The State of Environmental Migration 2011


Assam epitomizes images of natural beauty: wild- flood-prone regions of the country and even for life sanctuaries, estates and lush . It other countries in South , like , who is the largest of the “seven sisters”, the states that confront the same issue. Also, solving the conun- make up the north-eastern wing of . Right drum faced by , a sinking river island, would through the heart of this state runs the Brahma- contribute to possible solutions for island nations putra, the second largest braided river in the world, that could face the same predicament in the future. known for its meandering and frequent changes The first section of the paper will give an outline of course (Brahmaputra Board, ). The name of the demographics of the region, including the Brahmaputra means “the son of Brahma”, who existing migration patterns. The second section in Hindu mythology is the creator of all humans will discuss the floods (focusing on ) and con- and along with Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, sequent environmental degradation, its influence the destroyer, forms the “Great Trinity”. The Brah- on demographic trends and the prospects in light maputra created Majuli, a river island situated of climate change. The final section will assess the mid-stream, by gradually depositing sediment to policies relating to flood control and dealing with form an alluvial plain (ASI, ). However, the internal migration. Brahmaputra over time is transforming into Shiva, evidenced by the destruction it has caused in the Assamese part of the . The 1. KEY DEMOGRAPHIC most vulnerable to this destruction are the , CHARACTERISTICS OF ASSAM residents of Majuli, who have been the victims of constant flooding of the river for decades (Census STATE AND MAJULI RIVER of India, ). The communities struggle to save themselves from the wrath of the river; some .. Background migrate out of the flood-prone region while others remain in temporary settlements along the river- The State of Assam has a population of  million banks. Despite financial losses to the tune of INR people, of which the majority is concentrated in the  billion per year, government attempts to curb the two river valleys of the region: in the Brahmaputra damage are both negligible and ineffective (, valley, that covers  districts, and in the Barak ). River, that covers  districts. Only  per cent of the In the context of climate change, the frequency total population lives in urban areas, far lower than and intensity of flooding is likely to increase, imply- the Indian average of  percent (Census of India, ing that best practices for flood control need to be identified immediately; in cases where flood con- . Since compiled data on the floods and their impact on trol is not possible, plans to minimize the impact Assam (such as numbers affected, people displaced, etc.) on local populations need to be developed. Given are scarce, the paper will rely upon news reports and grey literature. It is interesting to note that these flood- that  per cent of the  million hectares of land related news reports are prominent only in the regional prone to flooding in the country is located in As- newspapers rather than the national the problem is sam, tackling the problem posed by the Brahmapu- perceived in India; it is newspapers, implying that access tra is critical for India (Kalita, ). Further, any to information on the area is limited even in the Indian capital. This reflects how reduced to a ‘regional’ issue effective policies in disaster management imple- instead of a ‘national’ problem, much to the frustration mented in Assam could act as a prototype for other of locals in the region.

