Proceedings of the Darbhanga Meeting 5th and 6th April 2000

We welcome you all to this meeting to discuss the problem of floods in north Bihar and its possible solutions. We had a long cherished desire to hold such a meeting in Darbhanga and that day has finally come today.

Why are we holding this meeting and specially on this day has got some significance. It was on this day, the 6th April 2000, fifty three years ago, that a meeting of the Kosi Sufferers was held at Nirmali and it was attended by the veteran leaders of their times. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sri Krishna Sinha and Gulzarilal Nanda, Lalit Narayan Mishra, Hari Nath Mishra etc. etc. Some 60,000 people who were hit regularly by the floods of the Kosi also attended this meeting. All these leaders had expressed grief over the plight of the flood affected people and it was this day that the then minister for planning C. H. Bhabha had publicly announced that the government was now going to build the Badh kshetra dam over the Kosi in Nepal and the dam would solve all the flood problems faced by the people. Besides, the dam would irrigate 12 lakh hectares of land and would produce 3300 megawatts of hydroelectric power.

This dam has not been built so far but the assurances continue still. We had held a meeting of Barh Mukti Abhiyan at Nirmali on the same day and same place on the 5th and 6th April 1997 to take a stock of the flood control works done over the past fifty years. We had resolved then that we shall be holding a similar meeting every year on these dates at some place or the other in north Bihar and we have so far succeeded in keeping our words, even if the meeting has been symbolic. Last year this meeting was held in Khagaria.

Barahkshetra dam has not been built so far and one cannot say with surety that it will ever be built either. The experiences gathered over past fifty years have raised a big question over the viability of these darns as a solution to the problems of irrigation and power production and that the flood protection has always been a low priority use of the dams. The issues of capital costs of the dams, their gestation period, the impact of earthquakes over these dams, strategic defence, displacement of the people and their rehabilitation etc. have put the dams in the dock.

Whenever there is a flood in north Bihar, all the leaders start chanting the Barahkshetra Mantra. They claim that if Nepal agrees to the construction of this dam, this dam would be built. Fifty years have passed but an agreement with Nepal is not in sight. If we start constructing this dam today; it will take about fifteen years to build. Do we have any interim plan to face these floods during this period?

We got the gift of the Kosi embankments in lieu of the Barahkshetra dam in 1955. After that, without any debate and without any preparation, almost all the major rivers of the state were embanked. We had only 160 kilometers of embankment length along our rivers and the flood prone area of the state was limited to 25 lakh hectares. Now we have 3,465 kilometer length of embankments and flood affected area has risen to 68.8 lakh hectares. The floods have aggravated over the years and we are all aware of the fact.

Now we have only the annual ritual of relief and the assurance of the Barahkshetra dam. The farmers have now found an alternative of migrating to Punjab and Haryana, leaving their own agriculture behind. That is the given situation to us and within those constraints what are the alternatives left before us or whether there is any alternative at all. We shall try to discuss these points in two days to come.

It gives me a great pleasure to find amongst us the intellectuals of the town, professors and teachers, advocates and students. the participants have come from places like Saran in the west to Katihar in the east. There are participants from Delhi and Bangalore too.

Barh Mukti Abhiyan welcomes you all and we hope that we will have a fruitful discussion today and tomorrow.

Prof. Jivaneshwar (Darbhanga)

India is an agricultural country. Floods and droughts discourage agriculture. Flood is the major problem of the Ganga basin. Over eighty per cent of the population still makes its living through agriculture. The state has not given the attention that is due to agriculture. North Bihar is an area of floods and as long the floods were natural, this area was well off. The floods that we are seeing now are unnatural and manmade. I come from Darbhanga and till 1975, we used to have three crops every year which has now reduced to just one. Now we can only grow wheat and that too if the flood water is drained in time. Ever since the Jathmalpur-Hayaghat embankment has been built, all our crops are drowned. One rarely sees paddy now.

Before the embankments were built, the water used to come and go freely. After the embankments were built, those who live within embankments have become more vulnerable and those living outside these embankments live in a permanent fear of the breaches in the embankments which might sweep them away anytime. The government has created a firm device in the form of embankments for our destruction.

