The floods have almost totally receded and almost all 2.25 lakh people who had taken shelter in relief camps since July — barring 60 in Jorhat — have returned home and begun repairing their houses. But Biren Das, Himeswari Das, Robison Das, Bhakatram Das and Madan Das of Samaguri village of Majuli, the island on the Brahmaputra, saw their homesteads disappear into the river Friday.
Since the floods, Majuli has been facing fresh erosion. At least 19 families of Samaguri village have lost all their land. Unless it can be checked, the erosion is set to affect over 80 more families in addition to three primary schools and a high school.
Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who incidentally represents Majuli in the assembly, asked the water resources department and the Brahmaputra Board Saturday to send a team of senior officers to Majuli, make an assessment of erosion and come up with an action plan in the next ten days. “Now that the floods have receded, the water resources department and Brahmaputra Board must immediately identify all erosion-prone areas and take immediate steps before a long-term plan is taken up,” Sonowal said.
Majuli, one of the worst erosion-affected places in Assam, has seen its area shrink from 1,256 sq km in 1891 to 421 sq km today.
About 450 km away, the Aie river that comes down from Bhutan changed course four weeks ago, in the process taking away the entire Chota Nilibari village and about half of Dababeel in Sidli constituency, rendering at least five families homeless. Mahesh Basumatary lost 14 bighas with 700 betelnut trees and 40 mango and jackfruit trees apart from his house.
The authorities, under the leadership of Sidli MLA Chandan Brahma, have managed to divert the river temporarily by engaging half-a-dozen excavators and bulldozers for about a week. Landless people are still out in a relief camp about 4 km from the village that has disappeared.
Since 1954, erosion caused by the Brahmaputra and its tributaries has destroyed and removed more than 4,270 sq km productive farmland, leaving over 50,000 families landless and homeless. This would be about 7.5 per cent of the state’s area. The Brahmaputra has at places swollen to more than 15 km wide.
Experts from the water resources department, Brahmaputra Board, IIT Guwahati, Asian Development Bank and World Bank took part in a two-day brainstorming session in Guwahati recently but could not come up with any concrete solution. While some experts suggested “alternative technologies” and structural and non-structural measures in optimal combination, others called for building stable river-banks by using appropriate technology like porcupine screens and corrective dredging of the river.
Till then, people living along the river-banks will continue to live an uncertain life.