Guwahati: Majuli, the 400 sq km island on the Brahmaputra has become the first river island district of India. This was one of the first decisions taken by the Sarbananda Sonowal government in Assam, on their first cabinet meeting on May 24th, after coming to power with a thumping majority.
The island, which is the cultural capital of the state, is also fighting for survival as almost 60% of the land has been washed away by the Brahmaputra.
The long neglected island was brought back to the limelight after the then Chief Ministerial candidate of the BJP ,Sarbananda Sonowal decided to contest Assembly election from here.
One of his poll promises was to make Majuli a separate district. So far, locals travelled over one and a half hour on ferry, to reach the district administration office in Jorhat.
The island remains cut off from the world by the mighty Brahmaputra for a good part of the day and the entire night. The boats to and from Majuli to mainland (Jorhat) ply only between 8 am to 4 pm. With Majuli becoming the 35th district of Assam, the 1 lakh 54 thousand odd people living here can breathe easy.
They would not need to run to Jorhat for every little administrative need. But announcing the district was the easy part. Much tougher challenge awaits the administration if they want to improve the quality of life of those living here. Majuli has shrunk to by almost 60% of the 1,245 square km of its area in 1950.
Every year the island is ravaged by floods and the only variable factor of this annual tragedy is the extent of the damage caused. The threat is such that even the traditional flood proof houses of the island’s main ‘Mishing’ community have failed to thwart the impact of the water gushing in.
The island remains out of bound for the greater part of the monsoon, as Brahmaputra becomes too ferocious for ferries to ply. Chief Minister Sonowal however promises action. He says that a comprehensive plan has been made for dredging the whole Bramhaputra river with the help of World Bank and Asian Development Bank.
The dredging he says will greatly help in solving the erosion problem of Majuli in the coming days. A Rapid Action Center of Water Resources Department will be set up so that flood management work can be expedited in crisis situation.
This idyllic river island is the cultural and spiritual capital of Assam since 16th century, for it was home for many years to the spiritual guru of the Land of Ahoms, Shankardev, the revered vaishnavite saint amongst the pantheons of socio religious reformers in medieval India.
At its peak the island had over 65 satras but a large number of them have relocated to the mainland after being washed away. The Chief Minister announced setting up of a world class Cultural University which will spread the essence of Satriya .
The ambitious plans of the government include Ayurvedic hospital and organic industries in Majuli , to provide livelihood to the people without destroying the idyllic setting of the island.
The much neglected river island is getting the fruits of electing the Chief Minister. The island people are certainly beaming with hope, but they also expect these promises to materialize and not get stuck in that famous bureaucratic red tape.