The government does not want the floods to go because, if that happens, the plunderers will be inconvenienced. We lose our entire crop and what we get in return-5 kilograms of flour and some pulse, few matchboxes and candles and that is the end of the role of the government in our lives. When these killer embankments were not there, the floods used to come and wash the lands and go. The politicians and engineers have pushed us into a permanent flood trap. Entire water, from Benibad to Jathmalpur passes through Hayaghat. If the water of such a big area will pass through a narrow space, floods are inevitable and our government has done this.

These embankments should be removed and if there is a movement over this issue, we will all join that. We have protested against the embankments in 1987, 1990 and 1995. I am pained to say that our protest fell on deaf ears. We have also taken up this issue with the political parties that they rise above their partition interests and make a common cause of fighting the floods along with the common people.

Ganga Devi (Kusheshwar Asthan)

Flood waters enter our houses in the month of June and we have got used to face the miseries and not the floods. Children, cattle and the habitation; all suffer alike and the situation continues for, at least, six months. The flood that we collect and keep for consumption, gets exhausted and we are forced to live on snails, crabs and fishes alone along with aquatic weeds. Fuel becomes scarce and the stale food and dirty water that we are forced to drink gives rise to various kinds of diseases.

The plight of women is even worse. They have to look after the children, the cattle and prepare food—all standing in water. A slight mistake can cost her life. In case of child-birth, the situation virtually gets out of hands and there is no end to the miseries. In case of a medical emergency, the people are stretched to their wit's end. I have a very high hope from this meeting that some action plan would emerge from here.

Md. Jamaluddin (Darbhanga)

This programme is being held here in a closed room in the town. It would have been more effective if it was held in open in some village. It would given an opportunity for the flood affected villagers to speak and their version would have been closer to the reality.

The problem is that even if we have some suggestions to make, who is there to listen to and implement all that. When those in power suggest something, one gets a feeling that something will be done now. The height is. nothing happens even when those in authority also say or propose something. Their assertions are also not grounded. We have also carried out protest in Hayaghat area and negotiated with the officials and the minister. We are not interested in relief because relief is no solution to our problems. The government should complete all the abandoned schemes and raise and strengthen all the existing embankments.

The Hayaghat block remains submerged for over four months a year. This water should be drained out early every year and if there is any move in that direction, we shall all be available to join the efforts. Earlier speakers have said that the embankments should not be built but I firmly believe that not only embankments should be built; they should be strengthened and raised also.

Rameshwar Sah (Jhanjharpur)

Floods cannot be prevented-even the Chinese could not do it who are trying to build embankments some 2,500 years ahead of us. There is no escape from floods. Now the point of discussion can be whether we want to face the floods that are natural or manmade.

Our engineers are interested only in their salaries and the contractors in the payment of their bills. Beyond that they are not bothered about floods. My village is located along the bank of the Kamla. Some 25-30 years ago, there was no embankment on the Kamla and the life was smooth. Then the embankments were built with a hope that if there was any problem, it would now be solved but the problem went on aggravating. We took up the matter with the government but without any result. We were then forced to cut the embankments. This led to the recovery of our lands from waterlogging as the fresh soil got spread over it. This has got a great educational effort. Our neighbouring villages have seen that it pays to cut the embankments and they are also have resorted to same.

We have cut the embankments of the Kamala at its 57th and 59th kilometer. There has been a deposition of 3 meters deep layer of soil in one single year and this area is now a cropped area. The government which cannot maintain embankments along small rivers like the Kamala wants us to believe that it will build the dam and will be able to maintain it. The government is playing politics in the name of the dam and we are being fooled.

Prof. V. N. Jha (Darbhanga)

Flood is a serious problem and it is unlikely now that the government will be able to take any initiative in the regard. There are many intellectuals, social workers, teachers, students and young men and women and concerned people assembled here. Let us come to a consensus and decide as to what we can do in this regard. Let us try to touch all the issues related floods as we have many learned and experienced people amongst us. We also have with us those who have put in lot of struggle. Let us make full use of the time available with us and try to come out with some programme at the end of two day's meeting.

