Guwahati, Tuesday, September 10, 2019
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Kalatali villagers awaiting govt patronage to counter floods

A severely eroded portion of Kalatali village. – Photo: Harmohan Barman
 BARPETA, Sept 9 - Recurring flood-induced erosion by Burhadia, a tiny river flowing through the eastern part of Barpeta district, has threatened the existence of Kalatali village inhabited by indigenous Assamese people.

Kalatali village, situated about 5 km north of Sarthebari town in the north eastern part of the district has faced the wrath of nature for years together.

With the advent of the monsoon season every year, residents of the village comprising 140 families have to spend sleepless nights apprehending flood from the river flowing through the middle of the village. As the flood waters begin to subside, they wait for the turn of erosion. That means struggle for survival 12 months a year.

The villagers faced the perennial floods this year during the last week of June when the rest of the state was waiting for the monsoon rains. As the first wave of floods began to recede, a second wave came in the second week of July, and a third wave during the last part of that month.

The flood was caused by the tiny river Burhadia. It is not a sporadic event, but a regular one. The embankment of the river to the south was washed away several years ago. As a result, the entire village had to suffer the wrath of the river in 2012 when it rose abnormally and washed away several houses and roads. It was repeated in 2018, also causing severe damage to residential, agricultural fields and surface connectivity.

But the fury of the floods took an unprecedented turn this year with highest water level and longest period of inundation. The pre and post-flood period witnessed severe erosion due to which the small village lost huge tracts of agricultural and horticultural land. Some ruralites even lost their residential plots together with their dwelling houses.

Referring to the large-scale erosion, the villagers pointed out that Burhadia had been changing its course to the south as it enters Barpeta district after crossing the Tihu-Lachima Road. After a few metres in the southwardly direction, it again changes course to the north and then again reverts back to the south. But it does not exist where it was ten years ago, and constant coursing to the south poses serious threat to the existence of the village.

Almost all the families of the village depend on agriculture either directly or indirectly for their livelihood. Unless destroyed by floods, the village is otherwise rich in agricultural production. Villagers harvest a very good amount of sali paddy and rabi crops if the Burhadia remains calm during the summer. Besides betelnut, coconut and other seasonal fruits too make them self-sufficient.

But fertile land and the green orchards have fallen prey to flood-induced erosion by the Burhadia. The remaining land too is adversely affected by siltation by the strong currents of the Burhadia.

No one can think of travelling through the village by road even by riding a bicycle, motorcycle or even driving a car. The village has been separated into three parts. As for the condition during the monsoon season, the less said the better. The main road along the village connects the Tihu-Lachima Road in the east and Dr Jinaram Road in the west. But several stretches of the road have been washed away by the strong currents of the tiny but turbulent river.

Significantly, it is a matter of regret that not a single government scheme to check erosion and to prevent floods by the Burhadia has been implemented by the Water Resource Department so far.

It is learnt that the river along with the Tihu river flowing through Barpeta district has not been included in the manual of the Water Resource Department. This became evident yesterday when an official of the Water Resource Department accompanied a visiting inter-ministerial central team to assess flood damage at Kalatali, among other locations.

After listening to the local people, a member of the central team asked the state government officials present about the future planning of the department regarding that area. But the officer tried to evade the question and could not give any satisfactory reply. The people present, including this Correspondent was stunned at the pathetic condition of a responsible officer.

The reason behind omission of the Burhadia and Tihu water bodies by a government department responsible for management of floods has become a riddle for the local people who have no other option but to suffer from flood-induced erosion annually.

After largescale devastation in 2012, some works to prevent flood and repair of roads were done with the help of the Rural Development Department. A ring bundh along the south of the river was also under construction at an estimated cost of Rs 40 lakh. But it was never completed and more than half of what was done was washed away by the strong currents this year. As a result, the money spent was wasted.

It is not that floods by the Burhadia has affected Kalatali only. It has made the lives of many villagers living in several villages under Paka and Sarukshetri Mouza in Barpeta district miserable. Vast areas of fertile agricultural land has been lying unproductive for years together due to the annual havoc created by floods and erosion.

Obviously, the affected people have been compelled to seek alternative sources of livelihood. If the condition remains so, largescale exodus is bound to happen like any other erosion-hit areas of the district.

The people here are eagerly waiting for a positive step by the government as a number of dignitaries have witnessed the devastation in recent days. The haggard villagers, who are otherwise resigned to fate, are therefore hopeful that at long last some sort of flood and erosion control mechanism may be put in place by the authority concerned.

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