A cloud burst over the Garo Hills in Meghalaya on 21 September, followed by two days of incessant rains, made the worst fears come alive for the people of Meghalaya and lower Assam. During an aerial survey of the affected areas on 23 September, Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma said he was shocked to see the devastation. Getting down from the chopper, he said the damage was “unprecedented”.
By then, the deadly deluge that rushed down from the Garo Hills of Meghalaya had submerged hundreds of villages in Kamrup and Goalpara districts of Assam. At last count before going to press, over 50 people had died in the two states and nearly 5 lakh people affected. All the five districts in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills region went under water.
According to sources in the Meghalaya government, the damage caused to roads alone is estimated to be about Rs 300 crore. Add to that the loss of crops and infrastructure, and the total destruction would amount to more than Rs 1,000 crore.
The road link between Guwahati and Tura, the main city in the Garo Hills region, was snapped, with a large section of National Highway 51 swept away by the rushing water. Meghalaya’s capital Shillong could not remain untouched by the tragedy; no less than eight lives were lost because of massive landslides in the city. Water had to be released from the Barapani power project in an attempt to control the damage.
Causing massive landslides in its wake, the floodwaters came down from the hills of Meghalaya and submerged large swathes of land in Kamrup and Goalpara districts of Assam. It took just a few hours for the waters to inundate more than 90 villages in Goalpara. Several villages such as Bolbola, Molandubi, Karmakarpara, Karipara, Udaypur, Krishnai, Dudhnoi, Rangjuli and Majgaon were simply washed away. At least 1.5 lakh people from the district were asked to leave their homes and move to higher ground.
In Goalpara, the floods revived memories of 2004, when the district had faced a similar flood that killed over 100 people.
At the moment, as many as 11 teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are engaged in rescue operations in Goalpara, even as more rescue teams are being airlifted from Bihar and Odisha.
“We had taken several measures to deal with the flood but were rendered totally helpless in the face of the huge amount of water rushing in. Half of the city got inundated,” says Kamrup (Metro) Deputy Commissioner M Angamuthu. “The worst-hit parts of the city include Anil Nagar and surrounding areas. We had to call in the army and open relief camps. By all accounts, this is far worse than what we had seen during the floods in Guwahati in June.”
In fact, Guwahati, large parts of which had got submerged after just one night of torrential rain on 26 June (That Sinking Feeling by Ratnadip Choudhury, 12 July), has got inundated once again. This has the potential to affect normal life and essential services in the entire Northeast as the city acts as the gateway to the region.
Since 2001, under the Tarun Gogoi-led government in Assam, the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority has received funds to the tune of almost Rs 6,000 crore in the name of various urban development projects. After the devastation caused by the floods, questions are now being raised over how effectively and intelligently the funds have been utilised.
“Floods have claimed the lives of 33 residents of the city in the past three years. This clearly shows the poor state of implementation of the projects,” says local journalist Syeda Ambia Jahan, who has been writing extensively on the civic issues of Guwahati.
In 2011, the government submitted a white paper on the funds spent on various development projects in Guwahati. As per the report, the government spent Rs 296.05 crore in its first term in office from 2001 to 2006. In its second term, in the four years from 2006 to 2010, it spent Rs 577.79 crore — nearly twice the amount it had spent in the preceding five years. Again, in 2010-11, the total expenditure was Rs 297.03 crore.
In 2011-12, the Assam government spent Rs 380.26 crore from the state planning funds for the development of Guwahati, and Rs 693.51 crore in 2012-13. The following year, 2013-14, it spent Rs 492 crore.
During the three terms of the Congress government, around Rs 100 crore was shown as the expenditure towards cleaning and digging of drains in the city. And surprisingly, the government also claims to have spent Rs 400 crore to clean up the Bharalu river, which brimmed over with floodwater this time around.
Copies of government documents available with TEHELKA show that in 2008, Rs 120 crore was allotted to the task of cleaning up the Bahini river, which runs through Guwahati. Yet, in reality, the river remains choked and that is why it failed to drain away the excess water that entered the city.
Clearly, in the past 13 years under the Congress regime, there has been no dearth of funds that could have been used to put in place measures to minimise the damage caused by floods. But where the funds went is anybody’s guess.