Assam tragedy: Silchar searches for hope amid floods, authorities' neglect
A 1.5 litre water bottle costs ₹100; the residents can't even cremate the dead as the state-run crematorium lies submerged
Only a few months back, Shyamal Baran Das had built his three-room ‘dream’ house spending all his money saved during service life at Kanakpur Road in Silchar town in Assam. But the devastating floods that hit the state completely damaged his house, leaving him and his wife and daughter homeless.
Das has lost all hope now. He had entered the new house after performing all the rituals and never imagined such a disaster was in the waiting. With tears in his eyes, he is able to utter only two words: “Lost everything”. Das and his family are now at a safe shelter but he cannot forget the devastation of the house and their lives.
Like Das, there are thousands of people in Assam’s Silchar town whose lives have been uprooted by the unprecedented floods.
At least 2.8 lakh people in the town have been affected due to the flood waters since June 19. Silchar in south Assam is the state’s second largest city after Guwahati. It is the gateway to Mizoram and Tripura and also part of Manipur.
Almost entire city has been inundated after the main embankment at Betukandi on the bank of river Barak was allegedly damaged by some “miscreants”.
The deputy commissioner of Cachar district, Keerthi Jalli issued an advisory on June 19 stating that water started to enter Silchar despite their efforts to repair the breach and asked people living in vulnerable areas, particularly senior citizens, pregnant women, etc., to take shelter in safe places. An FIR was also lodged against the “miscreants”.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma hinted that very strong action would be taken against those involved and termed it as ‘man-made flood’.
Sarma visited Silchar twice and took stock of the situation. Till date, no “miscreant” has been arrested.
A senior journalist of Silchar and editor of Dainik Bartalipi, Arijit Aditya alleged that the administration could have repaired the breach of embankment at Betukandi 15 days prior to the rains. He held the “lack of farsightedness” of the administration behind the devastation of Silchar town, which has been declared a corporation by the state government and demands are on for the Smart City tag.
He also alleged that journalists of Silchar working in waterlogged areas are unable to get relief despite repeated SOS messages.
Worst floods in Silchar
Silchar has never witnessed such devastating floods. Water levels touch the roof of houses in Rangirkhari, Sonai Road, Public School Road, Das Colony, Panchayat Road, National Highway Road, Itkhola, Malugram and many other areas. And the water is receding gradually, delaying the return to normalcy.
People are facing problems on multiple fronts because of the situation.
“A 20-litre water jar costs ₹500. Even a 1.5 litre drinking water bottle is selling at ₹100,” said Amal Deb of Public School Road, one of the worst-hit localities.
Worst, he said, even if one is ready to shell out the sum, there is no guarantee of getting the bottle, he said, explaining that shortage in supply.
Landslides and soil erosion had disrupted rail and surface communication to Mizoram, Tripura and Barak Valley. While the roads were restored, rail lines are yet to be fixed due to severe soil erosion in neighbouring Dima Hasao district a fortnight ago.
Due to this, Barak Valley comprising Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts are facing the shortage of essential commodities and fuels.
If all this was not enough, Silchar residents faced the worst situation when they found that they cannot cremate their dead as the state-run crematorium lies submerged.
Some families reportedly left the dead bodies in the water.
However, renowned surgeon of Silchar, Dr. Kumar Kanti Das popularly known as Lakshman Das, came forward and asked people to cremate in a space adjacent to his hospital at Sundary Mohan Seva Bhawan at Banglaghat in Ramnagar, around six kilometres from Silchar town.
Subhashis Das of Robinhood Army said they found some wrapped dead bodies floating on water and handed them over to the concerned organisation for cremation.
‘Administration, politicians not reaching out’
People are extremely upset with the district administration and elected representatives. DC Keerthi Jalli however said that they are giving optimum help to the marooned people and the personnel of NDRF, SDRF, BSF and other government agencies are working 24×7 to overcome the crisis.
Some NGOs too are also providing food and water but they find it difficult to reach the affected places as boatmen demand a minimum of ₹3,000 to transport them.
Sanjiv Ray of Youths Against Social Evils (YASE) said that they are distributing water bottles in many flood affected areas in collaboration with Lions Club of Badarpur. Besides NGOs, members of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, etc are also helping people.
A resident of Saratpally, Kaustav Chakraborty expressed concerns over the lack of zeal among elected representatives towards residents. He alleged that they are not at all concerned about the plight of the affected people. Most of the families are in extreme distress with ailing persons, children and pregnant women. They are screaming for water, food and evacuation, he said.
Amid this, rumours about a gang of dacoits striking areas of Silchar created tension among the people, who started saying that thieves and dacoits are able to reach the people but not the administration or elected representatives.
Cachar superintendent of police Ramandeep Kaur dismissed it as a “rumour”.
Sanjiv Ray sought to know why Silchar MP Dr Rajdip Roy didn’t come out of his residence and became active only on the eve of the Chief Minister’s visit. He appealed to the MP to come and witness the plight of the flood-affected people.
In a goodwill gesture, two members of Mizoram’s Young Mizo Association (YMA) brought 1,200 drinking water bottles for the people of Cachar district on Sunday. They handed over the bottles to the circle officer of Sonai circle and MLA of Sonai Karim Uddin Barbhuiya.
Barbhuiya hoped that this sort of Good Samaritan gestures would strengthen the bond of amity between the states which have strained relations due to boundary dispute.