Even after a month, people in Assam seem not to have any respite from one of the most massive floods in decades. Now, with the Barak valley getting badly affected, both the valleys of the state are inundated. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the entire state is now facing a flood, and it does not seem to return to normal within a few days.
All Three Districts of Barak Valley Under Water
Silchar, the biggest South Assam town and the gateway to the Barak valley, has had a trauma in the last two days. People there witnessed the inundation of almost every bit of the city in flood, which they didn't ever before in history. Silchar has seldom seen a flood of this magnitude, and this happened due to the Barak river that breached an embankment at Bethukandi.
The Bethukandi breaching led to the gushing of water from Barak, submerging Silchar overnight. It was a 'nowhere to go, nowhere to shelter' like situation for the residents.
The entire Barak valley is now cut off from the rest of the northeast. The problem with electricity and mobile network connectivity has spiralled, and people there are not easily reachable. Sripod Dhar, a resident of Udarbond, a block in Cachar district and just 17 kilometres from Silchar, told us over the phone that roads connecting Silchar with the rest of Assam via Dima Hasao and Meghalaya are blocked due to flood.
"Silchar is like a sea. The Barak river breaching embankment has brought misery to the people. There is a huge drinking water crisis. People in villages had to rush to shelter camps overnight, with very little support," Dhar said, adding, "The prices have skyrocketed overnight. There seems to be no control by the administration, nor even the elected representatives are doing anything to maintain control over the prices or reduce peoples' plight."
Submerged Silchar Under Barak’s Water (photo: Mohsin Ahmed)
He said apart from Silchar, Borkhola, Katigorah and Lakhipur are badly affected areas in the Cachar district. Nearly 40 villages from Lakhipur alone are sheltering in camps with little or no facilities.
Mohsin Ahmed is a youth from Baraigram village in the Karimganj district. He said the Kushiyara river is flowing steadily just below 8 centimetres from the highest flood level (HFL) on June 22.
Kushiyara, flowing through the Indo-Bangladesh border in the district, is a branch of the Barak after it gets divided into two branches upon reaching Karimganj, with the other branch being the Surma river.
"The other important rivers, Shingla and Longai, also wreaked havoc in the district. Longai mainly inundated the Patharkandi side, and Shingla affected the Ratabari side," Ahmed said.
Although Longai's and Shingla's waters have receded a little, Kushiyara remains dangerous.
Busy visiting the shelter camps to provide aid, Ahmed told us that people are in distress. He also said that various NGOs and organisations are rescuing people and providing aid apart from the rescue operations by SDRF, NDRF and para-military forces.
Hasina Rahman Choudhury, a lawyer based in Karimganj who leads a youth volunteer group, shared her experiences, saying, "On June 19, half of the Sankarpur village was under water. We contacted the concerned field officer there, but he did not take any responsibility. Ultimately we talked to the managing committee of a school. People sheltered there by arranging things by themselves. But the field officer again refused to provide aid. However, after much effort, aid reached the camp late at night, which only had rice, dal and salts. Moreover, the school premise was not at all suitable for living. Earlier, we contacted for rescue as well, but got a similar response and had to contact BSF for rescue."
She said that they faced a similar situation in Dinpur village. Her experience reflected the apathy of the administration. She also alleged a heinous role played by the Gaon Panchayat president, whose jurisdiction covers both Sankarpur and Dinpur villages.
Fears Over Water From Bhutan Dams
The worst affected areas during the second flood this year are the Raha and Kampur regions of Nagaon district, Hojai district in middle Assam, and the south bank of Brahmaputra. The flood situation continues to be worse in these areas. Parts of Raha and Kampur are seeing an increase in the water level. The heavy rains and NEEPCO's (North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited) water release from the dams made the situation worse.
NewsClick visited places of Raha circle (over 100 kilometres from Guwahati) where people are living in abysmal conditions in the shelter camps, which are mostly the school houses, and market complexes. In one such camp near Fuloguri, in the market complex, people came overnight from the villages.
