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Centre vows Majuli safety

New Delhi, Dec. 10: Cornered on the misutilisation of funds and continuing erosion of Majuli, the Centre today assured Parliament of reconstituting the Brahmaputra Board and monitoring protection work of the river island.

Under attack from the AGP for failing to protect the world’s largest river island, water resources minister Harish Rawat assured the Rajya Sabha that a high-level monitoring committee had been constituted to look into the ongoing work to protect the island. He said besides a three-phase protection programme for Majuli, the government is also considering how to channelise the Brahmaputra.

A standing committee of experts will visit Assam to examine the possibility, he added.

The Centre also said it is reconstituting the Brahmaputra Board, which AGP MP Birendra Prasad Baishya today termed as a “white elephant”. The board has been an ailing entity and even Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has said in the past that its working needs to be improved. It finally has a chairman but other vacancies remain, Rawat conceded.

Majuli is a river island on the Brahmaputra in Assam and is a proposed world heritage site. It is not only a geographical wonder but also house to the distinct xattriya culture of Assam, propagated by poet-saint Srimanta Sankardev.

Defending the government, Rawat, however, argued that satellite imagery has shown an increase in the island’s landmass from 502.21km to 520.26km because of efforts to protect Majuli.

Phase I of the protection work on the island has been finished and 45 per cent of the work in Phase II and Phase III have been completed, too.

“The rest will be completed by 2014,” Rawat told the Rajya Sabha during question hour in response to a supplementary question from AGP’s Kumar Deepak Das.

Das challenged the minister saying that nothing of the protection work was being seen on the ground in Majuli.

He found support from the Congress’s former water resources minister Saifuddin Soz. “I had the privilege of going to Majuli myself and I can say that flagship programmes in that area are in jeopardy. It is a neglected human habitation. I saw the situation myself (as a minister five-and-a-half years ago),” said Soz, advising Rawat to visit the island.

CPM’s Sitaram Yechury said plans had been made and money was being sanctioned too, but it was not finding its way into the actual protection of the island, which is technically not only the largest riverine island of the world in terms of territory, but also in terms of population.