Assam’s flood affected victims still waiting for compensation

Bureaucratic red-tapism and not lack of funds is the cause of the delay
Assam flood
Image Courtesy: PTI

The floods in Assam this year, caused by the overflowing Brahmaputra, Dhansiri, Desang and Kushiara rivers, affected at least 8 lakh people all over the state.

Yet, more than three months after the disaster, Assam’s flood-affected victims have not received their due compensation as per the relief manual, reported The Sentinel.

Compensation, as part of flood relief, has always been a chronic problem in Assam. According to the relief manual of disaster management, each family affected by floods, taking refuge in shelter camps, is supposed to get a compensation of Rs. 3,800 on their exit from the shelter. But, in reality, 90 percent of the families who languished in these relief camps are yet waiting to get the promised amount.

Even though help had poured in from all corners, Dispur’s red-tapism has proved to be the culprit in the matter. According to official sources, the file for the release of Rs 40 crore for making payment of Rs 3,800 to each of the flood-hit families who had to stay in relief camps has been lying in the State Finance department.

In July this year, leader of the Opposition in the Assam Assembly Debabrata Saikia on Monday urged Chief Minister SarbanandaSonowal to release the disaster relief funds pending since 2014 – 15.

He said that even under the State Disaster Response Fund, there was a “noticeable shortfall between funds allocated and funds actually released” for Assam since 2014-’15. In 2015’-16, only Rs 425 crore of the allocated Rs 460 crore was released, while the next year, Rs 400 crore was released out of an allocated Rs 483 crore. In 2017-’18, Rs 400 crore out of the allocated Rs 507 crore was released. He asked the state government to release all of the Rs 559 crore allocated to be released for the relief of the victims.

According to the procedure followed, a state-level committee headed by the Chief Secretary has to approve the list of beneficiaries for flood relief. What makes people raise their eyebrow is – the State-level committee has not met as yet for approving the list of beneficiaries and the amount of the funds sought.

Though 1.5 lakh hectares of farm lands was destroyed in the floods this year, when the damage itself has not been assessed by the state, compensation for affected farmers seems quite a distant dream. According to the standing rules, such damage of houses and farmlands should be verified on the spot by the latmandals, who send the lists of beneficiaries to their respective deputy commissioners. The deputy commissioners should send the lists to the secretary of the departments concerned, who should send the lists to the Revenue Department. It’s the Revenue department that has to compile all such lists received from various departments and then send them to the Finance department for the release of funds.

According to Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), more than 45 lakh people have been affected in 4,620 villages of the state, with 1,01,085 people taking refuge in 226 relief camps, PTI reported. As many as 562 distribution centers have been set up for providing relief to the affected people.

Last year itself, man-made flood-affected victims staged an agitation near Numaligarh-Morangi demanding compensation from the North Eastern Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO), after more than 91 villages in Golaghat were affected in the wave of floods that hit the district after NEEPCO released excess water from the reservoir of the Doyang Hydro Electric Project, without prior intimation, causing irreversible damage to the lives and livelihoods of people living downstream from it.

No one knows because the media is mum

India’s apathy towards the plight of Assam is disappointing and North-East Indians have no illusions about it. The floods in Assam and its aftermath has not found any sympathies or even coverage by the national media.

While the national news hovers around issues and activities from Hindi heartlands, the North-East gets the short end of the stick. It is not just the geographical remoteness of the location, because the national media hugs Assam’s sports masters every time they win accolades for the country.

Hence, it can be argued that the mainstream media is indulging in ‘othering’ and regional disparity when it comes to portraying the real problems faced by the people in this region.

Only picking and choosing to show a political crisis, especially in the cases of the GS Road incident, Karbi-Anglong lynching, terrorist activities in Manipur, riots in north-eastern states etc. the coverage of the floods in Assam was pitiful was compared to that of the coverage coming in from Uttarakhand or Kerala.

Even now, all that Assam is in the news for is the National Register of Citizens (NRC). No coverage of issues related to floods, their repercussions, erosions or landslides have taken place.

Writing in the media site The Hoot, analyst Kakoli Thakur says while the murder mystery in Mumbai “involving a woman from Assam was hogging the limelight but the state itself, where thousands of people were hit by the worst spate of floods in decades, was reduced to fillers in the newspapers and small news capsules on TV channels”.

“What is seen as usual rarely gets importance as news in Indian media. And floods in Assam seem to be the usual thing,” says Ashis Biswas, a veteran journalist who has worked in Assam.

Mr Biswas recalls senior editors telling him during his days in Assam, “Please, no flood stories again”.

The TRP hungry media has always ignored real issues that affect real people. Even in the case of Assam, it was the good Samaritans on social media who helped bring aid to the affected humans and animals of the flood-hit state.

Caught between bureaucracy on one side and a shrill, biased, uninterested media on the other, will the screams for help from the citizens of the worst flood-affected state ever be heard?



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