It was over three decades ago that,helpless before Assams recurring floods,then chief minister Sarat Chandra Sinha asked the people of the state to learn to live with them. Facing their fourth wave of floods this year,the people of the state are wondering whether Sinha was being insensitive or just prophetic.
Since the beginning of 2012,hundreds of kilometres of embankments in Assam have been damaged,as also roads,bridges and government as well as private property. While about 22 lakh people were affected in July,this round of floods has already hit close to eight lakh,though no deaths have been reported.
And this despite as many as 25 expert committees studying the mighty Brahmaputras annual ritual of disaster to find a solution. Just this July 2,having made an aerial survey,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeated a promise made by several of his predecessors. Once the relief work has taken place, he said,we will pay attention to medium and long-term problems of flood control,erosion and related issues.
Some of these problems are well-known: of the 4,459 km of embankments along the Brahmaputra and most of its tributaries,over 950 km are known to be extremely vulnerable and a further 2,390 km vulnerable. State water resources minister Rajib Lochan Pegu admits a major portion is old and weak.
If there were 234 breaches in 1988,floods led to 354 breaches in 2004,195 in 2007 and 60 in 2012.
For once,the problem isnt lack of funds. Between 2008-12,Assam received Rs 1138.74 crore from the Centre for flood-related schemes,over and above the Rs 832.64 crore it got on the recommendations of a task force on floods constituted by the PM in 2004. In July,the PM promised Rs 500 crore more.
The writer is a Special Correspondent based in Guwahati