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‘For 70 years, govt has failed in saving people from flood, erosion’

 GUWAHATI, Sept 23 - The Core Professional Group of Brahmaputra (CPGB) and the Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters (FASS) International organised a webinar recently on the topic, ‘The Brahmaputra (Challenges and Opportunities’ recently in which the president of the FASS, Dr Rajen Barua said that for 70 years, the authorities have failed to protect the people of the North-east from flood and erosion, which have been devouring prime lands of the region at a rate of 80 square km per year, a press release stated.

 “During the last 70 years, we have lost more than 2500 villages and 18 towns including sites of cultural heritage, productive croplands and tea gardens affecting the livelihood of nearly 500,000 people. In short, for 70 years, the authorities have simply failed to protect the people and the land of the Northeast. What is more alarming is that this devastation is still continuing unabated without any checks or accountability,” he said.

Dr Barua said that in 1980, the Government of India took over the flood control operations by forming the Brahmaputra Board (BB). Earlier, from 1950 to 1980 the authorities simply installed earthen embankments, bamboo and wooden spurs to control flood and erosion problems without proper engineering design which actually aggravated the problems by raising the riverbed even higher, and making the flow characteristics more turbulent and erosive. “The BB’s website provides records of some their activities with their annual reports from 2009. But what good are the annual reports for? The BB basically continued the same operations with outdated and ineffective technologies. In the meantime increased deforestation has increased the sediment load of the river greatly. There has not been any proper scientific studies done so far,” he added.

Dr Arvind Phukan, president of CPGB, gave a presentation of the CPGB’s work during the last 10 years. He said that the CPGB was formed in 2009 with the goal to come up with proper design solutions to mitigate the recurring flood and erosion of the river Brahmaputra. The CPGB consists of experts in the field mainly from Northeast India, he said.

He appraised all of the grave situation that Majuli was facing. The 1250 sq km island has already been reduced to 50% of its size now, and the virtually uncontrolled bank erosion of the river is further reducing its size every year. Dr Phukan stated that CPGB had taken the Majuli as their pilot project and prepared a proposal for a permanent solution to the problem. The original proposal was submitted in 2011, but the bureaucracy dragged it around for seven years. It was finally resubmitted again to IIT Guwahati on May, 2017. However, on November 14, 2017 the Brahmaputra Board informed that it had already taken up a scheme for Majuli protection at an estimated cost of Rs 233.57 crore, and that the tenders had been finalised. The Board’s letter also informed that the physical work would begin soon and be completed by March 2019 and that the contract was awarded to M/s TK Engineering Consortium Ltd. Dr Phukan said that the CPGB visited the site in December 2019 and observed that the construction work was not complete as scheduled as a result of which the first wave of 2019 floods washed away a substantial portion of the geo-bags and bank materials underneath.

Alarmed at the unabated erosion and flood situation of Majuli, Dr Phukan said that he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in June 2020, apprising him of the serious situation but till date, it has not received any response.

In the webinar some questions came up about the future plans, seeking of public funding, awareness campaigns and also suggestions of filing of an RTI for BB’s award of the failed contract of 2017 @ Rs 233.57 crore.

The webinar was attended by more than 60 participants from across the globe (USA, UK, Australia and India). The panelists were Dr Arvind Phukan, president of CPGB, Dr Rajen Barua, president of FASS, CPGB members of the design group: Dr David Williams, Dr Deva Borah and Ananta Nath. The webinar was coordinated by Vavani Sharma, and moderated by Rachna Nath, FASS VP and Director respectively. Several outside experts such as Dr Nayan Sharma of IIT Roorkee, Dr Dulal Goswami, Dr Prasujya Gogoi and others participated in the webinar.

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