MUMBAI — India’s annual monsoon has claimed 109 lives since rains started in June and left at least 400,000 people homeless in the northeastern state of Assam, in a tragedy experts say was made worse by corruption and poor management of the Brahmaputra River.
A senior member of the Assam Human Rights Commission, a government body, told Reuters it suspects millions of dollars meant for flood control have been siphoned off by state water department officials in the last five years. The commission has demanded a high-level investigation by the government.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in the upper house of parliament, called the floods the worst in recent times and promised $1,800 to each victim’s family in compensation. Critics say that much of the money will evaporate.
“Corruption is rampant before and after a flood,” said Arup Misra, a prominent environmental activist in the state and a professor at Assam Engineering College. “Some officials eagerly wait for floods as they could make money on repairing of embankments and relief distribution.”
Over the past 60 years successive governments have built levees along most of the length of the volatile Brahmaputra, which is Assam’s main river and is fed by Himalayan snow melt and some of the world’s heaviest rainfall. Experts say these embankments are both criminally under-maintained and a discredited form of flood management.
Assam is famed as a tea-growing region and rich in oil and timber. It is also home to the Kaziranga National Park that hosts two-thirds of the world’s Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. (Reuters)