Guwahati, June 30: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi will be visiting flood-hit Assam on a daylong stock-taking trip on Monday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may come too, but his schedule is yet to be finalised.
At least 28 persons have died in the disaster while over ten lakh people have been affected in 24 districts.
“Barring last-minute changes, they will be coming along with chief minister Tarun Gogoi to Jorhat on Monday morning from where they will conduct an aerial survey of Majuli, Dhemaji, Darrang, Dhakuakhana and then fly to Guwahati. The schedule will be finalised tomorrow soon after Gogoi returns from his official US trip,” a source in the chief minister’s office told The Telegraph this afternoon.
In Guwahati, they will be a holding a meeting with the chief minister, chief secretary, cabinet ministers and senior government officials.
A central team is also likely to visit Assam on Monday on a similar stock-taking trip. The team, led by joint secretary , G.V. Sharma, will also include officials from the ministries of agriculture, rural development, finance and the Planning Commission. The team will visit the affected areas, sources said.
Home ministry sources said a team is to be despatched next week as most areas are submerged and officials waited for waters of the Barak and Brahmaputra to recede. The Singh-Gandhi visit comes within two days of the Prime Minister calling up state health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Thursday, enquiring about the situation and offering all possible help from the Centre.
The call came when questions were being raised about the Centre’s alleged indifference towards Assam’s plight vis-a-vis floods.
On Friday, Assam PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita had also called on Sonia to apprise her of the situation. At least two MPs, BJP’s Ramen Deka and AGP’s Kumar Deepak Das also wrote to Singh yesterday and pointed out the lack of preparedness to deal with the situation. Das wrote that there is no plan or strategy to combat the menace, adding that relief amount is mismanaged and affected people are not benefited. The MP urged the Centre to send more forces of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
Deka urged Singh to declare floods and erosion as a “national disaster” and announce a package for relief and rehabilitation as well as for reconstruction of roads, rail and agriculture sector. Though planned in advance, Gogoi’s US trip has evoked criticism because all senior officials of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority along with disaster management minister Prithbi Majhi were part of the official delegation.
“Governance is also about public perception. At least a couple of them should have been sent back since floods hit the state on June 22. It would have sent the right message,” an official said here. In preparation of the Singh-Sonia visit, chief secretary N.K. Das this evening held a video conference with all the deputy commissioners to get a status report. The CMO had yesterday asked for a status report which will be submitted to Singh and Sonia. Gogoi will be seeking a special package from the Centre to tide over the crisis.
Assam agriculture minister Nilamoni Sen Deka also made an aerial survey today with senior officials of the National Disaster Response Force. Fortunately, only two of the 24 sites enlisted by the central water commission (CWC) — Barpeta district affected by the Beki river and Dhubri district on the Brahmaputra — recorded rising levels of water.
In Dhubri too, the water level is falling in Golakganj according to CWC figures today. At Dharamtul in Morigaon, the water level is “steady”. In Dhubri, yesterday’s water level was 29.9 metres, just 0.46 metre below the record water level of 30.36 metres recorded in 1988.
Goalpara, which is the other high flood situation site, has recorded water level of 37.07 metres which is 0.36 metres less than the highest water level of 37.43 metres recorded five decades ago on July 31, 1954. This month NDRF teams, totalling 446 personnel and 41 boats, were deployed for rescue and relief operations in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttarakhand. Assam, officials concede, is worst affected by floods in the Brahmaputra.
Assam PCC this evening officially confirmed Sonia’s visit to the state on Monday while saying that Singh’s schedule will be known only after Gogoi’s arrival tomorrow. Presidential candidate P.A. Sangma today expressed concern over the flood situation in the Northeast and urged the government to extend all possible relief and compensation. An NDRF release this evening said that around 5,699 flood-hit were rescued from Sonitpur yesterday.
Additional reporting by Nishit Dholabhai in Delhi