MIRZA, June 11 – The Assam Government’s tall claims of serving the poor people by initiating a host of welfare programmes have been running into rough weather. This is what is proved by the 2000 landless families living in a 15 km stretch of the Palasbari-Nagarbera Embankment in Goroimari and Palasbari Revenue Circles in Kamrup district of Assam.
It has been observed that the constant formidable flood and erosion of the river Brahmaputra for last 40 years has made the people living in the riverbank areas landless and homeless. The erosion has still been making people landless year after year.
Sources said that the flood and erosion turned violent after the great earthquake in 1950 when the bed of the river Brahmaputra rose. In the year 1954 the famous Palasbari township – a hub for business in South Kamrup – was eroded away by the flood and erosion of the river Brahmaputra and several hundred people had lost their land to compelling them to become landless.
In the year 1954 itself, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had arrived at Palasbari town in order to take stock of the flood problem there and in the year 1955 the Central Water Policy was adopted for the first time.
In 1956 the first embankment of India, Palasbari – Nagarbera Embankment was constructed in South Kamrup in order to protect the people from the flood, sources said, adding that the embankment protected the people from flood till 1969.
Sources said that the vested interest groups had never informed Nehru about the erosion problem of South Kamrup which was more destructive than floods and that the embankments could never protect the people from erosion. The Palasbari- Nagarbera embankment was protecting the people from flood only but not erosion. Due to non-implementation of anti-erosion measures to fight erosion, the Brahmaputra has been eroding fresh places at an alarming rate year after year rendering hundreds of families landless and homeless.
Between 1954 and 2012 , over 40 villages of south Kamrup have been eroded resulting in loss of several thousand hectares of land making the people in the rural areas paupers. The first breach in the Palasbari-Nagarbera embankment had occurred in 1969 at Karipara area followed by another two breaches in the embankment in 1970 and 1974 at Simina village in Palasbari Revenue Circle due to erosion. Till date over ten breaches in the embankment have occurred in Palasbari and Chhaygaon LACs in South Kamrup. As a result, several thousand landless families of Dowapara, Karipara, Guimara, Chapathuri, Lakhirtari, Simina, No. 1 Futuri, No. 2 Futuri, Bartary, Panikhaiti, Alikash, Banipara, Biturtari, Telipara, Baghardia, Bhokuwamari, Kondolpara etc villages (which have disappeared from the map due to erosion of the Brahmaputra) and several other partly eroded villages in Palasbari and Chhaygaon LACs have been partly rehabilitated by the Government in the inaccessible and remote jungle of Borduar Bagan and other areas. These people again suffered from innumerable diseases due to lack of acclimatisation and adaptability in those climates. But, till date several thousand families are still living on the embankment who are yet to be rehabilitated , sources said.
Hazarat Ali of Futuri village said that presently over 2000 plus families have been living in the embankment in Chhaygaon and Palasbari LACs for last 24 to 40 years who have not been rehabilitated till date by the Government.
50 year old Bhuyan Ali of Futuri village, who is a landless person, said “I shifted to the first Palasabari-Nagarbera Embankment when I was about 15 years old after our land were eroded away by the Brahmaputra. We lived there for about 10 years on the embankment and thereafter the embankment was also eroded away by the Brahmaputra.
The government had constructed the new embankment then (after the first embankment got eroded) at Futuri area and then we shifted again to the new embankment till today suffering the agony of the nature. I married on the embankment itself.”
Another woman of Simina village who is living on the Palasbari-Gumi Embankment for last 30 years, Latifa Bibi (52) said, “As we do not possess our own land we could not avail the IAY houses as IAY houses were not allotted for the landless. My six children are living in the filthy thatched house which gets wet in the rain every day. I am not getting any benefit of the government schemes.”
Uttam Ali , 43, said his ailing 70 year-old mother, Joigun Bibi, had died of cholera in 2005 at the embankment without availing subsidised rice and old age pension. In her lifetime she travelled several times to the Block Development Office at Rampur in Kamrup but failed to get the benefits of the Government schemes meant for the poor. According to Uttam Ali over 20 per cent families below poverty line residing temporally in the embankment have been deprived of subsidised rice by the government machinery.
As far as education is concerned the poor children of these downtrodden people have been denied education by the head of the families as they cannot afford to provide uniform, fees, pen, pencils and other essential items required by a student. The Asom Sarva Siksha Abhijan Mission has failed to reach out to these children. Over 30 per cent of the total children do not have access to basic primary education. The situation aggravates as far as the education of the girls are concerned.
Tarmuj Ali, 50, of Futuri village who is a fisherman said , “Each family living on the embankment consists of 6 to 10 members and it is unbearable for the head of the family to maintain the family and hence they put their children, including girls, as maid/servants in the homes of rich families outside. The main income of the families is from daily wages. Some work as fishermen, some as truck labourers, some work in the sand mahals etc from which they cannot procure two square meals daily. During rainy seasons , devil’s wrath falls on them and they cannot earn as it is not possible to them to work during rains. During rains, some of these landless families must starve and children face malnutrition. “We have not been benefited by electricity connections nor can we afford to procure a litre of kerosene at Rs 40 and so we sleep at 7-00 pm itself every night,” Ahmed Ali , 35, of Futuri village said.
As far as healthcare facilities are concerned, people in the embankment do not get adequate healthcare facilities. But, a NRHM appointed doctor Jehirul Islam attached to Futuri Subcentre has been providing yeoman’s service to the poor people of the embankment.
However, for patients with severe ailments, the centre must refer the cases to the remote hospitals and then again devil’s curse fall on them as they cannot admit their patients in the remote hospitals due to poverty.
Infant and maternal mortality rate in the embankment are quite high as far as the people residing in the embankment are concerned. People cannot afford to take their patients to the GMCH due to lack of money and they do not have any option but to wait for the patients to die due to the disease bit by bit. The Char PHC set up at Panikhaiti is running without a doctor. Sources said that the mobile boat clinic at Gumi in Chhaygaon LAC has also not functioned till date adding that the government does not want the problem to be solved once and for all.
Due to the government’s poor policies on rehabilitation, these landless families have been remained landless for decades. The public in the area has demanded immediate rehabilitation of the landless families. It may be mentioned here that there are several government reserves in the forest and revenue land where these landless people could be rehabilitated. The government can also rehabilitate them by providing one time incentives to the landless families to purchase land on their own.