This was not a designated camp as such. Here, 140 families from Jakoruwa-Udaibheti and Dangobibeel Kachari villages took shelter
Jiten Bordoloi, a 65-year-old from Jakoruwa Udaibheti village, taking shelter here, told NewsClick that out of 65 houses in his village, only five or six are pucca houses, while the rest are kutcha houses, and all of them are under water. One can guess that the water rose to around 10 feet. People here, almost entirely depending on farming, fear losing their kutcha houses in the water flowing with lightning speed. Their paddy crops could not be harvested entirely, and the new season of sowing is fast slipping.
In another such camp in a government school, people from the Dhemajigaon village expressed their sufferings.
Lalit Saikia, Dusheshwari Kakoti and Bokul Kalita informed that their entire village is in the shelter camp now and has 80 houses, of which only 15 are pucca. They also fear losing their houses and belongings.
On top of that, the situations in these camps are also extremely pathetic. People arrived here on June 18. Still, the administration started providing food items on the afternoon of June 20. They were supplied with rice, little dal and salt, but nothing was provided to light the fire and cook the food. Women are the worst sufferers as they are running short of clothes, sanitary napkins etc.
Commenting on the condition of the victims, Bibek Das, a left leader of Assam, told NewsClick, "We demand that there has to be an immediate arrangement of clothes for women, proper toilets at the shelters, providing foods and nutrition, taking extra care for the pregnant women and providing mosquito nets. Secondly, we also demand that those at the shelter camps should be provided with Rs 10,000 and tins to reconstruct their houses. We also demand that the victims be waived off the land revenue."
The camps in the Barak valley could not be reached.
From Guwahati heading west on the north bank of Brahmaputra, all the districts—Kamrup, Nalbari, Bajali, Barpeta, Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar have been under water for almost a week now. Newsclick travelled to Pathsala in the Bajali district, nearly 100 kilometres from the capital city. Flood victims were found to be staying on the national highway. It was closed on one side at many spots in the entire stretch. In most cases, they arranged the Tarpaulin sheets to protect them from rain. The provision of providing food items is scarce.
People lining up to receive food from a military truck, Baihata Chariali, Kamrup, Assam.
Two points prominently came out in lower Assam. Almost everywhere, people say that the flood is unprecedented and water is released from Bhutan.
When asked how they knew about the dams releasing water, some said they heard when the Gaonburha (village head) announced an alert in their villages. The release of water from the Kurichhu dam has been public news; however, information about the other dams in Bhutan, like Mangdechhu, is not known.
Ramanuj Hazarika, the SDO (Sub-divisional Officer) of Tamulpur, on being asked about this, said that they did not have any information as such. He also said that over 100 villages are under water affecting over a lakh people in Tamulpur, which s unprecedented.
In the Darrang district, people saw floods in some places where it had never happened; also, some places were flooded within a few hours.
Bichitra Kumar Medhi, from Mongoldoi, an aged person and a prominent geographer of the area, told NewsClick that after seeing the intensity and speed of the flood, he concluded that it can not be natural.
“Maybe there are some activities uphills Bhutan and water is released from some sources that flew down to Assam through various rivers. I have no idea whether district administration knew about it,” he said.
Jiten Choudhury, a senior journalist with Dainik Asom, a leading Assamese daily, raised the concern in his recent article. He put similar views about dams being constructed in Bhutan, which also has Indo-Bhutan joint ventures.
“For example, the Mangdechhu dam, which has come to production in 2020. It is an Indo-Bhutan joint venture aimed to produce 720 MW electricity.”
However, Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, an independent researcher in Guwahati, said that it is hard to assess which dam will affect which part of Assam and with what intensity, although there is information about the Kurichhu dam that affects parts of the Barpeta district downstream.
“It is therefore important to formulate some legal provision so that people in Assam know the whereabouts of the hydroelectric projects in Bhutan, at least the Indo-Bhutan ventures. It is the right of the communities here."