Prof. S. H. Bazmi (Darbhanga)

I extend my gratitude to Barh Mukti Abhiyan for organizing this meeting at Darbhanga. This will benefit all of us including our students in the Water Management Course. This will also lead towards finding a situation to the problem faced by all of us.

Ram Swarth Choudhary (Darbhanga)

Water provides shelter for various kinds of lives. It also is a source of precious stones. In its destructive form, water is no less a killer. Last year some 32 persons died in our vicinity. Students of Navodaya Vidyalaya were travelling in boat along with their guardians when the boat capsized and they died. Boat men are sailing their boats. There is a high voltage line in the way. Current sometimes leaks and those who lead others to their destination, die in the mid-stream. We have deviced so many means to die. Sometimes we drown, sometimes it is electrocution, capsizing of boats or burial under the debris of collapsed houses.

Democracy has given us the right to vote but it has snatched the right to life. Area of floods starts just west of the place where we are sitting at the mordent. Over 1,500 villages of the blocks of Hayaghat, Kalyanpur, Singhwara, Jalle, Gaighat, Aurai and Katra etc. get submerged every year. I might have travelled in about 7 to 8 hundred amongst them. It is difficult to tell the woes of the people here. Parents raise their children with so much of hardships and difficulties by producing whatever they can in their fields. Whether this child is going to survive or not, is not certain. We are in deep financial crisis as well. We pay rents for producing three crops a year while it difficult to get even one. Our misery is created by human beings, it is not natural, it is thrust on us by the government.

There used to be a commissioner here, a retired army man who was an engineer himself. We were running a movement following the floods of 1987. While in discussion with him, I told him that our floods are not natural, these are brought by politicians and officers. He felt very bad about and asked me to prove it. I told him that he was an IAS and it is very difficult to explain anything to an IAS. Someday, if a village boy becomes an IAS, he might understand. But those days are gone.

I took the map out of my file and tried to explain him the position of the hills, the rivers and the flow. I tried to explain him the drainage mechanism of flow of water prior to 1956 when these embankments were not built and the one after the embankments were built. He saw some reason in it. A correspondent of the BBC had come that day and the commissioner told me to accompany him to the flooded area and at the end of the day the correspondent agreed that there was a vast difference in the thinking of the common man and the entire planning process. Why don't the planners take villagers into confidence. The real question is—why should an engineer or an officer listen to our views. There is a saying that is only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. The floods don't affect the engineers or the bureaucrats as it hit the common man. Why then the officers be bothered about us and listen to our views.

We are having only one crop instead of three. Whatever be the quality or the quantity of the produce, it enchants us. We are also attached to the legacies and heritage of our forefathers and we cannot just leave the place and run away from here. At the same time, we cannot live in peace either. The flood water never used to stay for more than 10-15 days, in any case. It stays now for, at least, four months. When water stays for that long a period, our mangoes, Jamun and Shisham trees have started dying. Same thing is happening to our cattle. When the vegetations and the animal kingdom is that badly hit, the ecological balance would be ruined and is it possible at all that the human beings will remain unaffected? What the land will produce—burnt trees and near dead animals. Even the children that are being born, are handicapped and spactics. It is not only the question of economic and social imbalance, it is also the question of the imbalance of the forces of nature.

The right to our natural ways of living have been snatched by this flood which is no more natural. The path of water, from mountains to the sea is called a river along which the civilizations have grown. We adore these rivers. When there was no means for travelling, the rivers provided us with access to other places. Rivers helped in fulfilling our basic needs. Cattle rearing and farming are two old professions that grew along the rivers. Even today, those living inside of the embankments come to the river area with their cattle and the milk yield is doubled within 15 to 20 days of grazing. But just as the area has become a single crop area, we are left with no work for about 8 to 9 months. Everybody is trying to dispose of some part of his agricultural land to purchase a piece of land in the town to live in peace during the monsoon months and thus, shifting the problem to the towns too. And how many people are in a position to do this also. There are number of people whose children could have gone to school and develop their personalities. They were pushed to Delhi or Punjab, instead. Now they can only feed their children but cannot educate them.

