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In Rohmoria, erosion of faith

Sushanta Talukdar

PHOTO: RITU RAJ KONWAR

A view of the Balijan Tea estate eroded by the Brahmaputra in Rohmoria village in Dibrugarh district of Assam.

Over the past 20 years, the river has eaten into paddy fields, homes, schools and plantations in the 38 villages of Rohmoria under the Dibrugarh Lok Sabha constituency.

And this erosion has been paralleled by an erosion in the people’s faith in politicians and the system because of unfulfilled promises.

For Gahin Gogoi, 52, and thousands of voters, the Lok Sabha election might turn out to be another occasion for the parties and candidates to make promises that will never be fulfilled.

Brahmaputra havoc

On January 17, 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Rohmoria to see for himself the havoc caused by the Brahmaputra river. Mr. Gogoi and others went back home happily after Dr. Singh promised them that Rohmoria would be saved at any cost.

Three years on, Mr. Gogoi and the thousands of displaced villagers say nothing has happened despite Dr. Singh’s promise. “If things do not move even after assurances by the Prime Minister himself, who else can we turn to?” he asks.

The river ate up 40 ‘bighas’ of his crop land from 2001 to 2002 pushing his family into penury. Apart from making thousands of people landless, the river has damaged a government-owned sericulture farm and large portions of three tea gardens.

“Erosion in Rohmoria began after the great earthquake of 1950. However till the 70s, the people of Rohmoria were not worried. They pinned their hopes on the government, administration, Ministers, MLAs and MPs. In 1999, the affected people formed the Rohmoria Erosion Resistance Struggle Forum, which has been waging a long struggle for Rohmoria’s protection and began initiating anti-erosion measures on its own without any government support or intervention,” says Mantu Kumar Dutta, the forum’s assistant secretary.

The people resorted to a blockade of operations by the Oil India Limited (OIL) in Rohmoria to mount pressure on Delhi and Dispur and negotiated with the OIL authorities to construct steel dampeners along the river bank to induce siltation and protect the bank line. So far, 34 such dampeners have been constructed. The forum resumed the blockade on November 13, 2007, Mr. Dutta said.

Poll fever is yet to grip Rohmoria villages as no party or candidate has approached them.

Mr. Dutta said: “We are not going to boycott the polls. But we might consider the option of no-vote to register our protest against the politicians going back on their promises of protecting Rohmoria.”

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