Floods in North Bengal and Assam

North Bengal, Assam and parts of Bihar are reeling under the impact of floods. Road and rail links with North Bengal and those with the north-east have been entirely cut off. With roads and rail tracks lying under water, bridges and culverts ruptured and tens of thousands of people rendered homeless, it is a gigantic problem that the people and the government are facing. As flood waters recede, gastro-enteric diseases are likely to break out. What needs to be studied is whether this is due to sudden and unexpectedly heavy rainfall or is it a part of the climatic changes brought about by global warming as climatologists have been warning us for some time. The severance of rail and road link with the north-east at a time when the Chinese are posing a threat to the Siliguri corridor adds a new dimension to the flood problem.
Floods in Assam have become an annual feature during monsoon since the great earthquake of August 15, 1950. Heavy siltation has considerably reduced the water-bearing capacity of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The Brahmaputra Flood Control Commission (earlier Board) has been functioning since 1982. But even after three and half decades of its existence, it has been able to do very little to mitigate the sufferings of the people. De-siltation by dredging has been found to be an impractical proposition. An alternative suggestion was to cut deep channels in the Brahmaputra so that heavy currents washed part of the silt downstream. But no progress has been made in this direction either.
Strategically, both Assam and North Bengal are very sensitive and important. All-weather roads and rail links are absolutely necessary to enable our defence forces to respond to any urgent situation developing suddenly. So, preventing the snapping of road and rail links has become important even from the defence point of view. And if floods in north Bengal are going to be a regular occurrence every year, this problem, too, has to be viewed from a new angle and remedial steps taken. In Assam there are mathauris or high dams on the banks of all major rivers where people can take shelter during floods. But there is no such system in north Bengal, adding to the misery of the people. The flood problem in these parts, it seems, will have to be dealt with differently and an appropriate strategy evolved. North-East India cannot be left vulnerable to attacks from across the border during the monsoon.

Friday, 18 August, 2017