Assam’s cabinet held a meeting at Majuli on Thursday to highlight threat to the world’s largest river island from floods and erosion.
The meeting, a first of its kind, officially upgraded status of the island from a sub-division to a new district — making it the only river island district in India.
“More than half of the island had disappeared due to erosion. Our principal goal is to protect it,” chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said.
The decision to make Majuli a district was taken in June, a month after the state’s first BJP government took charge, at the first cabinet meeting of the new ministry.
The cabinet chose Thursday to hold the meeting and upgrade Majuli to a district after consulting astrologers. The day coincides with the 90th birth anniversary of singer-composer Bhupen Hazarika.
After the cabinet meeting, Sonowal and his ministers attended a large public function where thousands of Majuli residents cheered the initiative to declare the island a district.
Located on confluence of Brahmaputra and Subansiri rivers, Majuli was declared as the largest river island earlier this month by Guinness Book of World Records.
Floods and erosion wreak havoc every monsoon. In past few decades many residents of Majuli have relocated to safer places. The number of ‘satras’ have also come down from 65 to 32.
“If we fail to protect Majuli, we will lose our cultural identity. Hence, we decided to make the island a district to focus more on its overall development,” Sonowal said.
While Majuli has progressed from a being declared a ‘tehsil’ in 1925 to a sub-division in 1979 and finally to a district, its land area has shrunk from 1246 sq km in 1853 to around 650 sq km now.
In the past 15 years 3,171 families have been forced to shift away from their homes after their houses were eroded by the rising waters of Brahmaputra and its tributaries.
Over 2,000 families still live on embankments.
Transport is also a problem as the island can be reached only by boats and ferries. To address this, two bridges connecting the banks of Majuli have been approved by the Centre.
Upgrading embankments and dredging Brahmaputra to remove silt with the aim of controlling floods and erosion is also being discussed.