IDDRI STUDY 06/2012 63 The State of Environmental Migration 2013

). The population density in Assam of  settled down in the to cultivate people per square kilometer exceeds the nation- the char areas (riverine land), which continues wide rate of  persons per square kilometer to influence the migration patterns of today. Two (Census of India, ). subsequent waves of Bengali immigrants followed The main occupation of the is Indian independence and partition in , and farming (mainly of paddy) followed by work in the Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan in . service sector or in such as . This high Like before, these newer Bengali immigrants dependence on agriculture, where over  per cent settled in the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River of the people rely directly or indirectly on the land, (Singh, ). is risky considering that  per cent of the state’s Over the past four decades, the influx of immi- cultivable land is vulnerable to floods or drought. grants has persisted. Assam’s population has been As it is, Assam witnesses a higher incidence of pov- growing at a rate faster than the whole of India, erty of . per cent, (in comparison to the rest of despite a falling birth rate, which is attributed to the country where the rate is . per cent) par- heavy flows from neighboring regions ticularly in rural areas where . per cent live in (Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Assam, poverty (Directorate of Economics and Statistics, ). Amongst the immigrants, there are second/ Assam, ). third generation Bengali immigrants whose fami- Within the state of Assam is the small river island lies have been in Assam for decades and have in- of Majuli, bound by the Brahmaputra to the south tegrated with the Assamese culture, and recent and one of its larger tributaries, Subansiri, to the immigrants whose culture is distinct from that of north. The island houses around seven different the older immigrants (, ). However, tribes who live in  small villages spread across precise data concerning both recent and historical the island (ASI ). Majuli is also the nucleus of immigration flows remains scarce or completely Vaishnavite faith (a main branch of ), as inexistent in Assam. Though there are assump- it hosts  Vaishnavite monasteries. Each of these tions concerning high levels of monasteries, known as sattras, imparts teachings from Bangladesh to Assam, the numbers are mainly to disciples, while also fulfilling civic functions like speculated. the settlement of disputes. As a consequence of immigration, tension has Majuli frequently faces the rage of the river. Fol- been escalating in the region. Assam has become lowing an earthquake in , the Brahmaputra a hotbed of contention between the indigenous changed its course, eroding the island’s area from tribal population and groups of , who are , sq km to  km². The river’s potential for believed to be illegal Bangladeshi immigrants (ir- destruction and creation of fertile lands through respective of their actual migration status, nation- inundation has made it an integral part of Majuli’s ality and timing of migration). This friction has spiritual culture. It is for these reasons that the is- intensified to violent levels on several occasions, land lies at the heart of the Assamese civilization, most recently in  with the riots between the with its intricate web of interaction between indig- Bodos, the chief tribe in the state, and the Mus- enous groups, the environment, spirituality and lims (Bhattacharyya & Werz, ). This particular culture (Pisharoty, ; Choudhary, ). outbreak led , people to flee their home, considered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) .. Migration trends in (IDMC, ). Assam: Growing in-migration Many speculate that the influx of Bangladeshi fuels ethnic tension immigrants is a consequence of adverse environ- mental factors, indicating that environmentally The state of Assam is extremely ethnically and reli- induced migration is already underway. According giously diverse. This plurality is reflected in the to Reuveny (), “when asked why they (Bangla-  different mother tongues that were spoken in deshi migrants) moved, they often provide natural  (Assam Online Portal, ). This diversity disasters, land scarcity and degradation and pov- can be explained by immigration into the region, erty as reasons”. These immigrant communities which is facilitated by the state’s geographical are vulnerable to environmental catastrophes as, position between seven Indian states, Bangladesh according to a study conducted by Shrivastava and and . Entry points are therefore numerous Heinen (), many of them continue to establish for migrants who wish to benefit from the state’s temporary settlements in low-lying areas highly increasing prosperity. Yet, immigration can be prone to flooding. This is a consequence of the ten- traced back to the colonial period, when migrants sion as immigrants are not welcome in the main- from , and moved to Assam land and resort to setting up homes only in to work on the tea estates. Many of the regions not densely inhabited by local populations,

