the raging rivers take away a part of his land. He said he used to own 21 beeghas of land but has lost more than a third of it to erosion. Now, he's left with only 13 beeghas.
In Odalguri village, one can easily spot farmlands that were once lush with fertile soil but now are filled with coarse, sand-like soil, making it unsuitable for rice. Ahmed said the ratio of fertile land has been decreasing as more and more farmlands are turning into a mini desert. According to Uttaran, an NGO working for flood victims in Assam's Barpeta district, at least 400 acres of agricultural land in 181 villages of Baghbor revenue circle has turned into a desert.
Barpeta district's Matiur Ali, whose three generations of family have been rice cultivators, stopped growing the crop in 2015. He used to grow rice on 30 acres of land. He told Firstpost he hasn't been making much profit of late as flood affects his land multiple times a year. Farmers from the districts of Dhubri, Dhemaji, Majuli and Lakhimpur in the eastern part of the state — where most of the population is settled along river banks — shared similar stories. In Naobaicha, North Lakhimpur and Dhakuakhana, farmlands are buried under heaps of sands deposited by Ranganadi, a tributary of the Brahmaputra flowing down from bordering Arunachal Pradesh.
Shah Alom, councillor of Puthimari panchayat in Dhubri district, confirmed that out of the 18 villages in his panchayat jurisdiction, nine are laden with sand brought in by the rivers Champawati and Brahmaputra. He said people are scared of cultivating anything as there are signs of heavy rains again. He said farmers have been leaving their villages and going to towns and cities in search of work.
Partha Jyoti Das, head of the Water Climate and Hazards Programme of the NGO Aaranyak, said the main reason behind the river water bringing in the sand instead of fertile silt is haphazard urbanisation and construction activities near the river bed.
He said if there is enough forest cover around the upper catchment area of a river, it will not deposit sand in the lower catchment areas. He explained that when it rains heavily, the exposed rock surfaces break, the particles mix with river water and result in the sand being deposited in the lower catchments areas. He said construction activities along the Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh and near river beds in Meghalaya were depriving these ecologically sensitive areas of the crucial green cover, putting Assam at a huge risk.
A fact-finding team led by Hiren Gohain, a social scientist, which did a survey in flood-ravaged districts of Assam showed two possible reasons for deposition of sand: construction of the Ranganadi dam in Arunachal Pradesh (responsible for the flood woes of eastern Assam) and deforestation in Meghalaya (responsible for western Assam).
Government still contemplating
The Brahmaputra Board, set up under the Ministry of Water Resources, for the planning and integrated implementation of measures for the control of floods and bank erosion in Assam, stated that to address the issue, they were "contemplating" updating the master plan that was chartered in 1986.
Secretary of the Board, Iltaf Hussain, said the master plan is old and they have to redraw it, taking into the account the changing weather patterns, ecological differences, and projects. He said they might update it in the next two-three years.
The author is a Guwahati based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Phanidhar Bora, a resident of Gossaigaon village under the Kamrup revenue circle in central Assam's Nagaon district said that he lost everything in this devastating flood
Nagaon is the worst hit with over 3.31 lakh people suffering, followed by Cachar (1.6 lakh) and Hojai (97,300)
Nearly 1.97 lakh people in 20 districts of the state were affected in the last 24 hours due to floods