Waterlogging is on to rise because the rivers are prevented from performing their duties. Free the rivers and the water will go. But those who have a scheming brain, they think otherwise. They want these people to remain busy in meeting their two ends meet for if they get time to organize, they will fight for their rights and so it is essential to keep them busy.

But if someone is to be blamed for the present day situation of ours, it is we-ourselves. We know and understand everything and prefer to keep quiet. Our coming generations will never forgive us. We have had a tradition of plain talking. We will have to rise some day against the selfish motives of engineers, contractors and politicians. The fish swims, plays and has all sorts of fun inside the water but can be pulled out by the hook of the fisherman. Let us all try to work together.

Dev Nath Devan (Madhubani)

Our problems are so vast that it becomes difficult to fix the starting point. Rivers are not something new for us nor the floods are something strange. These are there since time immemorial and will continue to exist after we go. Floods were there earlier also and so were the damages due to floods. Earlier if the crop used to get damaged once, there used to be many times a good harvest. Life used to run uninterrupted. The rivers were chained before we had grown up and we were promised a very bright future. May be our leaders in the post-independence period were in a hurry to get name and fame and they started their venture to taming the Kosi. I am not sure whether the engineers had cautioned these leaders about the fall out of jacketing the river or not, or whether they kept silent or behaved as yes men to them. But it is certain that both of them earned the tremendous applaud of the people in the beginning.

There is a mention of the shift of the channels of the Kosi and the Kamala in our traditional folklore. These rivers are known to meander from east to west and vice versa. I come from the Doab of these rivers and our land is one of the most fertile lands in the world. Both these rivers were embanked. People were opposed to such tampering with the rivers but the leaders then, and those who succeeded them, over time took no notice of such resentments.

Let us have a look at the profile of these embankments. The Kosi embankment starts from a north-easterly corner and travel to south-west while the Kamala embankments start from north-west and travel to south-east. All this was done to make name and money. If one travels to the area that I am talking about with the engineers who had designed these embankments and they are introduced as that, then one is not sure how the people will behave with those engineers.

The embankment of the Kamala starts from Jainagar and travels south-east while the western Kosi embankment starts from Bhardah and travels towards Ghonghepur in the south-west direction. These embankments are spaced at only 2-3 kilometers in the lower reaches. This is the passage left for the water that originates from Nepal, between the Kosi and the Kamala. There are many rivers located in between. Now, Mr. Engineer did you not notice this simple fact that the waterway is too narrow for the catchment and that there will be problems in future. And Mr. Politician ! Did you also not know that this is going to happen in the future. Then what sort of a technocrat or a leader you are?

I personally call such people fools if they knew it and yet perpetuated the fraud on the people. I do not know what is the fittest word to address them. I am from the area which is protected from the floods of the Kosi and the Kamala, both. What should we be doing if our crops are lost and the cattle perished? We have lost the status of being human, being protected by the two embankments. Those who are trapped between the embankments of the respective rivers have a sordid saga of frustration to tell. We do not get our monson crops and just as the water does not get drained out in the sowing season of the Rabi crops, we rarely get our wheat, green gram or lentil. What solution the engineers or the politicians have now for our problems? What is it that they have been educated for? Why did we spend millions of rupees on the education of such people?

It was said in the morning that the people have started cutting the embankments. This is a fact and is resorted to in my area also. The government, in the beginning, used to say that these breaches are caused and that the anti-social elements affect the breach. Are our people anti-socials? In 1995, the Kamala embankment was cut at 2-3 places and we followed this up by Dharna and demonstrations at the block head quarters. The SDO came and confronted us by saying that it was something strange that the people would cut the embankments and, yet, sit for Dharna and demonstration. We asked him to tell us as to where is the population protected by these embankments. Is it not the population living between the area protected by these embankments? Now, can it be inquired as to who cut the embankments and why? The SDO lost his cool and said that we were behaving like press reporters. He was emphatic that the embankment was cut by the anti-social elements while we were pressing that we had cut the embankments. We also wanted the SDO to show us the 'social elements' for whose benefit the embankments were constructed failing which the state should assume the responsibility of breaching.

