Guwahati, the biggest city of Assam located on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra River, is considered to be the ‘Gateway to Northeast India’ as it has the best communication via road, rail and air to travel in any part of the northeast region.
Despite being known for having the best communication facilities, it lacks the basic infrastructure owing to the unplanned construction of buildings, roads and poor drainage systems.
Over the years, the government has been replaced with the hope it would address the issues of the commoners and try to resolve them as soon as possible so far it seems that the dream of ‘Flood-Free Assam’ is too good to be true.
Do you recall the time when the former Chief Minister of Assam, Late Tarun Gogoi used to say ‘Baddiya Hei, America t oo banpani hoi’ (Leave it, Americans also face artificial floods) whenever he was asked to comment on the flash floods in the state during monsoons? We, as worried and concerned citizens, used to laugh as well as blame him for not addressing the issues of the people who were adversely affected by the annual monsoon floods across the state.
In 2016, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in their vision document promised to get Assam relief from the annual floods, however, the people of the state still did not find any results of their promise. Later in 2021, ahead of state Assembly elections, BJP in its manifesto again assured a ‘flood-free Assam’ but did anyone feel any difference yet?
Guwahati is one of the fastest growing cities in India with buildings, malls, health care facilities, and many more. Despite having the required facilities, the people of Guwahati are still unhappy to live here as they face the problem of water logging whenever rainfall lashes the city for a few hours.
The unplanned expansion to accumulate increasing population has led to encroachment in the wetlands, low-lying areas, hills and the shrinkage of forest cover can be stated as some of the reasons behind why we have been facing such kinds of situations. Furthermore, the drains also seem to be blocked often as the public has the habit of throwing plastic waste in the drain for which it becomes difficult for the rainwater to enter the drains leading to water logging on the main roads.
In a bid to mitigate the problem of urban artificial flood in Guwahati, the state government launched a ‘Mission Flood Free Guwahati’ under which four departments, Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC), Water Resources Department, Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) and Public Works Department (PwD), are mainly handed the responsibility for mitigation of urban flash floods.
The GMC was handed the responsibility of de-siltation of the five major channels namely Bharalu, Mora Bharalu, Basistha, Bahini and Lakhimijan to accomplish and maintain the delineated cross-section and long section while maintaining the existing feeder drains (i.e., cleaning, garbage removal and de-siltation and eviction of blockages on the feeder drains) and construction of new drains, roads with side drains and culverts for ensuring flow connectivity upto outfall to primary drainage channels. (according to the official Mission Flood Free Guwahati website).
Earlier this year, the de-siltation work by GMC was seen in parts of Guwahati ahead of the monsoon season to mitigate urban flash floods along with the construction of drains in a few parts of the city where it lacked, however, the people living nearby the areas where de-siltation works were going on complaint of delay in work.
According to a report published by Pratitin Time Digital on de-siltation work, the people of Guwahati in April 2023, expressed concern over workers leaving huge drains open for several days posing a life threat to pedestrians. Despite the criticisms by the public, the government worked relentlessly on their mission but how far could we feel our dream come true?
When the entire Guwahati was excited to watch the warm-up match between India and England at Barsapara Stadium on September 30 ahead of the ICC Cricket Men’s World Cup, the incessant heavy rainfall not only lashed the city but also ruined the excitement of the people. The match had to be abandoned due to continuous heavy rainfall with lightning and thunderstorms.
On that day, the entire city submerged in water with huge traffic congestion reported on the key main roads. The working people were stranded in their workplace as water level reached the hip of an average-height person. The following day, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, when asked about the water logging issue in the city, commented, “Guwahati is not facing water logging issue like earlier.”
This comment resulted in the outrage of the commoners who are living in those areas where water logging has been a recurrent problem, such as Anil Nagar, Nabin Nagar, and others.
Later on the night of October 5, incessant heavy rainfall with lashed the entire city of Guwahati resulting in the submersion of main roads for hours the next morning. Being a workday, commuters found it difficult to reach their destination such as their workplace as the roads were filled with dirty water angering the commoner even more angry on the government who promised a ‘flood-free’ state. In a few parts of the city, State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) had to be deployed to rescue the people stranded in the water logged areas.
If the Hon'ble chief minister believed that Guwahati do not face water logging issues like previous years then why SDRF had to be deployed in a few parts of the city to rescue the people?
The people living near the national highway in Jalukbari area rarely used to face water logging issues, however, recently, huge drains were constructed on the bypass near the national highway assuring the people living nearby to not face water logging issues in the future. But guess what? After the construction of the huge drains, people have started to face water logging issues on the bypass making them think if the drains are constructed to lessen their woe in the future or cause even more problems at present. If one notices the drains carefully, you could see there are not enough holes in the drains to let the water in. With this, how can the area not face any water logging problem?
Despite the government’s approach to mitigate the urban flash floods, it will always remain a dream of the people to enjoy monsoon season and rainfall without worrying about water logging issues as it is too good to be true.
This problem will not be resolved until and unless we accept the fact that it is caused because of our greed to encroach the wetlands and hills to construct high-rise buildings and malls indiscriminately changing the large vacant lands, natural drainage controls as the wetlands cannot retain the excess stormwater of the city.
So instead of making vague promises of a flood-free city or state, the election campaigners should rather try to make the people accept the fact and promise to lessen the problems they face due to artificial flooding.