64 STUDY 09/2013 IDDRI The State of Environmental Migration 2013

which are, incidentally the low-lying char areas. blame for the river’s deluge. Landslides and flash On one hand, by settling there, these immigrants floods occurring due to a combination of all these free themselves from the risk of ethnic conflict as factors are, as a natural consequence, extremely these regions are mainly traditional “ghettos” of common. Unfortunately, the disaster does not end the Bangladeshi communities, but on the other there; a vicious cycle follows the onset of land- hand, they expose themselves to natural disasters slides, as the falling debris block the course of the like flooding (Dasgupta, ). river, forcing it to flood elsewhere (TERI, ). Emigrants from the state of Assam represent a Due to these factors, the flood-prone area in As- negligible amount of all internal migrants in India, sam totals to . million hectares, which is  per only . percent. Over half of the , Assa- cent of the state’s area, of which,  villages dot- mese emigrants were women, migrating for more ting the banks of the Brahmaputra are particularly than half of them for marriage purposes (Census vulnerable (TERI, ; TNN, ) Every mon- of India, ). However, there is considerable ru- soon, the state experiences flooding, with major ral-urban migration within Assam. This increased floods occurring at least once every four years urbanization, coupled with industrialization has (Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Assam, caused significant environmental degradation that ). Despite the suddenness of such events, the correlates with the increasing destruction caused government has ample warnings of their potential by floods (TERI ). magnitude and should be therefore able to im- plement flood-control measures to minimize the destruction. However, they still cause immense 2. FLOODING OF THE destruction: , hectares are affected each BRAHMAPUTRA RIVER year, eroding at least , hectares annually. Ac- cording to the Assam State Government (), at least . per cent of the total landmass of the state .. The Brahmaputra’s has been eroded since . Financially, the cost of geomorphology and the major floods is extremely high - INR . billion in impact of the floods damages to utilities, crops and houses when Assam was badly hit in  (Kalita, ). Majulihas also Originating from the Kanglungkang Glacier in been heavily eroded due to the annual inundation Tibet, China, the Brahmaputra River traverses the of the Brahmaputra and the migration of the riv- Tibetan Plateau before bending into Arunachal ers bounding the island. Between  and , Pradesh in India, after which it runs through the island lost an average annual amount of , Assam, merges with its tributaries in Bangladesh hectares, while , hectares of land remain con- and drains out into the . Along the stantly under water (, , & Aggarwal, rumbling journey from a high altitude in Tibet till ). Subtracting this land from the island’s total, the Assam valley, the river picks up a large load of along with the land unsuitable for agriculture and sediment, making the river highly unstable in the the land reserved by the government, only , upper reaches of the Assam Valley. With deforesta- hectares, or  per cent of the island’s total area re- tion caused by shifting cultivation - a particular mains available for cultivation (ASI ). method of cultivation, often employed in South Asia, soil erosion has increased, which in turn has .. The floods in : How increased the amount of sediment carried by the relief efforts were obfuscated river (Sharma, ). In addition to a large amount by outbreaks of violence of sediment, the river also carries a large volume of water. The Brahmaputra has over a  tribu- In , a first wave of floods occurred from April taries, of which  large ones originate in the north to June as it crossed the danger mark by . cm, due to the melting of snow on the Eastern Hima- with subsequent waves of flooding in the following layas (Ghosh & Dutta, ). Once the river enters months. As of the  October , the Assam State the Assam Valley, the silt is deposited, leading to Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA) stated a change in the slope of the river, erosion of river that . million people were affected, from , banks, frequent migration of the river’s course and villages (ASDMA, ). , , heavy floods as the river cannot contain the volume , and Lakhimpur, the most densely popu- of water (Sharma, ). To exacerbate the situa- lated districts in Assam were worst affected by tion, the region receives high amounts of precipita- these floods. The government set up  relief tion (in the range of -mm) and is a seismi- cally active zone (NDMA ). This high amount of rainfall during the season is equally to . No updated date could be found.

IDDRI STUDY 09/2013 65 The State of Environmental Migration 2013

camps at the peak of the flooding, mainly in school funds became scarce since donors believed that buildings, to provide assistance to , people. flood-affected populations returned to their homes Furthermore,  raised platforms and  shelters as the displacement was supposed to be only short were also constructed. On the  August ,  term (Joseph, ). In reality most families have of the  relief camps sheltered a majority Muslim nothing to return to as the lands are still submerged. displaced persons. Despite governmental efforts, For those able to go back to their re-merged areas of many communities remained outside the relief origins, they often face challenges in getting back camps because the government didn’t have the their lands due to unfair relocation processes (- capacity to provide shelter to all of them and were gupta, ). Many of them may remain perma- struggling to survive by setting up temporary shel- nently displaced persons within Assam, yet close to ters. These populations were even more vulner- their original villages (Dasgupta, ). able to subsequent waves of flooding than those in A great polarization on the basis of different eth- the camps (ASDMA, ). nicities is found amongst IDPs, due to the ethnic Following the floods in , , people were tension that has been bubbling in Assam for years actually living on the dykes constructed to protect (Dasgupta ). Based on this diversity division Majuli and that this number had risen by , among the communities themselves, camp man- from the previous year (TNN, ). As floods had agers have divided the displaced population be- deluged the whole island, the government needed cause of fears that violence would erupt between to evacuate large numbers of people living on these the polarized groups of IDPs. The composition of embankments. However, relief efforts were obfus- the camps reveals that majority of the displaced, cated due to the of the island. As a sign are Muslims followed by members of marginalized of the government apathy, the President of Con- tribes, acknowledgement that interrogates on the gress Sonia Gandhi and the state minister aerially linkages between daily persecutions and marginali- surveyed the flood affected areas (ACTED, ). zation and vulnerability to natural disasters Deal- Damage to infrastructure like highways further dis- ing with the tension between the originating tribes rupted any quick attempts at providing relief to the and the Muslims is therefore very sensitive during population. To aggravate the flood situation, riots the relief phase, as resettlement and return always also broke out in July, creating an additional chal- raises issues regarding land ownership and legiti- lenge during the relief efforts and leading the state macy. Several tribes argue that the land is their into a complex crisis. rightful property and that the Muslims should va- According to situation reports by the Interna- cate it, while the latter refuse to do so arguing that tional Federation of Red Cross (IFRC, ), the they have been farming there for years. If Anandita IDPs on the riverbanks and trapped populations Dasgupta () professor at Guwhati University in Majuli were facing dreadful living conditions as argues that “the use of violence, dispossession, food, water, shelter, health and sanitation facilities murder, and confiscation of crops and animals have remained lacking. The government provided them almost become established patterns of char life”, with staples of and dal (), nutrient sup- they seem particularly sensitive during post-disas- plements and baby food for children. The floods ter relocation processes. Considering therefore en- had destroyed the hand pumps, the main source vironmental factors but also ethnic tensions as in- of clean water, and the provision of purified water centive for displacement, it is difficult to ascertain was therefore extremely critical. The government the exact degree of environmental influence in the also provided tarpaulin sheets that were however displacement processes – an important considera- insufficient for the large numbers of IDPs and cer- tion to keep in mind in the labeling process of such tain relief camps were extremely make-shift. Fortu- displaced groups. nately, there was no epidemic outbreak following the floods, though IDPs suffered from malnutrition .. Is growing out-migration a (IFRC, ). In the context of humanitarian cri- consequence of recurrent floods? sis, provision of education was extremely difficult (TNN, ). Relief efforts following the retreat With the flooding of the Brahmaputra over the years of the monsoon seemed to slowly dwindle down; and the subsequent slow-onset event of erosion of riverbanks, there has been large displacement . Usually one needs to take two ferry rides across the river of people every year. Whole villages have been to get to Majuli, but during the floods when the water erased or washed away due to the force of the river. was at dangerously high levels, traversing the river Unfortunately, official statistical databases for the was near impossible. Army helicopters were thus used number of villages displaced and details regarding for dropping essential supplies like packaged food and drinking water to the marooned population, but could the relocation of the population - where they move not land on the island because it was submerged. to and how they survive - remain vague.

