LAKHIMPUR: For most of his life Benudhar Bania had to cross one river to go to Lakhimpur from his village of Jurkhat Bania Gaon in northern Assam. Now he has to cross two. The second was created by the floods this year.
On July 9, the flooded Ronganadi washed away 200m of its north bank at Amtola Jainpur and an entirely new river was born. The flood waters gushed through the breach and swept away everything that stood in the way and turned vast swathes of agricultural land into wasteland. Lush green paddy fields, fisheries, houses, barns and cowsheds that once stood in the region have all disappeared. The new offshoot of the Ronganadi flows for 10 km through villages till its mingles in the Subansiri river.
Benudhar Bania, 38, said it was a tragedy his people were not prepared for. “That fateful night, we were repairing an embankment half a kilometre away. Suddenly, we got information that the river had breached a bank in our village and we all rushed there. When I reached home, I saw the Ronganadi gushing out through a small opening. Within minutes it become a torrent and we ran for our lives,” Bania said.
The river washed away 11 concrete houses, livestock, two-wheelers and a tractor. The village has 107 households. Houses that survived the onslaught are weak and may collapse anytime.
Ramen Das, 24, said his nine-room concrete house was washed away in the floods. He and his two brothers, who work as security guards in Hyderabad, had pooled their savings to building the house and it was completed just a month previously.
Others in the village are looking for things they lost. School teacher Joydeep Das is looking for his tractor and Bimal Das for his two cows.
At government-run Indira Bharali LP School sand dunes left by the receding river are still piled up all around.
Visiting journalists with notebooks in hand are mistaken for officer of the administration, and shanghaied into visiting each household. “Please have a look at my house,” a woman demanded of this correspondent. The walls of her thatched house are substantially buried under sand.
Officials say the breached banks of the Ronganadi would be repaired soon but the locals are sceptical. The repair work will be carried out in winter and it’s doubtful if it will be completed before the next monsoon.
“Everyone wants a good flood,” one villager said, paraphrasing a famous saying about the droughts down south. “This is the time to make money.”
The district authorities hand out the numbers: 3.34 lakh people affected by floods in North Lakhimpur this year. Cropland affected: 2,800 hectares. Siltation: 3,800 hectares.
Over 1,000 paddy farms are still under water from the Ronganadi flood. At some places, the new flood channel is as deep as 10 feet and local people use boats to cross it. The new river will dry when the Ronganadi breach is banked again but North Lakhimpur deputy commissioner Barun Bhuyan told the New Indian Express it will be years before the land it flooded can be cultivated again.
To the locals, their land is as good as lost. “Our land is under four to five feet of sand. We willnever be able to grow anything here,” one villager said.