Urban Floods

Devastation in Dima Hasao and its after-effects

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From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Flash floods

Disaster struck Dima Hasao, central Assam’s hill district, in mid-May after incessant heavy rainfall.

Impacts of the disaster

  • The 170 km railway line connecting Lumding in the Brahmaputra Valley’s Hojai district and Badarpur in the Barak Valley’s Karimganj district was severely affected.
  • The Assam government and Railway Ministry’s assessments said the district suffered a loss of more than ₹1,000 crore, but ecologists say the damage could be irreversibly higher.

How severe has the rain been in Assam?

  • Assam is used to floods, sometimes even four times a year, resultant landslides and erosion.
  • But the pre-monsoon showers this year have been particularly severe on Dima Hasao, one of three hill districts in the State.
  • Landslips have claimed four lives and damaged roads.
  • The impact has been most severe on the arterial railway, which was breached at 58 locations leaving the track hanging in several places.
  • The disruption of train services, unlikely to be restored soon, has cut off the flood-hit Barak Valley, parts of Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.

Why is the railway in focus post-disaster?

  • Dima Hasao straddles the Barail, a tertiary mountain range between the Brahmaputra and Barak River basins.
  • The district is on the Dauki fault (the prone-to-earthquakes geological fractures between two blocks of rocks) straddling Bangladesh and parts of the northeast.
  • British engineers were said to have factored in the fragility of the hills to build the railway line over 16 years by 1899.
  • The end result was an engineering marvel 221 km long over several bridges and through 37 tunnels, laid along the safer sections of the hills.

A faulty experiment

  • A project to convert the metre gauge track to broad gauge was undertaken in 1996 but the work was completed only by March 2015 because of geotechnical constraints and extremist groups.
  • The broad-gauge track was realigned to be straighter, but a 2009-10 audit report revealed that the project had been undertaken without proper planning and visualisation of the soil strata behaviour.
  • The report gave the example of the disaster-prone Tunnel 10 on the realigned track that was pegged 8 meters below the bed of a nearby stream.

Is only the railway at fault?

  • There is a general consensus that other factors have contributed to the situation Dima Hasao is in today.
  • Roads in the district, specifically the four-lane Saurashtra-Silchar (largest Barak Valley town) East-West Corridor, have been realigned or deviated from the old ones that were planned around rivers and largely weathered the conditions.
  • The arterial roads build over the past 20 years often cave in and get washed away by floods or blocked by landslides.
  • Shortened cycles of jhum or shifting cultivation on the hill slopes and unregulated mining have accentuated the “man-made disaster”.
  • Massive extraction of river stone, illegal mining of coal and smuggling of forest timbe has led to the disaster.
  • These activities have increased water current besides weakening either side of riverbanks.

How vital are the rail and highway through Dima Hasao?

  • Meghalaya aside, Dima Hasao is the geographical link to a vast region comprising southern Assam’s Barak Valley, parts of Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura.
  • Moreover, this track is vital for India’s Look East policy that envisages shipping goods to and from Bangladesh’s Chittagong port via Tripura’s border points at Akhaura and Sabroom.
  • These are the last railway station near the Feni River that serves as the India-Bangladesh border.

 

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