GUWAHATI, July 9 – Accusing the Assam Water Resources Department of “wholesale violation of human right of most tragic dimension” in the recent devastating floods, a division bench of the Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) comprising Chairperson Justice Dr Aftab Hussain Saikia and Member Jyoti Prasad Chaliha has, in a landmark decision, taken suo motu cognizance of the matter on the basis of newspaper reports published in a section of the press.
The AHRC issued notice to the Chief Secretary, Government of Assam, to cause an inquiry into the allegations by a three-member committee including a technical expert and headed by an officer not below the rank of an Additional Chief Secretary.
The AHRC expressed grave concern over the reported ‘looting of several hundred crores of rupees’ by a section of unscrupulous officials of the Assam Water Resources Department which resulted in indescribable suffering, hardship and destitution of lakhs of people besides loss of well over a hundred lives and countless animal deaths.
The committee will inquire into the entire gamut of issues related to the working of the department including technical and financial aspects in the worst flood-affected districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Barpeta, Nalbari and Cachar districts during the years between 2005-06 and 2011-12, and would submit the report before the Commission within 12 weeks.
Questioning the use of Central funds by the department, the AHRC noted that according to the newspaper reports, a mindboggling amount of money had been totally misused by the Assam Water Resources Department by not utilizing the money in time.
“According to the report, this department remains in slumber during the major part of the year when weather condition is suitable for work but wakes up just before the onset of the flood season and whatever little work is done is washed away by the flood,” the AHRC observed.
“But the department officials show huge amount of money as spent although an infinitesimal amount of the money is spent in reality and the lion’s share of money claimed to have been spent in reality is siphoned off to the pockets of the unscrupulous officials of the AWRD,” it added.
“…it appears from the report that much of the suffering, hardship and destitution of lakhs and lakhs of people could have been avoided and there would not have been wholesale violation of human rights and death of hundreds of persons and umpteen numbers of cattle if the money had been spent in a proper and a scrupulous manner. The Commission observed that this is an instance of wholesale violation of human right of most tragic dimension,” the Commission observed.
The reports further stated that during the period between 2005-06 and 2011-12 several hundred crores of rupees under different heads had been claimed to have been spent under anti-flood measures. This amount includes Rs. 17463.28 lakh received as assistance from NABARD, Rs 1104.52 lakh under NEC head and Rs 62491.46 lakh under CSF head.