Benudhar Bania, 35, had spent his life’s savings of `5 lakh to build his four-room concrete house. All that now stands there is a pillar—the rest was swallowed by the flood waters. He and several others were busy at a namghar (place of worship) half a kilometre away from their Jurkhat Bania Gaon, a tiny hamlet in Assam’s North Lakhimpur district, when the swollen Ronganadi breached its bank, wreaking havoc.
“We got just a few minutes to react as the swirling flood waters gushed through a breached portion in the village. We saw our houses and barns falling like a pack of cards. For 10 years, I had saved for the concrete house, which was built in January this year. The flood waters also silted my agricultural land, thereby snatching my livelihood,” Bania bemoans.
The deluge, which was the worst in three decades, affected 35 lakh people in 29 of the state’s 33 districts. Around 150 lives were lost while over two lakh hectares of cropland was damaged. The flood breached embankments, roads and bridges across the state. The wild too was not spared. Hundreds of animals, including rhinos, elephants and a Royal Bengal Tiger, died in the 430 sq km Kaziranga National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was a tale of woes in relief camps too. Lack of food, drinking water, and sanitation facilities hit survivors. Near the Kaziranga National Park, one single lavatory catered to some 250 inmates, half of whom were women. Despite this, no help was allegedly in sight from the Centre. By the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi eventually visited the state and announced a flood package, dozens of lives had been lost. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), which has for long been demanding that the perennial flood and erosion in the state be declared a national problem, claims Modi would not have behaved like this, had it been a state like Uttar Pradesh.
“After he visited Gujarat, there was a strong reaction in Assam. So, he had to come to save his face,” AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi alleges. “Given such attitude of the Central government, we sometimes wonder if Assam is a part of India,” he questions.Nagaland chief minister TR Zeliang agrees, “A large chunk of India does not know what Assam and the Northeast went through in the face of the recent catastrophe.” The recent round-the-clock coverage of Mumbai rains by the national television channels added salt to the wounds.
According to the National Flood Commission of India, about 40 per cent of Assam’s area—close to 32 lakh hectare—is flood-prone. Besides, erosion is a serious problem. The state has lost 4.3 lakh hectare, which is around seven per cent of its area, to river erosion since 1954.