We have been studying the entire episode since 1954 and are of the opinion that the easiest way to make a fast buck is through earth cutting. Build the embankments, cut them or allow them to breach and redo them and continue with the fraud. Sometimes, distribute some relief to silence the people. The ministers, engineers and the contractors make hay while the sun shines and the people suffer silently. You might have heard of the wall of sand. Come to my area and I will show a real sand wall. Name the river and you have it.

Until the engineers realize that the places where the Kosi and the Kamala embankments start are separated by hundred kilometers or so and where they converge, they are spaced only at 2 to 3 kilometer, is a mistake and unless this mistake is rectified, things are unlikely to improve. And unless this is done we have little reason to believe that the politicians, engineers and the contractors are working for the common good of the people. Dacoits used to raid the villages in earlier days and plunder the way they liked. But once they have looted a place, they would not show up there again for twenty five years. We are robbed annually. Now the contractors have become the social workers, the engineers are learned people and would remain so, and the pledge of service that has been taken by the politicians is no secret. They have to serve their seven generations and whether their progeny is capable of taking up the leadership or not, they will have to be groomed for that. It does not matter whether their children are interested in politics or not.

Wherever and whenever the officials have talked over the matter with the concerned villagers, even by mistake, the results have been commendable. Well, this is the time to carry out all the repairs of the embankments and flood control but they will start the work in May or June and repair the embankments in the rainy season. They are bound to collapse then. It will collapse every year but the designs will not change. A concrete bridge was constructed last year in the village Panki which is very close to my village. This was washed away this year. The approach road in a length of four times the waterway of the bridge was eroded and was washed away. Where then is the design and what impression one gets about the technology. We construct the wooden or bamboo bridges in the villages and that is damaged only when the wood or the bamboo gets rotten with time. Once built, the bridge lasts for 20-25 years. But what goes wrong with the concrete bridges constructed at a cost of Rs. 85 lakhs and it does not last even for a year?

A few years ago when we used to raise these points with the engineers and bureaucrats, they used to scowl at us and ask whether we understood anything of engineering? Now, they have started saying that they have to carry out the instructions of the government since they are only there to carry orders. If the government wants that the embankments should be built or if it wants that they should be raised and strengthened, we are duty bound to do it. Talk to the politicians and they say that they could convey the message to the government but they alone were not capable of changing the policies of the government. They can always issue a statement that the government will not build the embankments any more. The fact is that the government cannot build embankments because it has no money to build them. This year it has got some money from somewhere and the work on the embankments has started. They do not bother about the character of the river, topography of the land or the amount of water that flows through the rivers. They concentrate over the embankments because there lies the money.

Take any map whether it belongs to REO (Rural Engineering Organization), PWD (Public Works Department), District Board, or that of the Water Resources Department, you will never find anything that will be helpful in draining the water out. All the structures will obstruct the flow of water. We must consider all these problems here and plan our course of action.

Ramesh Jha (Madhubani)

I will attempt to put my views in two parts. One —I will narrate my own experiences of living in the flood area and, two- what we should be doing next. There are many villages south of Madhepur like Rahua Sangram, Bhith Bhagwanpur, Bheja or Rasiyari. The schools in these villages do not have summer vacations, they have monsson vacations instead. These schools are closed from July to September every year. Flood is an annual feature here and rain water stagnates in most places. This leads to Malaria, Kala-azar and cholera etc. Twenty years ago, if somebody fell in these villages, it was impossible to take him to the neighbouring hospital at Madhepur. He used to die here in the village itself.

Mishraji has written in his book that population in the flood area is more than other areas but I would request him to visit our area. In my village of Rahua Sangram, we used to consume 18 maunds of rice in a common feast which has come down to just 5 to 6 maunds. The population of my village has gone down and it has gone down because of floods. Not only that, whenever, there is an election, most of the ballot papers are returned from my village because the voters have gone away in search of employment. Only those people are left in the village who do not have any contacts outside. It would also not be fair to put all the blame squarely on the government. We are also responsible to a great extent. When a wooden bridge is constructed in the village, the villagers take away the planks from the structure to make charpoys. What the government will do in such cases. This, however, is a fact that the people's representatives have not done anything in our area.