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Table 1. Number of erased villages in ASSAM region (Das et al. ). These youth migrate on District Number of “erased villages” a temporary basis to earn a modest income, which Dhubri 71 they remit back to their families for making repairs, 2 buying food and maintaining livestock. Though Kamrup 14 these remittances are useful, there is a decline in 75 the workforce for agriculture, which increases the Chars (Riverine areas) 181 burden on the older generation who stay behind (Das et al. ). However, the youth work ini- SOURCE: TNN tially as seasonal farmers on the less flood-prone, fertile lands, before migrating for the rest of the Revenue Minister, Prithivi Majhi, though, states season. (Das et al. ) Others migrate over short that data collection is underway (TNN, ). This distances to northern districts to engage in menial collection of information is likely to be an arduous labour like pulling rickshaws (Dasgupta, ; Das task as with recurrent inundations, villages located et al. ). In Majuli, the youth, often more edu- in low-lying char areas, separate over time to com- cated than the older generation, have migrated to bine with different villages in the high lands, as the southern city of Hyderabad in search of work. seen in a study conducted by the NGO Arayanyak At the same time, many in Majuli do not have the (Das, Chutiya, & , ). Similarly, in Ma- resources to migrate and remain trapped on the is- juli, according to the state government, since  land (Pisharoty, ). approximately , families have been left home- Following the Bodoland riots in , the visibil- less due to land erosion. The government has relo- ity of the Assamese “ghettos” in other parts of India cated only  families, leaving the approximately became more visible, as their population increased , remaining displaced peoples to fend for due to a mass exodus of Assamese people (Devu- themselves (Choudhary, ). Since government lapalli, ). This large number of Assamese work- resources provide no information on this reloca- ers in other Indian states suggests that first, people tion, Mr Choudhary was interviewed for an insight are emigrating from the state not only in search of into the state of the displaced persons. These popu- jobs, but perhaps also as an adaptation strategy to lations, according to the journalist, have been re- deal with the floods and infertile lands. Second, it located to “some other villages. They now survive suggests that though census data reflects low out- on farming, a few on fishing; others have taken up migration from Assam, the figure is possibly higher petty jobs. They have coped since survival is inher- than estimated. Migration flows, therefore, are ent to them.” changing in Assam due to the impact of the Brah- The damages of floods on livelihoods are tre- maputra on the lives of the local population. mendous. With increased siltation, fertile land is Based on the newspaper reports and other no longer productive, rendering Assamese farmers sources of data, the state’s migration flows can be landless with very limited opportunities to find re- summed up as follows: first, temporary intrastate munerative employment (TERI, ). Thus, these displacement during the monsoon seasons with re- populations, dependent on agriculture, livestock turn to the homeland when the lands re-emerge; production and fishing, either abandon their lands second, permanent intrastate displacement to em- and homes in search of work by migrating to other bankments faced by the poorer and marginalized cities where they become rickshaw-pullers or cart- IDPs; third, permanent migration of whole villages, pullers earning dismal daily wages, or remain dis- which are proactive in order to avoid the floods; placed (Pisharoty, ; Dasgupta, ). Many of and fourth, long-distance, interstate, temporary these displaced persons especially vulnerable to la- and seasonal migration for additional economic bour exploitation and trafficking (Dasgupta, ). reasons. It is interesting to note that, apart from the Information available on relocation of displaced last group of migrants, most others remain fairly villages and families and on out-migration of As- close to their original locations. samese living on the banks of the Brahmaputra is The likely reasons behind migration, and how based on newspapers. As reporters note, many of one is affected by the floods in Assam, include the youth leave the difficult flood-ravaged regions level of education, income and occupation. Pub- with few employment opportunities to work in big lic sector employees are less likely to be displaced cities in other states like , in the south or because they have a secure livelihood despite fre- , which is also within the north-eastern quent inundations. Furthermore, those who have higher levels of education are more adaptable to migration, as they have better skills, making the . Interview with Ratnadip Chaudhary, Principle Correspondent, Tehelka, conducted on  March  probability of finding employment higher. Income via email. is also important in migration as the people in the

