GUWAHATI: In chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s constituency of Majuli, people have got no relief from floods and the untold miseries brought by them. And many of them say the BJP hasn’t helped them in any way.
Last year, dairy farmer Pankaj Bora’s three houses were washed away by the river along with that of 24 other neighbours. They have been living in makeshift accommodation ever since as they don’t have money to build new houses. For ages, soil erosion has been a major problem in Majuli, which has substantially shrunk in size over the years. Bora and his neighbours are also not daring to build permanent structures on whatever land they are left with because they aren’t sure how much of it would remain by the time the next monsoon hits.
This uncertainty affects over 10,000 families in the riverine island. And many are unimpressed by BJP’s poll promises of more jobs for youth, a “corrected” NRC, and so on. They argue that five years ago, BJP’s slogan was to protect “jati, maati, bheti” (community, land, hearth), but in Majuli, the ‘bheti’ is in jeopardy.
“There aren’t many educated people here. Many who managed to get government jobs have already left for nearby towns over the years. We are living here protecting our bheti, but for how long? If no concrete step is taken to save us from soil erosion, we will have to desert this historic island soon,” Bora told TOI on Wednesday.
The complaint, however, isn’t just with the BJP: locals said that no political party has supported them during floods over the years. Many of them were in Dergaon on Wednesday to hear CM Sonowal’s speech seeking support for AGP candidate Bhaben Bharali. The CM reiterated BJP’s commitment to safeguard the “civilisation” of Assam. But that isn’t enough for Majuli locals.
Local activist Naren Hazarika says the present government has laid the foundation of the first bridge connecting Majuli with Jorhat that’s estimated to cost Rs 700 crore and hopes to get electoral support from the people. “But the meaning of development differs. People are still drinking arsenic-laden water; farmers lack modern agricultural tools despite being heavily dependent on agriculture; and we need a college, a veterinary institute and specialised doctors and emergency services. But nothing is more important than fighting the fury of the Brahmaputra,” said Hazarika who is also an Indian Red Cross Society volunteer.
Some leading citizens of the area said that the government had sanctioned Rs 1.57 crore to erect porcupine spars to prevent soil erosion. But they aren’t sure if that would be enough to avert the crisis that looms.
Even local BJP workers believe stopping erosion matters more than any other development. Retired teacher Golok Chandra Saikia, president of No 11 booth committee of the BJP in the area, said the local unit’s main demand before the government is the protection of ‘mati-bheti’. “Only stone embankments can effectively fight erosion caused by the river. If our existence is lost, what will we do with development? Connectivity alone won’t work,” Saikia said.