On August 15, 2004, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) blew up 13 schoolchildren at Dhemaji, 72 km east of North Lakhimpur.
But that is not the reason why some 1.46 million people in two of India’s worst flood-affected districts resent the outfit’s call to boycott Prime Miniser Manmohan Singh’s rally at Dhokuakhana in North Lakhimpur on Saturday.
Lakhimpur (HQ North Lakhimpur, 390 km from Guwahati) and Dhemaji districts occupy 5,514 sq km of Assam’s northeastern tip, bordering Arunachal Pradesh. Annual floods have turned 15,000 out of a total 124,000 hectares of once-ertile farmland into unproductive sandy expanse.
“The Prime Minister needs to see for himself where his home state (Singh is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam) is heading,” said a desertification hit farmer of village Matmora. “We doubt if our leaders would otherwise update him properly.”
The desertification process began in 1998, accelerating from 2004-05.
Geologists have attributed it to large-scale deforestation in Arunachal Pradesh, haphazard construction in Assam, and fragile embankments along a network of rivers led by the Brahmaputra. The southern half of these two districts is today referred to as “monsoon desert”.
And hitherto prosperous farmers like Phaniram Phukan of village Mothadang (Dhemaji district), having lost 10-16 bighas (1 bigha = 14,400 sq ft) of farmland, have fallen on hard days.
Adding to the worries of the people of these two districts are Arunachal Pradesh’s 168 hydropower projects entailing as many dams to generate 45,000 MW.
More than the dams, says save-farmland activist Ravindranath, the flood-prone areas need to be revitalised.
“One of the worst-hit areas is Dhokuakhana, where the Prime Minister is scheduled to address a rally on Saturday,” he told HT.
Local anti-dam activist Luit Goswami said, “Think of the extent of damage vis-a-vis desertification once these projects are commissioned.”
Lakhimpur and Dhemaji districts have six assembly constituencies.
The Congress holds five of these while the sixth, Jonai, is with an independent named Bhuban Pegu. “We are because of the people. If they perish, we will too,” he said, asserting his opposition to the dams.
Dhokuakhana, ironically represented by water resources minister Bharat Chandra Narah, has been in the news for expensive but fragile embankments such as Matmora on the northern bank of the Brahmputra.
More than Rs 140 crore was sunk in this dyke by a Malaysian firm, purportedly armed with long-life technology.