A painful annual ritual just got over in Assam. The floods that submerged 18 districts have receded, but the human cost has been huge — 10 deaths and 12 lakh displaced.
The Tarun Gogoi government has announced that it would pump in Rs 1,000 crore on its own to constitute a Flood and Erosion Protection Authority (FEPA) to strengthen existing embankments and build new ones. The government has also submitted a proposal to the Centre requesting Rs 4,500 crore for strengthening 4,400 km of vulnerable embankments across the state.
But, for the people, it is the same story every year. The state gets plenty of funds to fight the floods, but nothing changes on the ground. Since 2001, the state has received around Rs 1,000 crore for flood management from the Centre as well as $142 million from the Asian Development Bank as part of the Assam Integrated Flood and River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project.
In the second wave of floods this year, the Brahmaputra and its tributaries swallowed almost the entire districts of Lakhimpur and Dhemaji. Two lakh people were shifted to relief camps; 2,100 villages were marooned and wildlife reserves, including Kaziranga, were under water.
In Assam, flood management began way back in 1954 when the national policy on floods was first framed, but no action plan has been implemented on the flood plains of the Brahmaputra. Since Independence, Assam has lost 4.29 lakh hectares — 7.4 percent of its total land area — to flood and erosion. That includes 2,500 villages. Nearly 1 lakh families have been rendered permanently landless; many have become migrant workers. On an average, floods inundate 9.31 lakh hectares of fertile agricultural land every year, resulting in a loss of Rs 125 crore.
The formation of the FEPA is a move in the right direction. But the submerged paddy fields will end up with tonnes of sand sediment that would render it useless for agriculture for years. In such a situation, mending embankments would be too little and awfully too late.