Nature has emitted a grim signal of crippling shortage and devastating abundance in two different parts of the country.
In the aftermath of the scarcity of water, which recently paralysed life in Chennai on account of rivers drying up in the blistering summer, Assam is reeling under catastrophic floods in as many as 31 of the state’s 33 districts. More accurately, the north-eastern state is flooded along with Mizoram where 1,000 families have been evacuated and Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district, where 1.14 lakh people have been affected.
In Assam, Barpeta, Dhubri and Morigaon are the worst affected, not to forget the Kaziranga National Park, where 70 per cent of the area is submerged. It is the rising tide of the Brahmaputra and Jinjiram rivers that has reduced Assam to a vast expanse of water.
With eleven deaths and millions affected, it is fairly obvious that the state lacks effective precautionary measures despite the warnings in weather forecasts. It is hard not to wonder whether the rivers are protected by sturdy embankments that can serve as a cordon sanitaire.
Having suffered the worst over the past week, it becomes direly imperative to mount a massive rescue and rehabilitation effort, similar to the heroic response of the Odisha government in the wake of Cyclone Fani. No less imperative is a national reconstruction initiative not the least because there can be no provincial branding of suffering.
There may be hope yet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to Assam’s chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, that the Centre will provide “all assistance” to the state to grapple with the crisis. Such measures that may be undertaken in the immediate perspective must of necessity be followed up by long-term measures in flood control. The task is more urgent than the government’s pet project called the National Register of Citizens and the ultimate objective of deporting a section of the populace to Bangladesh.
A flood knows no nationality and it is fervently to be hoped that the humanitarian initiative of the Centre and the administration in Dispur will cover every section of the population, irrespective of whether some are migrants from across the border. The National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have evacuated 7,833 people to safety on Sunday alone.
As happens almost inevitably during floods and cyclones, there has been a total breakdown of connectivity between different parts of the North-east and the rest of the country. And the connections, including internet, may not be up and running for a while. On closer reflection, a vast swathe of eastern India is currently reeling under floods, albeit of varying degrees of intensity.
Notably, Bihar where 18 people have perished and railway tracks and roads have been washed away in several districts. Less acute but serious nonetheless are Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts in North Bengal. In a word, lakhs have been affected in east and north-eastern India. And the relief effort must match the enormity of the crisis.