Climate Change

Assam floods: More people affected now than ever but state allocation for control dipped

Over 300,000 people shifted to relief camps in last 2 months

 
By Seema Prasad
Published: Tuesday 21 June 2022
Photo for representation. People in a flooded area in Morigaon district of Assam on July 13, 2020. Photo: iStock

Assam is flooded almost every year and this year, more than 4.8 million lives have been affected in 34 of its 35 districts as of June 19, 2022, official records showed.

The crisis, however, isn't reflected in the state’s budgetary allocation for flood control, which dipped since financial year 2019-20. The eastern state had set aside Rs 3,748 crore for agriculture and flood control in the budget for financial year 2019-20. This was reduced to Rs 2,825 crore for 2020-21, Rs 2,452 for 2021-22 and Rs 2,778 for 2022-23, according to the budget documents. 

Assam budget

2018-19 (Rs crore)

2019-20 (Rs crore)

2020-21 (Rs crore)

2021-22 (Rs crore) 

2022-23 (Rs crore) 

Irrigation and flood control

2,450

3,748

2,825

2,452

2,778

Apart from irrigation and flood control measures, the Assam state budget does not have a specific allotment for relief measures in the face of a calamity. It cannot have an allotment without the Finance Commission’s suggestion. 

At the same time, the average number of people affected by floods annually has also steadily increased in the state, according to the Government of Assam’s water resources department: 

  • From 1970-1979: Two million affected by floods every year on an average
  • From 1988-2005: The number rose to 4.5 million on an average
  • 2020: More than six million people affected 

In the last two months, 329,759 people were shifted to relief camps and 1,99,438 hectares of total crop land was damaged, according to the government's official statement June 20, 2022.

Disaster-related compensation is a common grievance issue among voters in Assam, said Ravindranath, founder of Rural Volunteers Centre, a grassroot-level  organisation in North East India, and former Ashoka fellow. He has worked for years to uplift flood-affected areas in Assam. 

The state’s revenue department handles the relief measures, he added. Separate mechanisms outside the state budget offer funding such as the State Disaster Response Fund and National Disaster Response Fund were established on the proposal of the 13th Finance Commission under the Union Ministry of Finance. 

The state budget does, however, offer financial support for long-term climate adaptation projects. The Brahmaputra Flood Control Project, for instance, was allocated Rs 694 crore for 2020-21. The Assam State Disaster Management Authority too received a capacity building grant.

The National Policy of Floods also offers funding based on immediate, short-term and long-term requirements. 

This year. the eastern state experienced intense pre-monsoon rainfall, according to India Meteorological Department (IMD). These early showers, likely driven by climate change, may be behind the devastating floods, said experts. 

It is not clear if these floods will become a year-round phenomenon, but human activity such as mining may dictate the outcome, said Ravindranath. Sedimentary rock structures can deposit on the riverbed and increase the volume of water, he explained.

The disaster management authorities and National Disaster Response Force have responded to flood warnings promptly, he added. 

In the past, there was no system in place and local communities would band together for protection against floods, he recollected. The resident of upper Assam said citizens would warn each other on witnessing the rise in river water in the lower basins. 

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