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Assam Flood: Within a Month, Second Spell Submerges Half of the State

It appears that the continuous rains for the last few days in Assam, Meghalaya and upstream Bhutan, coupled with the opening of gates of the dams in a few hydroelectric projects, have caused the current disaster.
assam cover

It's not even a month, and people have not restored their homes - some still in the shelter - camps that the second spell of flood has arrived, that too with more vigour. This time from the middle to the west lower Assam, on both south and north banks of the Brahmaputra have been underwater for two days now. Situations in many places are tense as tributaries, rivers, and streams are gushing above the danger line; many places have witnessed breaching of the embankments by the rivers and also breaching of the rivers by the banks, inundating huge swathes of land, submerging houses, grain stocks, paddies and livestock.

The affected districts, where lives have not only come to a standstill but under threat, are Nagaon, Hojai, Morigaon (in the middle Assam, south bank of Brahmaputra), Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong (Hills districts), Cachar (Barak Valley), Kamrup (both south and north banks) Nalbari, Bajali, Barpeta, Bangaigaon, Baksa, Tamulpur, Kokrajhar (Lower Assam division, north bank of Brahmaputra), Goalpara (west Assam, south bank of Brahmputra).

This accounts for almost half of the state and is bound to toll severe losses, both economic and human. District administrations in most of these districts have announced alerts and declared the closure of educational and other institutes.

The capital city of Guwahati is also in poor condition, with many houses still under water, landslides at several places killing people, and electricity cut. Kamrup Metro district, which is mostly the capital, is also closed till June 18.

The continuous rains for the last few days in Assam, Meghalaya and upstream Bhutan, coupled with the opening of gates of the dams in a few hydroelectric projects, have caused the disaster. The Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) at Borjhar, Guwahati, has predicted the continuation of the rains for more days. The deputy director of RMC Borjhar, Dr Shaw, over the phone, said that the wind at the Bay of Bengal is creating the heavy clouds in this region, and rain will continue till June 20-21. Albeit, rain may become a little scattered, he said.

NewsClick spoke to many from the affected districts. On June 16, Mehrajul Alom from Hojai told that water from Kopili entered Hojai and inundated many villages situated at its bank. The administration announced alerts, and people had already moved to shelter camps till evening. By midnight, Alom said, many people packed their essentials and got ready to leave to safe places or shelter camps as the water levels were rising continuously.

"Every moment, people have to observe the water level; they can't sleep. Any moment they may need to move away,"—Alom explained. Till the morning of June 17, nearly 30% of the Hojai district (Laskarpathar, Aisubali, Jamunamukh, Kumrakata et) were inundated, according to him. Jubair Hussain and LutfurRehman, both from Hojai, shared the same tense situations.


A house getting washed away.

Kheri area of Karbi Anglong also witnessed rising water levels. Biren Enghi, a local reporter for the Assamese daily Pratidin, said that this flood is the biggest he is observing, and here also, the Kopili river is gushing above normal. The water level almost touched the Kheroni bridge over Kopili on June 16, Enghi told. He attributed the massive scale of the flood to the continuous rain (for more than 24 hours without a gap) in Assam and Meghalaya and the release of water from the NEEPCO dam at the Kopili hydroelectric project.

Worth mentioning here is that a few days back, in another NewsClick report, one NEEPCO official said that there is no role of the dams in the floods as the project is almost nonfunctional. However, the latest reservoir status released by NEEPCO showed the opening of the gate of the Khangdong dam of the Kopili HEP. Biren Enghi told us that gates from the Kopili dams were opened and those of the Karbi Langpi (on Langpi river of Karbi Anglong) hydroelectric project as well. “These compound the flood situation in Nagaon, Hojai and Karbi Anglong districts," he said.


Submerged school premises that was earlier a shelter camp.

Moving further north, at Kampur of Nagaon district, the same tense situation prevailed. Notably, Kampur, Raha, and parts of Hojai district were the worst affected during the first spell of flood in May (pre-monsoon period), and people had not fully restored their houses before this second massive floods affected these areas again. From Kampur, MolaLAskar told us about people worryingly observing the water levels, getting ready to flee to camps overnight. Notably, most of these camps are in the local government schools, some of which may get submerged this time, adding woes to the already grave conditions. He also apprised us that embankments were breached near Potiapam village near Kampur where Kopili entered villages.

