'Centre's indifference responsible for floods in N Bengal every year'
Kolkata: The indifferent attitude of the Centre to ensure the Indo-Bhutan agreement despite repeated requests, has come up as a major cause of concern for Bengal. No real-time data on the release of water from Bhutan is received due to the lack of agreement and it leaves at least 5,000 sq km in Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar flooded almost every year.
At least 43 percent of the total population of Cooch Behar, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri gets badly affected as overflowing rivers and river channels coming down from the hills of Sikkim and Bhutan causes the flood-like situation.
It takes around four to five hours only for the heavy volume of water to reach vulnerable areas of these three districts whenever there is incessant rainfall in Bhutan. "In a bid to check loss of life and property, we need real-time information of the water level in the rivers coming down from the hills of Bhutan. We also need real-time data on the volume of rainfall for a correct assessment of the situation. It can only be possible when the Centre takes steps to engage in an agreement with the neighbouring country," said a senior state government officer.
The Bengal government has repeatedly requested the Centre to take initiative for the agreement as floods in the area adversely affect lives and livelihood of nearly 50 lakh people almost every year.
Besides writing letters, the delegation of ministers, MLAs and MPs from Bengal also put forward the issue during their meeting with Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Vice-Chairman of Niti Aayog Dr Rajib Kumar on August 30.
"The agreement is not in the hands of state government. The Centre can only ensure that it takes place. But their indifferent attitude, despite knowing that it affects lakhs of people, leaves us shocked," said state Irrigation and Waterways minister Saumen Mahapatra. Due to the lack of a real-time information gathering mechanism, the officers of the state Irrigation and Waterways department need to contact officials posted at some of the stations of the Central Water Commission in Bhutan over the telephone to get the necessary details. Besides setting up more rain gauge stations, there is a need to establish flood forecasting systems that will automatically disseminate information within a second of collection.
Rainfall and water level data for catchment areas of rivers, including Torsa, Jaldhaka, Raidak I and II need to be disseminated.
"But it can only be possible if the Centre signs the agreement with Bhutan," the officer added.
Torsa enters Cooch Behar after the river covers a stretch of 145 km through Bhutan. While Jaldhaka carries water from both Sikkim and Bhutan to Kalimpong, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, Raidak too passes through both Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.