Jorabat flood stalls traffic - Shower turns NH37 junction into a lake

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By SUMIR KARMAKAR ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY UMANAND JAISWAL IN GUWAHATI AND ANDREW W. LYNGDOH IN SHILLONG
  • Published 10.06.12
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Jorabat, June 9: The consequences of cutting hills and filling up wetlands were clearly visible at this crucial junction on Guwahati’s outskirts today as flash floods following a 30-minute shower brought around 400 trucks, buses and small vehicles to a grinding halt.

This scenario is nothing new at Jorabat, the junction that connects Guwahati to Meghalaya, Barak Valley, Mizoram and Tripura through NH40 on one side and large parts of Upper and lower Assam through NH37 on the other. Flash floods, which have become quite common over the past few years, end up affecting the connected states and important parts of Assam.

The flash floods that brought traffic to a halt around 7 this morning was minor in nature compared to the ones witnessed here during the monsoon — the water that inundates the highway in a matter of minutes usually takes seven to eight hours to clear. With buses and trucks, high as they are, stalling in the floods, small vehicles often have to be abandoned by passengers as water flows over these.

Though today’s floodwaters receded in half an hour, it sounded the warning about the problem that Jorabat has been facing for the past six-seven years now.

“While Assam is constructing a four-lane road from Nagaon, Meghalaya is constructing a similar road from Jorabat onwards. The Jorabat area virtually turned into a lake today. There was no way out for the water as earth had been scattered all over,” a senior Meghalaya police official said. “Coordination between both sides (Assam and Meghalaya) is urgently required to work out a permanent solution before rains becomes more intense,” the official said.

“Today, the water level was about three feet and this not only blocked traffic but also drowned the machinery being used by a construction firm working on the expansion of the national highway here. Depending on the duration of rains, water level goes up between six and seven feet and small cars often go underwater. Those caught in the snarl are left with no other option but to abandon their vehicles in the middle of the road and take shelter in the buildings that have come up on nearby hills,” Pratap Das, a local student leader at Jorabat, told The Telegraph. He pointed to the shrinking width of the drains that halts the natural flow of water during rains.

“Last monsoon, one person had fallen into a drain that was completely hidden by the water and local people had to rescue him,” he added.

The flooding, however, hasn’t prevented people from occupying land in the vicinity, cutting hills and burying every patch that could have served as a drainage area. The surrounding hills continue to be cut as more shops continue to come up on the adjoining hills and plains.

The problem at Jorabat, according to 60-year-old Abdul Jabbar, who runs a garage here, had began since industrial units started coming up in the nearby 12th Mile area. “The 12th Mile area (on the Assam side) used to be open fields and used to act as a reservoir of rainwater flowing down from the Meghalaya hills. But now the fields have been occupied. Another major reason is that the Jorabat drain, which used to be 10-20 feet wide, has been reduced to three-four feet,” he said.

The resident engineer of National Highway Authority of India, M.N. Baruah, admitted that the ongoing highway expansion had added to Jorabat’s flash flood problem. “Sometimes, the drains get clogged because of our excavation work. But we are trying to complete the work as early as possible and hopefully, the problem will reduce by next year,” he said.

For now, people, however, will have to make do with commitments.

Assam minister for transport Chandan Brahma said, “The problem occurs because of highway four-laning work in the area.”

As for the unabated, reckless cutting of hills, the state government intends to take up the issue “seriously” in the next cabinet meeting, Brahma said.

Meghalaya transport minister A.T. Mondal said the state government would be taking up the issue with the authorities concerned to ensure that commuters did not have to face such problems while travelling to and from Assam. “Naturally, we will take up issues like construction of a proper drainage system with the officials concerned and ask them to look into the problem,” Mondal, who was on his way to Shillong, and would have to pass through the Jorabat stretch, said.

The monsoon, meanwhile, has just set in.