Mrinali Devi and NiralaMedhi, from Raha, Nagaon told us on June 16 night that kopili water had entered already the Jalah area, including Chaparmukh. They were waiting till morning the next day to move to other places or camps. Here also, they expressed their grieves about the neglect of the government in providing aid to the sufferers.

Coming straight to the north bank of the lower Assam division, the worst affected areas are in Kamrup, Nalbari and Bajali districts. In the Kamrup district, the Baralia and Puthimari rivers breached embankments at two or three places which flooded several places inRangia and others.

It needs to mention here that Assam has rivers flowing through it that originate in the hills of Bhutan, Arunachal, and Meghalaya. The north bank districts of the lower Assam division have all the rivers originating from Bhutan. The incessant rains at both the plains of Assam and uphills Bhutan plus dam gate opening make the flood situation anxious.

“The whole of Nalbari district is flooded now”—Said Bonojit Hussain, who is at Boridatara village and an agricultural researcher. “The Nona river, at the border of Kamrup and Nalbari district, which has breached embankments at one or two spots, has flooded many villages. Moreover, the Ghogra rivulet, originating in Bhutan, has been swamped due to the rain, flooding paddy fields in wide areas. The Mori Paglidiya river breached embankment the day before yesterday, which along with the Kaldia river, wreaks havoc in places like Tihu, Kaithalkuchi and the border areas of Nalbari and Bajali districts," Bonojit explained.

The flood will result in a shortage of rice seeds this time, according to him. This is the season when paddies have sprouted and are waiting for the plantation in a month. "Water gushing above these for several days will destroy them completely, and farmers will have to start from the beginning, which will create a crisis of the seeds"—he said.


Madhurjyo Goswami of Patacharkuchi, Bajali district, told us on June 16 that till evening, Kaldia’s water reached their backyard. “Swamping of it is likely to happen till tomorrow morning”—Madhurjyo said. The district headquarters of Bajali, Pathsala town, was flooded till June 16 evening, and one death was reported. The inundation of Pathsala is due to the Pohumara river, coming down from Bhutan. “Pathsala’s flood is unusual. Is it due to natural factors, or there are some new dams upstream remains a question,"—told Kishor Kalita, a regular columnist based at Guwahati.

Similarly, the Pohumara river breached embankments at several places flooding many places in Bhabinipur and Sorupeta areas. “The Pohumara swamping is also attributable to gate opening at Kurishu in Bhutan”—said Subrat Talukdar, a political activist from Bhabanipur. Subrat had to rush from Guwahati to his place on 16th June evening due to the fear of the flood as his aged parents stayed alone there.

The DPO (District project officer), of Kokrajhar, Kamal Hazarika told us that many rivers like Gaurang, C Hampabati, Sonkoch etc., are carrying heavy amounts of water and are flowing above the danger level. They have evacuated many villagers where floods entered on June 16. Hazarika said that till the evening of June 17, many others may be needed to rescue and transferred to shelter camps.

On the south bank, the district of Goalpara is also witnessing the floods and is waiting for a worsening of the situation. The Meghalaya originating rivers Dudhnoi, Krishani, Jinari are gushing. Bhanujoy Rabha, president of Bodahapur Gaon Panchayat, said that villages have already submerged in his panchayat due to waters from Jinari and Rongkhati rivers. “More flooding due to Dudhnoi and Krishnai rivers are very likely today or tomorrow (June 18)"—BhanujoyRabhasaid.

Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman is an independent researcher based in Guwahati. Speaking to NewsClick, Mirza said that the situation had worsened, especially in Guwahati, due to a combination of factors—infrastructure on the ground and climate change on top. He also said that dam infrastructure has to be seen critically.

“For example, NEEPCO has already changed the course of the river a lot. So it does not matter much whether the dams are operational or nonoperational," he said, adding that "The authorities always play with technical terminologies, but in reality, the river dynamics change, which shows its impacts in times of natural calamities,” he said.

Mirza also said that not only in Arunachal Pradesh, where several dams are planned but there are also other planned rivers from Bhutan as well. These will further make the floods critical, according to him. "The hydrocracy philosophy says that rivers can be controlled totally, which is a masculine thought because rivers are considered female in gender"—Mirza said. Moreover, he told that the early warning systems where Bhutan used to pass to India (in Assam especially) in case of heavy rains, uphills are waning over time.

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