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high- and middle-income groups sometimes al- Second, increased out-migration from the flood- ready have property in safer areas to where they plains is also likely to create a labour shortage for relocate (Choudhary, ). Thus, those who can- the farms that are not submerged. Furthermore, not move away from the floods are the peasants it is likely that this out-migration will be a genera- and the indigenous tribal groups who are bound tional issue as the youth is more willing to migrate to the land. Culture is a second important deter- in search of work, leaving their parents behind to minant in migration. For the tribal populations in- work on the land. Third, given the ethnic divisions habiting the riverbanks, coping with the flooding in Assam’s society and the hostility faced by IDPs is natural to them. The Mishing tribe for instance, and immigrants, increasing migratory movements builds houses on stilts, known as ‘Char ghars’ that due to environmental factors is likely to be a huge have been emulated by governmental relief pro- challenge. As it is, when the liv- grammes. This riparian culture of the tribes often ing in riparian areas migrate upwards during the impedes them from migrating too far from the floods, locals view this as an influx of new illegal river, owing to sentimental attachment, implying immigrants from Bangladesh (Dasgupta, ). In that these communities are highly unlikely to mi- the face of climate change, dealing with these chal- grate long-distances and for the long-term (Das et lenges will be essential. al. ).

.. The climate change challenge 3. POLICY ANALYSIS

Climate change is likely to have an extremely Given the destruction caused by the floods each adverse effect on flooding and erosion in the region. year, the state and central government have imple- First, since rainfall is currently one of the root causes mented a series of disaster management policies in behind overflowing of the river, any increase in order to curb the harm caused by the floods. Large- precipitation as predicted in a few studies outlined scale floods that occurred across the country in  in the State Action Plan on Climate Change is likely prompted the Indian Government to look into flood to make the floods more extreme (TERI, ). control measures. Since then, the government has Second, since the river also receives glacial run-off taken steps to implement this objective by creating through its tributaries, the rapid melting of snow the High Level Committee on Floods (), the due to global warming will also increase the volume Ministers Committee on Flood Control (), the of water that the river holds (Sharma, ). Hence, Rashtriya Barh Ayog (National Flood Commis- floods are likely to become more frequent and sion, ) and Task Force on Flood Management/ more destructive in the near future, which may also Erosion Control () (NDMA ). In December accelerate out-migration from the region. Though , the government enacted the Disaster Manage- this latter process allows people to cope with the ment Act, which established the National Disaster disaster, there are many questions concerning relo- Management Authority (NDMA), which presides cation that need to be addressed. over the State Disaster Management Authori- First, in the case of Majuli, the protection of cul- ties (SDMA), Disaster Response Forces and the tural integrity is an imperative. Due to the changing State Funds for Disaster Relief. This approach was course of the river, the people living in Assam have expected to ensure an integrated disaster manage- imbibed migration as a trick for survival, migrating ment approach in the whole country (NDMA ), within ten kilometers or to entirely new districts in while the direct responsibility of relief, rescue and the upper reaches of the river to avoid flooding. This rehabilitation measures lies in the hands of the adaptation mechanism has a detrimental impact on state governments concerned. culture, as villages do not move in totality, because In addition to the SDMA, each state must adopt of population density constraints (Das et al. ). a State Disaster Management Act to identify re- In Majuli, the number of sattras has declined from sponsibilities and coordination mechanisms. For  to , and in the event that the island becomes flood management, State Governments and lo- engulfed by the river and its inhabitants have to cal authorities need to refer to the guidelines put relocate, it is likely that the translocation of these down by the NDMA when developing action plans. monasteries will not be successful (Choudhary, Below the state level, district-level and village-level ). In this context, believers of the Vaishnavite bodies have been created with the responsibility of faith fear the erosion of an important part of their disaster response and relief, mitigation and preven- culture along with the river island. Consequently, tion at the district level. In case of a disaster, it is it is important to think not only of how to preserve these bodies that coordinate the functions of local populations, but also their unique cultural identity authorities, health facilities and primary schools when formulating rehabilitation plans. (Ministry of Home Affairs, ).

