| A villager stands on the eroded bank of Burhi Dehing at Jhanjimukh. Picture by Zahir Shah |
Dibrugarh, Sept. 4: Borun Deuri is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea — his life primarily focussed on watching out for marauding elephants by night and keeping an eye on the hungry river, Burhi Dehing, by day from his sang ghar (stilt house).
The house is the 55-year-old Jhanjimukh resident’s third. The other two were lost to the river, which has been eating away large tracts of land in the area for years now. There’s no more room for retreating further, as his latest dwelling is pressed almost against the embankment.
Forced on the back foot by the insatiable river, Deuri sits dreading the day when it washes away the last straw of hope from him and his family of six. “No hope, no strength…only God knows what will happen,” he rued.
Around 30km from Dibrugarh under the Lorua gaon panchayat, Kolakhowa, Jhanjimukh, Dehing Than, Itakhuli and Rangaghar are some of the villages severely affected by erosion. The river has already swallowed huge chunks of land along the stretch from Pani-Miri Gaon in the north to Moina Gaon at Khowang in the southeast, around 410km from Guwahati.
“At Pani-Miri Gaon, the Dehing has swallowed at least 18-20 houses along with agricultural land,” said Rahul Das, 28. He said the villagers, especially the young brigade, had tried using homegrown methods to stem the erosion but in vain.
According to sources, most of the villagers had been busy shifting to safer places since Bohag Bihu. The receding riverbanks had even forced some to moved towards the nearby forests.
“My six-katha plot was gobbled up by the Burhi-Dehing recently and every year, we face the danger of being wiped out by the river. We also lost five heads of livestock,” said Tapan Panging, a resident of Jhanjimukh.
Panging, 58, alleged that government officials visited their village every year, promised to initiate preventive measures but did nothing. “On July 19, we submitted a memorandum, seeking the district administration’s assistance. But no relief has been provided till date,” said Jayanta Hazarika, assistant general secretary of the Anusuchit Jati Yuba Chatra Sanstha’s district unit. To add to the villager’s woes, depredation by as many as 250-300 elephants from the neighbouring Madhupur forest are giving them sleepless nights, damaging crops and posing a threat to human lives.
“We have nothing left today. The authorities have not taken any step to either to curb erosion or to protect us from wild elephants,” a villager rued.
“Today, we dread two things — hati aru pani (elephant and water). The water resources and forest departments have done nothing to help,” said Arun Bori, a 65-year-old villager. On a recent visit to the area, officials allegedly tried to check erosion by erecting a bamboo fence instead of RCC porcupine screens. Though the villagers had objected to this, the department in question is yet to take concrete measures, a source said.