Toll in Assam floods rises to 27: Deluge grips state every monsoon; policy intervention need of the hour

  • The current floods in Assam have claimed at least 27 lives and affected 57 lakh people in all 33 districts

  • Despite the state having a history of being vulnerable to heavy rains and its consequences, authorities continue to be caught off guard every time

  • Brahmaputra and Barak river systems — which account for one-third of India’s run off — are highly prone to floods

It's another year of monsoon when Assam is gripped by floods and rain-related events. So far, the deluge has claimed at least 27 lives and affected 57 lakh people in all 33 districts of the state. Despite the state having a history of being vulnerable to heavy rains and its consequences, authorities continue to be caught off guard every time.

Situation in the state right now

According to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) bulletin for Wednesday, a rhino died in the Kaziranga National Park while the Brahmaputra and its tributaries were flowing above the danger mark in various places in the state, including in Guwahati. It said the flood waters have receded from Hailakandi district, but 57.51 lakh people still remain affected.

 

Four deaths were reported from Morigaon, two each from Sonitpur and Udalguri districts, while one each from Kamrup (Metro) and Nagaon districts, mounting the toll to 27. Over 1.50 lakh people have been displaced from their homes and taken shelter in 427 relief camps and 392 relief distribution centres set up by various district administrations.

All 409 inmates of Dhubri district jail were shifted to the Dhubri Girls' College, which was converted into a temporary prison, as flood waters inundated the prison. Most parts of Dhubri town were under waist-deep water with boats being the only mode of transport, officials said.

Vast areas of Kaziranga, Manas National Parks and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary were submerged under flood waters, forcing the wild animals, including deer and buffaloes, to move towards the highlands in Karbi Anglong Hills. Reports said thirty animals have been reported dead in the park, including nine after being hit by vehicles and 11 due to drowning.

The Brahmaputra river is flowing above the danger level in Jorhat, Tezpur, Guwahati, Goalpara and Dhubri along with rivers Burhidehing at Khowang in Dibrugarh district, Subansiri river at Badatighat in Lakhimpur, Dhansiri river at at Numaligarh in Golaghat district, Jia Bharali river at Sonitpur, Kopili river at Kampur and Dharamtul in Nagaon district.

Erosion, breaching of embankments, damage to roads, bridges, culverts and other infrastructure were reported from many places in the state. In Guwahati, the Kamrup (Metro) district administration has shut down the parks in the riverfront of the Brahmaputra along MG Road to visitors in view of the rising water level of the river.

 Toll in Assam floods rises to 27: Deluge grips state every monsoon; policy intervention need of the hour

A flooded area in Assam's Kamrup district on Wednesday. PTI

Army, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), and BSF are undertaking rescue operations in the affected areas, and the Centre has released Rs 251.55 crore to the State Disaster Response Fund. Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the funds will immensely help in relief operations. But state representatives are yet to address why Assam is under-prepared year after year.

The Brahmaputra issue

Brahmaputra and Barak river systems — which account for one-third of India’s run off — are highly prone to floods. The annual 2017-18 report by Brahmaputra Board said that adverse topographical feature and settlement of populace in the vulnerable regions were among the main causes for frequent and damaging floods in the river valley.

It further said that the meteorological conditions favour heavy flooding, and there is also an increased pressure on the limited land resource due to encroachment of floodplains. The report also blamed poor maintenance of embankments for the flooding as higher level of floods lead to breaches of the embankments. Plus, the North East region is also prone to earthquakes.

Time and again, heavy rainfall had resulted in Brahmaputra reaching danger levels. In 2012 and 2017 especially, floods caused colossal loss of life and property. Firstpost reported in the aftermath of 2017 floods that the state government estimated the material loss for that year to be a whopping Rs 2,939 crore. This was 15 times the average loss the state puts up with every year owing to floods, Rs 200 crore, according to the Economic Survey, Assam, 2015-16.

A three-part series by Firstpost talked about how the country has no comprehensive plan on tackling this recurring problem. It further pointed out that river training is a better measure than dredging to deal with the flooding issue.

What is the government doing?

So far, there are no clear policies to deal with the flooding problem of Assam. In 2017, the Centre constituted a high-level committee for proper management of the water resources in the North East under the chairmanship of Niti Aayog vice-chairman. The development came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Guwahati to review the flood situation that year, and the panel was told to submit its report, including Plan of Action, by June 2018. According to reports, Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Monday said that suggestions made in the draft report of the committee would help find a permanent solution to the problems of flood and erosion.

But there are also other areas that the government needs to work upon. In a 2017 Livemint article, Himanshu Thakkar, a coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), had stressed on the need for authorities to upgrade the flood forecasting system and coordinate with local administrations. “The Central Water Commission (CWC) puts out flood forecasts but that’s not good enough as local administration is not able to use it. CWC also needs to take it into account rainfall data and not just upstream water flow. All such measures along, with addressing man made causes, can help reduce the level disaster in the region," he was quoted as saying.

Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat on Tuesday reviewed the flood situation in Assam with Sonowal and assured all support to the state by the Centre to deal with the situation.

Sonowal asked the officials associated with rescue and relief works to submit a detailed report highlighting the extent of damage caused by the flood for the government to take up reconstruction work at the earliest, according to a government release. He also emphasised on scientific study of the course of Longai, Kushiyara, Shingla and Barak so that the damage perpetrated by the rivers could be minimised

After meeting Sonowal, Shekhawat told reporters that Modi had a telephonic conversation with the chief minister on Monday to review the flood condition in the state and he was sent to take stock of the situation.

After the state sends it loss assessment report, the Centre will send a verification team for further release of funds, Shekhawat said, adding, "The Centre is firmly behind the state government in tackling the flood and erosion in the state." Whether the measures will prevent the situation from recurring is questionable.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 17, 2019 23:40:32 IST