, by M. BURHANUDDIN QASMI
Assam, the gateway to the north-eastern seven sister states of India, is facing the nature’s bang once again. The flood situation in Assam is grim, nearly 25 lakhs people affected in the deluge and around 100 killed till July 3. Almost all the 27 districts of the state are hit by the second wave of floods that began on June 26.
For Assam the mighty Brahmaputra, though a life-giving river, has become more synonymous with devastation than with prosperity. Every year floods leave a trail of destruction, washing away villages, submerging paddy fields, drowning livestock, besides causing loss of human life and property worth several billions.
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Ms. Sonia Gandhi undertook an aerial survey of the part of flood-hit areas of Jorhat, Dhemaji and world famous river-island Majoli. Later, on July 2 they announced only Rs 500 crore-package for Assam which has been battling the worst floods since last one decade.
While commenting on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 500 crore relief package, Sirajuddin Ajmal, leader of the Assam’s main opposition political party, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) said, “It is like a drop in the ocean, the money is grossly inadequate.” Mr. Ajmal and his party members met UPA Chairperson Ms Gandhi and Prime Minister Dr Singh on July 2 itself in Guwahati and submitted a memorandum with 11 demands.
AIUDF has demanded for a package of Rs 20,000 crores for Assam’s relief and rehabilitation from central government besides other monetary demands such as Rs 5 lakhs compensation for those killed and Rs. one lakh to the person whose dwelling house is washed away by the flood or erosion, and to urgently manage feeding material for animals and livestock.
AIUDF has emphatically demanded from the central government to ‘declare Assam’s flood a National Calamity’ for, it has been a regular problem year after year and the principal obstacle in the way of the state’s development.
Bengali and Assamese print media is quite vocal on July 3 in criticism of 500 crore relief pack announced by the Prime Minster. A popular newspaper quoted a man saying, “As if Assam is a begging state for the central government in Delhi… whatever announced by the UPA Chairperson and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is nothing more than peanuts.”
The VVIP’s visit to the affected state and meagre aid announcement has angered most, rather than providing any console to the long sufferings of Assamese people. Densely Muslim populated districts in lower Assam region, especially Barpeta, Dhubri and Goalpara are among heavily affected areas by the recent floods. People of the lower Assam region were expecting ‘their PM’, who is also an MP from Assam, would at least spare sometime to observe their living conditions amidst flood furry from sky whilst in his helicopter. But all hopes are gone in vain!
One flood victim, Mizan Ali, who has merely lost everything save life, replied this writer with pain and agony in voice while talking on phone from Dhubri’s South Shalmara that for the government in Delhi people living in lower Assam are not human beings. He asked, “Why our honourable Prime Minister could not spare a few minutes time to have an aerial visit over us?” He angrily stated, “…for them (ruling Congress elites) people living in lower Assam especially in districts like Goalpara, Dhubri and Barpeta are not human beings because we are poor farmers and Muslim.”
President of the Assam State Jamiat Ulama-e Hind and Member of Parliament, Maulana Badruddin Ajmal said the floods have caused him extreme distress and the condition of the survivors is unimaginable. He called upon the state and the central governments to render all possible assistance to the flood-affected. “It is incumbent upon every citizen with civic consciousness to come forward to help the displaced people,” he urged.
The floods in Assam are nothing new but the government has failed to provide adequate relief and rescue operations, let alone devising a long pending permanent solution to the problem. Hafiz Rafiqul Islam Qasmi, MLA from Jania constituency of Barepta district in Assam said, ‘Government relief is now arriving after several days in some areas but the distribution is improper, they are distributing one or two kgs of rice only where people need everything from water to medicines and shelter.’ He said the major economic damaged caused by the recent floods to his district is submergence of thousands of fisheries on which lakhs of poor people trade throughout the year. “They have now lost everything even their houses, their future is very gloomy and the state government should announce a genuine relief package for them as well as for all destroyed small businesses such as fish-nursing.”
Sirajuddin Ajmal has tagged even a serious charge on the state government relief distribution system. He said, “First of all relief arrived very late (after 6 days), whatever materials being distributed as relief are too little; and above all distribution is highly selective for only those areas which have voted for Congress party in the past.” He said, “We have been complaining about this prejudice against a section of the society to the top brass in Delhi but our voices have not attracted proper hearing till date.”
People living in far and heavily flood-affected areas are still looking for first-hand relief and aids. Generally, NGOs are more affective in relief works than government agency in India. Markazul Ma’arif, the premier humanitarian NGO of northeast India and Jamiat Ulama-e Hind have launched relief and rescue operations in parts of affected areas. The NGOs and common people are worried about spread of aftermath pandemic diseases and rehabilitation of millions of people following the present floods.
[M. Burhanuddin Qasmi is Editor of Eastern Crescent, email@example.com]