JORHAT, Sept 5 - The Herculean task of collecting broken logs and floating big trees, carried by the speedy water of the swelling Brahmaputra from its hilly areas to the downstream during floods, has become a daily habit of hundreds of daredevils of Salmora, Dakhinpat Kumargaon and many other riverine villages of Majuli while their wives, relatives and other survivors of the floods shelter themselves on different embankments of the river island.
Besides handling country boats and machine boats skilfully, many of them swim across the whirlpools of the mighty river during the expeditious job of dragging the logs from the water-current to the river bank, catching the attention of hundreds of onlookers since the morning to afternoon in the past few days.
Without facing any incident of drowning or damage, the youths collected a considerable quantity of different kinds of quality wood which is expected to fulfil this year�s needs of the local boat-making industry of Salmora.
As their forefathers brought glory to this unorganised industry by providing quality boats for the Ahom Navy during the Saraighat Battle, 95 per cent of the 520 families of the area are still engaged in making big and small boats and supplying them to Lakhimpur.
�The most preferred wood for the bottom parts of the boats can be availed only from the Brahmaputra during heavy floods. We locally call this kind of wood Uie Kaath, which resembles pine wood,� said Dimbeswar Kalita, a local citizen of Salmora.
As this kind of particular wood bears the most floating capacity, boat-makers of Salmora have been using Uie Kaath for generations. The local makers were paid between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.50 lakh for each of the big boats which need at least 11 months for completion.
A small boat can be made within four months and the cost of making it is around Rs 20,000. It is to be mentioned that Salmora craftsmen sell 180 to 200 small boats every year besides making six to eight machine boats.
Kalita and some of his neighbouring villagers said that they had to struggle more during this year�s flood to drag the floating trees and smashed logs from the river by machine boats as the water current started changing its original direction from their erosion-hit village due to the boulder-spurs constructed by the Brahmaputra Board.
As the boat making industry of the locality provides livelihood either directly or indirectly to about 500 families of the locality, the flood is considered to be a boon for many of them, as it carries the necessary resources for their local industry.
�Floods destroy the paddy fields, but it provides woods for our local industry. A family can earn livelihood only by collecting logs during this season,� said a college student of Majuli College, Anjan Kalita.
Residents of nearby village called Dakhinpat Kumargaon said that they had collected more logs than the Salmora villagers because of the water current of Brahmaputra river directly hitting their localities.
According to the villagers, �a section of corrupt forest officials� came to their villages to collect tax illegally on the floating woods collected by the villagers from the river.
�Are we doing any wrong by collecting smashed and broken trees from the water of Brahmaputra. We don�t know if any law is there to collect tax from those floating woods. As these provides livelihood for several months for a flood-hit family, what�s wrong in collecting those materials? If we do not collect those gifted-broken pieces of trees, the Brahmaputra will carry them directly to the Bay of Bengal where nobody can tax them,� said a youth of Dakhinpat Kumargaon.
They said that the broken pieces of several collected woods, which were locally known as Saral, Padma, Teli and Bonbogori, are used for furniture in various parts of Majuli while many others are used as firewood mainly in the pottery-works.
Expressing concern over the alleged negligence of the government to the century-old indigenous industry of boat making and pottery, several villagers said that majority of the flood and erosion-hit indigenous population of the river island will be economically-secure if the government includes both these local industries under the organised sector by providing financial aid and proper monitoring.