Flash floods and landslips that have followed unusually sustained rainfall since September 17 have left a deadly trail in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. In Sikkim, following a cloudburst in the Chungthang region, homes, bridges, and stretches of highways were washed away. Among those hit were personnel of the Border Roads Organisation and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. No less than 70 landslips left whole regions cut off in the mountainous terrain. In Arunachal Pradesh, over two lakh people were affected in a wave of floods in five districts. An unusually heavy spell of rain is also threatening the stability of the famed Tawang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, precariously perched on a cliff-face, not far from the border with China. Meanwhile, more than 17 lakh people have been hit in 16 districts of Assam in a third round of floods this year. Assam’s human tragedy has been aggravated by the fact that in the Kaziranga National Park, some 75 per cent of the rhino habitat was submerged. The animals were forced to take shelter on high platforms or move across to the hills of Karbi Anglong district. The Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary also remains substantially submerged. In the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia district, noted for its endangered animal species and wet evergreen forests, elephant calves were swept away by flood waters. Majuli, Asia’s largest inhabited river island in Jorhat district, is almost entirely submerged. It is cut off from the mainland with the ferry service across the Brahmaputra suspended.

Rescue and relief work undertaken by the Army, the Air Force, the National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have provided some comfort, but the scale of the task remains stupendous. The Brahmaputra and its tributaries are a blessing, but also a bane for the region. The river leaves the region fertile and irrigated, even aids mobility by hosting a thriving water transport system. But in its fury, the mighty and meandering hydraulic system has undone and effaced efforts over a long period of time to check and tame it. Lives and livelihoods, crops and infrastructure come under threat time and again. There is, of course, no telling how and when nature will vent its fury. Nevertheless, a clear plan of action based on the science of water management needs to be rolled out for the long term to mitigate damage and help people through what has effectively become an annual round of trouble for the region with the least possible discomfort. Working with the State governments concerned, the Centre should step in to ensure this.

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