The area enclosed between the Kosi and the Kamala embankments is called thap or thapaharin the local language. This is a very backward area. Novelists like Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyaya and Phanishwar Nath Renu has written a lot about this area and that is worth reading. The water that our ancestors used to worship is known by various names. The water that you drink is Jal, the one that we use for washing is Pani. The water that flows is called Salil, and the one that is adorable is Aap. Water has been called the most important element of all the other powers of the nature the fire and the wind. They prayed to water to save them and this honour was not given to other forces of nature like fire and the wind. When we return from the burning ghats after cremation of a body, it is customary to prey to the water for purifying us.

When you look at the availability of water in this area, it appears that the area should be quite prosperous and happy but the poverty and deprivation in the area gives it a deserted look. You go to any major town of the country, you will always find people from this area living in the same poor condition.

Shatapatha Brahman is, probably, the first scripture to use the word Mithila. It is also described as the one with abundance of water, flooding and waterlogging and these phenomena were never taken as things to be worried about by the local populace. The scriptures have also classified an area into two parts. The area where the farmers used to base their agriculture on the rivers they called it Nadi Matrika and where the agriculture depended on rains, they termed in Dev Matrika. Our area, Tira Bhukti or Tirhut has been mentioned as Nadi matrika. Had the floods been a problem, it should have got mentioned in that form somewhere or the other. Darbhanga gets flooded every year. I am not an engineer or a scientist but whatever analysis I have of the situation, I have a feeling that you cannot blame the government alone for the prevailing ills. There has been a deterioration in the environment and there are different reasons for flooding in different areas. Orissa was flooded recently because of cyclone but our floods occur due to some other reason. There has been an alarming rise in the incidence of skin diseases following the floods of 1987. Our floods might also be caused to human interventions in the Himalayas.

Dev Chandra Anal (West Champaran)

I belong to the Doab of the Gandak and the Burhi Gandak. Some 50-55 years ago, in our childhood, we used to go to see the floods in these rivers and rarely this water would rise beyond your knees. It just used to come and go. The fields used to get fresh soil, the Chaurs used to get fresh soil, and the fields used to be rejuvenated and there used to be a bumper crop of paddy. We used to have different variety of paddy for deep waters. The floods have now acquired fierce proportion. In past four to five years, many villages have been eroded and consumed by the river stream. Those who had money have migrated to the towns but the poor suffer. They have to make their own arrangements and are compelled to migrate. The grip of exploitation tighten, thus.

There was a famous saying about Champaran that it is a place where even the crow would not care for rice. Nobody used to bother about a job in Champaran. But, now a days this is what the people of Champaran look for. Paddy yield is declining day by day and it is being replaced by sugarcane. On the other hand, sugar mills are facing closure and people use crushers to make Gur and that has a market in Nepal. Sugar cane fields have become a den of criminals. Robbery and kidnapping has turned into an industry. Some organizations are now coming forward to oppose this unfortunate occurring. There has been noticeable change in the form of floods in Champaran and some areas are getting flooded just with the onset of snowmelt in the Himalayas.

The floods that follow the small and early rainfall occupy the lower areas and is called Sarehi in the local- dialect. Then we have the usual big floods. We maintain that the embankments have been ineffective in controlling floods and that is a proven fact now. The next assertion that the construction of the large dams in Nepal would yield good results, is also viewed with suspicion. We will have to bear the floods and put up with them. Large dams are the plans for further exploitation. These will only benefit the city dwellers and not the villages. We must raise this point with our leaders. We must emphasize the need for smooth drainage of the flood waters to the sea and explore all the means to produce power other than the large dams. We also have to rediscover the housing design to suit the flood areas and construct raised platform in the villages to provide shelter for the cattle.

Umesh Rai (Darbhanga)

These two months of April and May are very busy months for us because it is only in these two months that w
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