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In Assam, the ASDMA (Assam State Disaster migration call for the detection and deportation of Management Authorities) works within this insti- illegal immigrants, implying that cross-border mi- tutional framework. The ASDMA has taken both gration occupies the public discourse far more than structural and non-structural measures for flood internal migration (Singh, ). preparedness. Structural measures to mitigate flooding include the construction of embankments, water reservoirs, retention basins and buildings on 4. KEY CHALLENGES IN elevated areas. Non-structural measures include ADDRESSING THE FLOODING AND flood-forecasting mechanisms and floodplain zon- ing that check uncontrolled settlement in vulner- DISPLACEMENT IN ASSAM able areas (ASDMA, n.d.). A flood-hazard atlas has Firstly, the institutional capacity and resources already been developed for each of the districts in among the state and district authorities may be coordination with the Indian Space and Research too limited to implement the outlined priori- Organization. An Assam Relief Manual also exists, ties. The ASDMA’s Annual Report  outlined though it was created in  and does not include that State Disaster Response Force consists of preparedness strategies (TERI, ). Additional only  personnel, with roughly  from each measures include building community awareness, district. In , ASDMA conducted , training stockpiling emergency essentials, creating early programmes and workshops to build capacity warning systems, identifying areas for settlement, among different demographic groups like health conducting drills, and developing coordination professionals, students and teachers, volunteers plans with NGOs and other local organizations and NGOs. Though such programmes indicate a (ASDMA, n.d.). positive step, they were able to reach only , In addition to the ADSMA, developing a master participants, which is very low given that . plan for flood control in the Brahmaputra valley is million people were displaced in  (ASDMA, under the jurisdiction of the Brahmaputra board, ). This dearth in capacity leads to a depend- created by the central government through the ence on external assistance from non-local bodies, Brahmaputra River Act in . This master plan which do not coordinate well with the existing for the control of floods and erosion entails the NGOs and other informal institutions set-up in the construction of “multipurpose dams”, which would state (ASDMA, ) provide extra benefits like hydroelectricity and ir- Secondly, existing policies do not take into ac- rigation. In , protection of Majuli was placed count ground realities. The training programmes, under the responsibility of the Brahmaputra board for example, seem to target very specific communi- (Brahmaputra Board ). ties, i.e. those people with a basic level of education, When developing an effective strategy for flood with the risk of marginalizing communities living in control in Assam, it is pertinent to look at policies rural or remote areas. In a state like Assam where influencing migration trends in the region. The only  per cent of the population is literate, devel- Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment oping effective training programmes that empower Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been reported to those who are illiterate is crucial (Directorate of alter the rural-urban migration flow in other states Economics and Statistics, Assam, ). Addition- of India as it provides  days of guaranteed em- ally, floodplain zoning, which prevents people from ployment in rural India. However, according to re- setting up houses on the riverbanks, is not imple- search conducted by the Agro-Economic Research mented in Assam due to the state government’s Centre, the scheme has had little impact on slow- argument that the thick population density in the ing down this trend in Assam, largely due to the state impedes the implementation of such a policy fact that the days of work promised by the act was (Planning Commission, ). Though the govern- not yet a reality in the state and, as a consequence, ment’s claim has merit, a check on human activity wages in urban centers still remained higher than in these floodplains must be ensured in order to those provided by the MGNREGA (Bordoloi, ). prevent such a damaging effect year after year. Thus, the rural populations in Assam (and perhaps Thirdly, the construction of multipurpose dams many living on flood ravaged river banks) consider for flood control is also questionable. In the midst migration to cities as a better option, adding to the of frantic construction of three dams upstream on rapid urbanization of Assam. In the absence of ur- the Brahmaputra by China, India seems to have for- ban policies or policies protecting internal migrants gotten the central objective behind building dams in India, these populations are often very vulner- of flood control, and focuses instead on ensuring able, given a low priority by the government and the hydroelectric opportunities of the river (Or- have no social or legal protection (UNESCO, ). land, ). Until now, embankments have not only In fact, the only policies in Assam dealing with been ineffective in controlling the damage, but

