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Floods spell disaster for some, cash for others in Assam

For thousands of people in Assam the annual floods are a curse, but for some the seasonal deluge is just the right time to make some quick money. In this nondescript roadside village of Surabari, 55 kilometres west of Assam's capital Guwahati, floods have wrought havoc, submerging motorable roads and leaving behind a trail of destruction.
PTI | By Agence France-Presse, Surabari (assam)
UPDATED ON JUL 17, 2003 10:58 AM IST

For thousands of people in Assam the annual floods are a curse, but for some the seasonal deluge is just the right time to make some quick money.

In this nondescript roadside village of Surabari, 55 kilometres (34 miles) west of Assam's capital Guwahati, floods have wrought havoc, submerging motorable roads and leaving behind a trail of destruction.

But it has brought smiles to the faces of about 20 youths, who have taken to money-making activities such as pushing vehicles across flooded roads and ferrying people about in rowboats.

"We are charging anything between 50 to 100 rupees (one to two dollars) to push a vehicle across the breached road," said Basir Ali, a local youth.

Said his friend Bipul Hazarika, "I have earned about 1,000 rupees (in three days)."

The floods have breached some 100 metres (yards) of the blacktopped road, linking Guwahati to major towns in western Assam, creating a big crater and making it impossible for vehicles to cross the damaged portion.

"It is much cheaper for me to pay 100 rupees to the youths to push my car to the other side of the road than taking a detour of say 50 extra miles (80 kilometres) to reach Guwahati from here," said Anirban Das, a doctor.

Das's car got stuck in the middle of a flooded road as he unsuccessfully tried to steer his way through.

The youths who wait at an intersection some 500 metres (yards) away from the breached road, sometimes also resort to tricks to make extra bucks.

"I was told by some youths that the road was all right and that we can cross without any problems. But I found it impossible to drive through this road and my vehicle stuck in the crater," a truck driver said.

"Now they are demanding 200 rupees to push my truck to the other end of the road."

For pedestrians hoping to remain dry, the only way of crossing the flooded road is by boat.

"We charge five rupees per person to ferry them to the other side," a local boatman said.

At least six people have died and up to 470,000 have been displaced in flash floods and mudslides in India's northeast since heavy rains began lashing the area last Friday.

In Assam, the Brahmaputra river has broken its banks and risen above the danger mark in many areas, including the state capital Guwahati.

About 400,000 people were displaced during the first wave of floods in early June, but the waters later receded.

At least 50 villages in Assam's neighbouring Tripura state have also been submerged under floodwaters with three main rivers in spate after torrential rains during the past four days.

Some 10,000 people have been left homeless in Tripura.

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