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Atal hope for Assam’s save-Majuli cry

New Delhi, Dec. 12: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today held out hope for erosion-hit Majuli, promising to visit the cradle of Assam’s Vaishnavaite culture soon and release funds for schemes to prevent the island from being gobbled up by the Brahmaputra.

The Prime Minister gave the assurance to a delegation of satradhikars, the head priests of the Vaishnavaite monasteries that dot the island. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi accompanied the team.

In a memorandum to Vajpayee, the spiritual leaders said Majuli would disappear into the depths of the Brahmaputra if Delhi did not act now. Gogoi submitted another memorandum, seeking the immediate release of funds earmarked for the island and a bridge connecting it to Lakhimpur and Jorhat.

The delegation also urged Delhi to push for Majuli’s inclusion in the list of World Heritage Sites.

Uttar Kamalabari Satra representative Jogen Bora said after the meeting that Majuli would get a new lease of life if Vajpayee kept his promise. “The Prime Minister has said he would visit our place soon, apart from assuring to release the funds meant for anti-erosion schemes.”

From 1,245 sq km in 1950, Majuli has shrunk to 552 sq km because of continuous erosion by the Brahmaputra. The average annual loss of landmass is approximately 14 sq km.

Several of the Vaishnavaite monasteries, called satras, are planning to shift to the neighbouring districts before being swamped by the river. The delegation of satradhikars said nearly seven of these satras could be washed away within the next two years if erosion continued at the present level.

“We have asked for a bridge because that will not only link the island with two major towns, but also check the velocity of the Brahmaputra. As for Majuli’s inclusion in the list of World Heritage Sites, it will open the floodgates for donations from international agencies,” a delegate said.

Gogoi said in his memorandum that the proposed Sankar-Madhab Setu would boost the economy of the island, which has a population of 1.6 lakh, and serve “strategic interests” by linking Upper Assam to Arunachal Pradesh.

One of the satradhikars blamed shoddy implementation of previous anti-erosion schemes for the state Majuli is in.

The most feasible solution to the problem of erosion is a stone embankment around the island, but the Assam government has not been able to construct one for want of funds.

The chief minister said funds promised earlier have yet to be disbursed. These include the Rs 30 crore grant announced by the Prime Minister in 1998 and another Rs 86 crore that the Union ministry of water resources was supposed to give the Brahmaputra Board.

The satradhikars of Majuli had threatened to go on an indefinite hungerstrike earlier this year, forcing the chief minister to rush to the island and sanction Rs 80 lakh as emergency relief.

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