Assam floods remain a cause of concern across districts for it has affected hundreds of thousands of people over the years now. Team NE India Broadcast reached out to Prof. Parthankar Choudhury who is the Professor and Former Head of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science (EES), Assam University, Silchar to have his viewpoint regarding the same.
- What do you think are the reasons behind floods in Assam?
Prof. Choudhury: Assam is blessed with two major rivers- the mighty Brahmaputra and the Barak, both having number of tributaries and innumerable rivulets. All these natural aqua-fabric are nature’s boon that helps in maintaining a healthy ecosystem and luxuriant growth of biota. A big chunk of the state population is dependent on these water systems (rivers, their tributaries, bells, Haors, and the likes) for earning their livelihood.
The various places of the state, on average, receive precipitation of 2800-3000mm per year and 95-98% of this occurs between mid-April to mid-September. During monsoon, often incessant rain takes place over a shorter period. As usual, water flows along the gradient, from high to low elevated areas. All the water canals have a normal water holding capacity and the rate at which the water percolated to downstream areas is also roughly constant. Consequent to ruthless exploitation in the uphill forest areas, every year, most of the major rivers and their tributaries have accumulated silt deposits, resulting in reducing the water holding capacity. This, coupled with severe rainfall over a shorter period creates localized inundation in the urban landscape and flood-like situations in most places.
- What is your opinion on the alleged under-preparedness of the government concerning the Assam floods?
Prof. Choudhury: The government is not an abstract identity. It includes you, me, and all the citizens. After the first phase of flood in mid-May, had there been no heavy rain at Silchar in June, perhaps, you would have not come to know about the ‘Bethukani episode’, neither would ask me the question.
Yes, there is no denying fact that under-preparedness had been there to a considerable extent. Once the breach was detected, there has been three weeks, within which this could be repaired. There is a popular saying, ‘A stitch in time, saves nine. The people of Silchar are the victims of this ‘lahe lahe’ approach.
3 Assam Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma on June 26 otherwise referred to Silchar floods as “man-made”; what is your viewpoint?
Prof. Choudhury: you see, the matter has been taken up for investigation by the CID, and once the investigation is over, all the underlying factors will be revealed. Since you are asking my view, I would prefer to say that see, when water starts boiling, the temperature reaches 100°C. Between 0°C to 100°C, there’s always a period, within which one should act if s/he considers the task extremely important.
Miscreants indeed caused damage to the Bethukandi area that has led to a historic floods in the city. Please also note that during the same period, when there was a heavy shower in the entire northeast and water in the rivers were in full spate, water was flowing through the river Brahmaputra at a height, higher than the average altitude of Dibrugarh city. That city is protected by high embankments along three sides, where 24 X 7 patrolling was made compulsory. Had this been practiced in one city of the state, for the other, why this was not done? Vigilance had to be more effective. Probable consequences had to be foreseen.
- What is the role of local administration concerning the Silchar floods?
Prof. Choudhury: Local administration worked well during this second phase, although for the local administration, there has been a ‘pinch of sour’ with the local influential guys during the first phase of the flood. If someone goes by the rule, she/he will find that at the district level, the overall responsibility to combat disaster lies with the Deputy Commissioner. This is as per the Disaster Management Act, 2005. In the same way for any state, CM is the head of the State Disaster Management Authority and for UTs (like Delhi) it is the Lieutenant Governor. Now, if someone pokes in between and starts dictating the man in the chair and his/her machinery, then it’s obvious that the very spirit of ‘crisis management’ during the peak hours of a disaster will lose its tempo.
- How is the student community of Assam University affected by the Silchar floods? and what had been the role of NGOs?
Prof. Choudhury: University was going through summer recess during this second phase of the flood. Most of the students were staying back at their respective homes in various parts of the state and the neighboring states. However, due to the first phase of flood during May,’22, the scheduled examination, to be held before summer vacation had to be postponed. Now, these will commence from the first week of August in offline mode.
It is not out of place to appreciate the significant help and support put forward by the students staying outside Silchar. When the city was submerged in waist-deep water and prolonged power cut & internet services were interrupted for weeks together, netizens were passing days through acute scarcity of food and drinking water, the students (both College and University students) and various NGOs came forward in country boats and bamboo boats (bhuras) for saving our lives. To me, it was like ‘The Gods from the countryside are reaching in country boats to rescue the Urban flood victims.’
6. What is the probable solution to Assam floods with natural disasters being a dominant issue over the years now?
Prof. Choudhury: Disasters are inevitable, and floods are one of such categories expected to occur. This is not just concerning Cachar alone, but many other districts of the state are flood affected. For Silchar, the severity and extent of damage have been more during this year.
Yet from a broader perspective, you’ll find that although no breach of the embankment is there, this year the Sunamganj and Sylhet districts of Bangladesh are the worst flood affected. Those places are located downstream, and water from Barak traverses through those places before reaching the Bay of Bengal. Riverine water from Bhutan causes inundation to some of the districts of western Assam. Riverine Ecosystem does not recognize geographical or political boundaries. It is thus imperative that a well-coordinated and holistic approach be taken up both at the State level, Regional level (with all adjacent states of the northeast), and at the international level with the neighboring countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh, and the likes to combat flood-like disasters. Separate expert teams need to be constituted to monitor, devise ways and means and extend plausible suggestions to the respective bodies to reduce future flood havoc.
- What is the environmental or climate change-related impact of this devastating flood?
Prof. Choudhury: Climate Change of more of a catchy word and is often being used as a headline to draw attention. To me as a layman, it’s like the tale of ‘Six blind men and the elephant’. Each one of them touches different parts of the elephant body and says that it is like a hose, a sword, a fan or tree, a wall, or a piece of rope. As regards Silcharflood22, the CID investigation is on, and once all the accused are acquitted, then the academic discourses on the impact of climate change impact can be initiated.
Interview: Debopam Purkayastha