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20 Jul 2004 14:30
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday he has set up a panel to find a permanent solution to floods that annually ravage the country’s east and north-east, as officials reported another 24 people killed.
“The time has come to take a holistic view to find a permanent, medium- and long-term solution to the flood problem in India,” Singh told reporters in northeastern Assam state’s main city of Guwahati after an hour-long aerial survey of floods that have displaced about 11-million Indians.
He said he has set up a “high-power task force” that is to submit a report on “strategies to control floods on a permanent basis” within six months.
Singh’s one-day trip came as the death toll due to flooding caused by monsoon rains since mid-June in India touched 217, after another three deaths were reported overnight in Assam and another 21 in neighbouring Bihar state.
“I have realised the gravity of the situation after making an aerial survey and the situation is really devastating,” Singh said.
The prime minister said New Delhi will discuss with neighbours China and Bhutan claims that floods in India are aggravated by the two neighbours releasing excess waters from their dams upstream.
Singh was responding to a query on a letter sent to him by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi stating China and Bhutan have released excess waters from their dams, aggravating the flooding of Assam’s main Brahmaputra river.
“Incidents like flooding have always been [inter-country affairs] and if required we will have to discuss the problem with the two countries,” Singh told reporters.
According to the Assam chief minister, the melting of snow in the upper reaches of China’s Tibet region has also contributed to the already critical situation in the state.
The Assam government has described the current flooding in the region as “the worst” in 25 years and demanded 21,56-billion rupees ($479-million) as immediate financial assistance from New Delhi.
The administration says the floods have wrought heavy damage throughout the state with a total of 8 500 villages washed away, about 600 endangered animals drowned in three of the state’s wildlife sanctuaries and 2 466km of national highways damaged.
A government official said that once a complete evaluation of the damage caused by floods is complete, the state government can demand financial assistance to the tune of 30-billion rupees.
Singh said he will send a team of officials soon to assess the damage and sanction grants based on the team’s assessments.
Meanwhile, the situation in Bihar was worsening, with waters from the Gandak, Baghmati and Kosi rivers surging sharply and flooding fresh areas, a government statement said.
India’s army has air-dropped about 226 tons of food materials with the help of helicopters in Bihar, the statement said.
The situation in Bihar’s Khagaria district remained grim with flood victims looting relief materials and complaining relief efforts are inadequate, police said.
Trains have been thrown off schedule by the flooding in many areas and some services diverted to rescue stranded people and passengers, officials said.—Sapa-AFP
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