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actually further aggravate the situation by creating Assam in the first meeting for the working group drainage issues in areas outside the dam (Das et al., on flood management for the twelfth five-year ). In addition to creating instances of dam-in- plan was also symptomatic of the apathy on behalf duced flooding, these dams have also been respon- of the state government (Planning Commission, sible for displacing populations (mostly indigenous ). Another indication of the ASDMA’s lackadai- people, sometimes comprising of whole tribes) but sical attitude is evidenced by fact that the  draft this is often brushed aside as the displacements in of the “Assam Relief Manual” was revised for the the north-east are “relatively small” in comparison first time in  (Henriques, ). to other parts of India (Vagholikar, ). Further- Coordination between ASDMA and NDMA is also more, apart from the construction of new dams, old lacking. As a recent audit by the Comptroller and embankments need to be repaired. In ,  em- Auditor General on the NDMA revealed, it is “inef- bankments were breached during the flooding ac- fective in its functioning in most of the core areas.” cording to Water Resources Minister, Rajib Lochan (Supreme Audit Insitution of India, ). Key pro- Pegu. The minister also added that, “,. km of jects like hazard mapping have not been complet- a total ,. km of embankments have surpassed ed, while poor inter-governmental agency commu- their effective life-span”, implying that  per cent nication is a hindrance to the disaster management of the embankments in Assam were technically be- process. Furthermore, rescue and relief teams were yond their expiry date (Kashyap, ). Lastly, such inadequately trained, while the disbursement of dams do little to control siltation, which causes as funds was delayed (Supreme Audit Insitution of In- much damage as inundation (Sharma, ). dia, ). Though the report included eight state- In Majuli, despite the construction of a few em- specific observations, an audit of ASDMA was not bankments and the recovery of land in the form of undertaken. However, given the lacking capacity sandbars, no concrete moves have been taken to of the national agency, ASDMA has little support avoid further erosion. In order to ensure the cul- and guidance from the central government to deal tural identity of Majuli, the State Government ap- with disasters effectively. The Brahmaputra Board plied to UNESCO for the status of “World Heritage also lacks coordination with the state government: Site”, on the premise that recognition of the island’s set up by the central government, the control of its cultural value would increase both national and in- activities remains in New (Government of In- ternational attention for its protection (ASI, ). dia, ). States should be given increased control Unfortunately, the island remains on the list of and autonomy over the determination and enforce- nominated sites. Assam’s flooding problem also gets ment of their flood control master plans. lost in the politics between the central and the state International coordination to manage the Brah- government. The Assamese believe that the cen- maputra’s water resources is fairly tense, despite tral government remains apathetic to the situation. cooperation on other riparian systems in India, as Protests led by the Assamese Student Union against suggested in the rejection of a recent Indian pro- negligible budget allocation to the strengthening of posal for a new mechanism on water sharing by embankments and for the declaration of annual As- China (PTI, ). Despite this attempt by India sam floods as a national problem, rather than a state (advocated by the central government) to improve problem are frequent (TNN, ). The central gov- international coordination, political will to do the ernment reiterates however, that this is a state issue, same amongst north-eastern ministers is weak. despite Chief Minister ’s assertion that For example, Mr Gogoi, Assam’s state minister ar- the debt burden of the floods is too immense for the gued that when flood management coordination Assamese government to handle on its own (North between north-eastern states remains deficient, in- East News Agency, ). However, the state govern- ternational cooperation on the matter remains out ment has received INR . billion from the central of the question (North East News Agency, ). government to tackle the flood challenge, which is A last challenge with the floods occurs with the far more that the INR . billion recommended by retreat of the . As the rains disappear, so the Task Force on Floods (Kashyap, ). Further- does attention to the issue. However, many IDPs more, the state government has demanded funds to continue to live in relief camps and issues with nu- respond to annual floods but despite receiving the trition, health and sanitation remain. Some IDPs requested money, projects are still delayed. Skeptics in camps are even forced to leave, since the camps question whether the funds are actually being em- located in school buildings need to reopen (Joseph, ployed, or simply siphoned off (Chaudhary, ). ). The crux of the issue lies in the fact that the This slow implementation of schemes, according IDPs are not legally recognized. The Guiding Prin- to a member of the Central Water Commission, is ciples on IDPs as formulated by the UN are not rec- supposedly the reason behind the slow release of ognized by India and not implemented by the As- funds. The absence of state representatives from samese Government (Dasgupta, ).

