GUWAHATI: The nation’s attention finally turned to the Northeast with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Assam to hear the chief ministers of five states that have been beset with floods on a scale that would dwarf the deluges of other states in ‘mainland’ India.
The chief ministers of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh and a representative of Mizoram gathered in Guwahati to present to the Prime Minister their assessment of the damage wrought in their states, and also sensitise New Delhi to the annual visitation of floods in the entire region.
After giving a patient hearing to the chief ministers, the Prime Minister announced financial assistance of Rs. 2,350 crore for the states and promised help from the Centre on rebuilding collapsed infrastructure and, most importantly, study the behavior of the rivers of the region.
As the worst-hit of the five states, Assam would receive the lion’s share of the assistance but even that would fall short of the Rs 3,888.09 crore loss estimate compiled by the state’s administration.
Assam’s finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the exact share of each of the states would be worked out later.
A remarkable point about Assam’s presentation was the joint memorandum submitted to the PM by the BJP (the ruling party), Asom Gana Parishad and the Bodoland People’s Front, urging Modi to recognise floods and erosion in the northeast as a national problem and constitute a group of ministers to find a permanent solution to the problem.
Towards that direction, an additional Rs 100 crore has been announced to set up a high-powered committee of scientists, technocrats and bureaucrats from central and state governments to study the mighty but the mercurial Brahmaputra, whose flood plains are an annual scene of devastation.
The turgid northeast, which makes up 8 per cent of the country’s land mass, contains one-third of the country's water resources. But the Brahmaputra’s propensity to break its banks annually displaces millions and kills hundreds each year – some 26 lakh people displaced and 100 killed in Assam this year.
Accordingly, Assam’s water resources minister Keshab Mahanta quoted the PM as saying, "The problem in the northeast is India's problem. We are exploring all possible means to enable proper management of the water resources of the northeast."
Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang, who presented a damage report of Rs 700 crore, 18 deaths and six lakh displacements, said, “It is good and encouraging that the Prime Minister has come and met all the CMs of the northeast. This is a good sign."