Assam's Embankments: Crores Washed Away

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Since 2004, the Narayanguri embankment in Assam's Baksa district has been washed away thrice.


Baksa, Assam:  The Narayanguri embankment in Assam's Baksa district has been washed away thrice since 2004 due to floods. Like the last two times, it's being rebuilt once again to protect human settlements.

As villagers suffer year after year due to floods in Assam, 49-year-old Yasin Ali told NDTV he has lost his house, believe it or not, seven times. Every time he has had to escape to a relief camp or simply find high ground as rivers swell and cause havoc due to breaches in embankments.

"My house has been washed away seven times like this. This is how we have survived. This time we have taken refuge here," Mr Ali told NDTV.

"I have seen this embankment break and being rebuilt two times. In 2005 and 2008 it was rebuilt," added 65-year-old Abdul Qadir.
 

Villagers suffer year after year due to floods in Assam.

One of the allegations is that successive governments in Assam have continued to depend on embankments as a solution for flooding problems simply because it means money. Money for the contractors who build these embankments and money for politicians who often receive kickbacks. And when due to erosion an embankment is washed away the government has no option but to build another one like this to save human settlements, all at the cost of public money.

Himanshu Thakkar from South Asia Network for Rivers, Dams and People (SANDRP) told NDTV, "A lot of money keeps getting spent on embankments because it's a lot of money, mostly unaccountable money. Money keeps getting spent without really helping the local people and helping from the flood problem."

Rs 33,000 crore have been spent in the name of flood prevention since the 1950s in Assam. The centre has set aside from Rs 500 crore in 2013 to over Rs 700 crore last year to equip the state better against the fury of the Brahmaputra. But where has all that money gone?

Newly elected BJP Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal told NDTV, "Everyone knows what was going on in the state for all these years in the name of flood prevention."

The Congress which has been in power for the last 15 years denies any corruption.

Apurba Bhattacharya, senior spokesperson of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, told NDTV, "Now they (BJP) are in the government. They know it very well. They can go through the files. Just mentioning a figure and saying horrible things doesn't mean taking responsibility."

Experts say embankments were only supposed to be a temporary solution. But the actual flood prevention measures which would have reduced the need for embankments have not been pursued seriously.

Professor Dulal Chandra Goswami, whose work on the river is internationally recognized, told NDTV, "Unfortunately the short term measure has existed till today with us. We have stuck to it in spite of knowing it will go against the health of the river and its ecology."

Vice Chairman of the Brahmaputra Board, Chaman Lal told NDTV, "You can keep on having a solution like this but there would be large amount of area without protection from embankments. The solution to save yourself from floods can happen only by creating reservoirs."

The Brahmaputra Board set up by the centre has a plan that has been kept in cold storage.

By building dams and reservoirs upstream the water flow can be regulated to prevent floods. They hope the new government takes its advice seriously so that people of Assam have some relief.


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