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CONCLUSION aspects of life from education to disputes with its giant halls called ‘’ where the villagers Though the basic structure for flood management collect. Thus, imparting knowledge of flood pre- has been established, policies are often misguided paredness from these institutions would ensure lo- and worsened by the lack of attention given to cal mobilization. The community-run early warn- north-eastern states due to the region’s limited ing systems for floods in the disaster prone area political clout. Instead, both the central and state from Assam to Bangladesh is an example of the role governments need to coordinate and strengthen informal institutions can play in disaster manage- their institutional capacities in order to success- ment (NDMA, ). Effective policies need to in- fully employ a multipronged approach looking at clude civic participation and since “NGOs are ready different dimensions - social, economic and envi- to take up the issue but government is in denial” as ronmental - that will be most effective at allevi- Mr Choudhary argues, it is useful to increase their ating the situation. At the outset, it is essential for engagement prior to and during the floods. the government to safeguard the rights of IDPs, As for structural measures, steps to deal with the which includes recognizing them, particularly in excessive silt carried by the river also need to be the context of ethnic violence. The ethnic chal- taken when constructing dams. As Nayan Sharma lenge acts as an impediment to relief efforts and so (), a professor at IIT Roorkee asserts, “a mas- policies to encourage economic and social devel- sive soil conservation campaign is needed to effec- opment among tribal and marginalized Muslim tively reduce the sediment volume of the Brahma- populations should be a priority. Furthermore, putra, along with the creation of flood detention livelihood support for those whose lands have been reservoirs, river training for erosion control, land destroyed needs to be provided by the govern- reclamation and channelling.” Sharma also suggest ment, rather than just provision of food supplies that India takes a leaf out of China’s flood manage- following the floods. The existing policy misses the ment book by using similar technology for sedi- point that crops were sold for monetary purposes ment control as used on the Yangtze River. and not merely for sustenance (Talukdar, ). The lack of accurate data is a huge challenge, To prevent the problem of food and job insecu- which mires the whole relief operation as the num- rity following the floods, the government should bers affected are undercounted. The state govern- consider providing training for agriculture in flood- ment needs to update its databases and keep a affected areas, and targeting particularly and youth record of the number of inhabitants of all villages to increase the labour force in case of young males (TERI, ). A good practice of ASDMA was the migrating (Das et al., ). daily reports published on the floods in , which With regard to migration, policy makers are kept an account of numbers in relief camps and oblivious of the temporary migration among the those affected including livestock. By looking at tribes that allow them to survive (Das et al., ). these reports, it is easier to determine trends and The government also fails to recognize migrant best practices that can help formulate effective pol- flows- both into and out of Assam - that are crucial icies for the years to come. in order to draft policies dealing with unplanned ur- Finally, flood preparedness and disaster risk mit- banization and to effectively manage flood control. igation needs to be streamlined into development To begin, the Government could consider facilitat- policies. There is hope that the government is mov- ing migration of these tribes. It should also create ing in this direction, as it recently approved a IDR a temporary and circular migration scheme within . billion project to ensure economic develop- the country that may also help redistribute income ment, social improvement and preservation of the to the north-east through remittances. They could remaining  sattras in Majuli (PTI, ). Thus, be used to ensure that these tribes have sufficient for the , while the Brahmaputra resources in the face of flooded agricultural land. continues to destroy, preservation and creation lies Local knowledge, particularly among the tribes within the hands of the government. with a strong riparian culture, should also be tapped into by ASDMA (Das et al., ). The AS- DMA could utilize the existing networks to more efficiently provide aid to those in needs. In Majuli, . Interview with Ratnadip Chaudhary, Principle in particular, the sattra is a key informal institu- Correspondent, Tehelka, conducted on  March  tion that is non-discriminatory and overarches all via email.

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