By Jatindra Dash
BHUBANESWAR, India, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Officials in eastern India struggled to provide aid to tens of thousands of flood victims after riots broke out on Wednesday, as floodwaters lapped the Taj Mahal compound but posed no immediate threat to it.
Monsoon rains, burst dams and overflowing embankments have unleashed bouts of flooding in South Asia this year, killing about 1,500 people, mostly in India but also in Nepal.
In India’s Orissa state, tens of thousands were still stranded on embankments and on highways after large areas were flooded when authorities opened sluice gates of a dam on the Mahanadi river after heavy rains last week.
Food riots broke out in many areas after villagers complained they were not getting relief supplies. Hungry victims beat up officials, blocked roads and looted relief materials.
"At least eight people sustained injuries after two groups of people clashed over distribution of relief," police officer Jitendra Kumar Dalai, who was injured, told Reuters by telephone from flood-hit Jagatsinghpur district.
Authorities said more than 100,000 people are still marooned and six more deaths were reported overnight, raising the death toll from floods in the eastern state to 35 in the past week.
More than 200 people have died in the past five days in India, most of them in northern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the east, with rising rivers bursting their banks and swamping vast areas of farmland and villages, forcing thousands from their homes.
Indian officials said they had posted policemen near the famed Taj Mahal to monitor water levels in the swollen Yamuna river.
Flood waters had reached the outer wall of the Taj compound, but posed no danger to the 17th century mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan on very high ground, officials said.
"Since the monument has weathered many a storm over the centuries, I do not think the rise in the Yamuna level or its increasing current could cause any harm to the structure," said K.C. Yadav, a police officer.
The flooding in the Yamuna, which also flows close to New Delhi, was caused by the release of water from two barrages following heavy rains upstream.
The Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of modern world, is already under threat from industrial pollution which is turning its white marble a pale yellow. (Additional reporting by Sharat Pradhan; Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee)