Held at : Chandrayan High School, Dist, Saharsa (Bihar)
The meeting was chaired by Shri Gajendra Prasad Yadav and conducted by Chandrashekhar and the inaugural address was given by Shri Gajendra Prasad 'Himanshu', former Minister of Water Resources, Govt. of Bihar.
Gajendra Prasad Yadav
He formally welcomed all the participants and said that Dharhara has been a land of revolutionaries and it was his privilege to welcome everybody there. He welcomed Shri Gajendra Prasad 'Himanshu', a noted socialist, to the meeting and thanked him for accepting the invitation.
The meeting started with welcome remarks from Maha Prakash, a noted literary figure of Mithilanchal. Welcoming the Chief Guest Shri Gajendra Prasad Himanshu he said that Chandrayan is an odd place to come and hence there was some delay in his reaching the place and thanked him for sparing his time for the meeting. He welcomed Dinesh Mishra saying he is from Uttar Pradesh and yet so much interested in issues pertaining to Mithila. Mishra has become an integral part of the intellectual circle of Mithila and is a household name here. Our friends from Delhi Shri Rakesh Bhatt and Gopal Krishna are environmentalists while Shri Rahul Chaudhary is an advocate in Supreme Court dealing mostly with environmental issues. Tapeshwar Bhai is the President of state's Sarvoday Mandal and Rajendra Jha has been an effective local link over local issues. He welcomed them all.
Chandra Mohan Mishra
Dinesh Mishra has worked extensively for the upliftment of Mithila. He was here in a meeting in Navhatta last year and that was the time I met him for the first time and had lengthy discussion with him. I appeal to all those present here to remember what all is said here today and not to ignore it. Dinesh Mishra is not a local person and he comes here to share our problems but we do not respond to his gestures adequately. You must have heard about the Kosi Sufferers Development Authority. All those who were instrumental in its constitution and those who formed a part of that body are now dead. Many programs were announced by the authority that schemes would be taken up for the betterment of those living within the embankments and in a range of three kilometers outside the embankments. There will be programs for their economic uplift and so on but nothing happened in reality.
In the night of 5th September 1984, I received a phone call from the Superintending Engineer of the Kosi Project that there was the embankment was getting eroded at a frantic speed and I should report with all the tractors available with me. That embankment is in the same precarious condition even today but there is no call for help from any quarter. It is just possible that the embankment may breach today. I will request all of you present here to pay a visit to the embankment and have a look. This embankment is repaired only to make money. If there is no room for looting the exchequer, the embankment would not be repaired. We suffer losses due to floods and water logging every year and are silenced by paying some money in the name of cattle feed and compensation for the crop loss. Our media too covers the flood events but this happens only for three months, till the floods last. They forget the miseries immediately after that. A mother keeps the child in her womb for nine months but until that child cries, the mother too does not feed her with milk. We will have to agitate and unless that is done, nobody will ever bother about our problems.
Those living within the Kosi embankments, suffer the wrath of the river for three months but the ones living outside are suffocated round the year. What do we expect if we hold meetings every evening for three months apprehending a breach in the embankment and then go into hibernation for the whole year? We need to help Dinesh Mishra in his endeavor and make use of his expertise.
Ram Deo Sharma
Welcoming all those present in the meeting, Sharma said that Dinesh Mishra came to the Kosi area in 1984 after the breach in the embankment and then on continued to nurse the area. He must have traveled many times the length and breadth of the Kosi embankments. I must say, I was traveling when the Kosi embankment breached in 1984 and was midway in the Kosi stream. There were rumors that the embankment had breached and I could see that the water level in the river came down just within half an hour. The kosi embankment has breached eight times so far and the last incident took place on the 18th August 2008. Those who suffer such wrath of the river have to run away from the scene with whatever material they can carry on them. This area was known for its cattle wealth and agriculture. The Kosi Project robbed it of all that. Maize was a major crop here but that was lost because of seepage, flooding and waterlogging. Agriculture and cattle rearing suffered immensely in due course. There is no surety of survival of houses and villages within the embankment. Many villages have been eroded many times. Charpoy acts as an ambulance for women suffering from labor pain and a sizable number of them succumb on way to hospital. Many people are drowned or are simply swept away and if one asks for compensation, one is asked to produce the dead body of the victim. Entitlement of compensation of Rs. 50,000/- is linked to production of the dead body. We will have to raise our voice as the establishment is deaf. We have only received begging bowl against working in Punjab, Delhi, Bhadohi and diseases and hunger stark at us.
Pramod Kumar Singh
I pity my self confidence that despite our sufferings in 1984, we are again thrown into the same bin last year. It is a great consolation that not only we still remember those sufferings but there are many who did not undergo that trauma also remembers what had happened to us. This embankment could have breached in 1983 also but the sincere efforts on the part of the then collector of Saharsa, Madan Mohan Jha, prevented that tragedy. The embankment was under stress in 1979 also but this is not the time to gossip but prepare for a decisive battle. The Government does not have the list of the people who were swept away in Kusaha or Navhatta. Some 50,000 acres of land between Navhatta and Mahishi is deserted because of seepage. We cannot plant Agahani crop and the Government feels that we are only relief seekers. Get away with your relief and return our land and its fertility. Let us take that decision along with Dinesh Mishra and other friends.
Welcoming those present he said that the people have been facing the miseries of floods silently since 1984. He continued, '... I remember the incident of 1984 when 5 blocks of Saharsa were affected. We fought for our rights but got tired. We will have to rise again for our own safety. The 2008 breach at Kusaha affected 35 blocks, seven times more than those affected in 1984. This can happen only due to the callous attitude of the departments. The embankment is bound to breach again and we will have to strive hard to reduce the losses and make the government accountable for the accident. This is possible only if we can organize people. The embankment breaches and the establishment do not care about the people's view whether they want the breach plugged or not. We had contested a case for compensation in 1984 and had a degree from the Supreme Court of the country but could not follow it up. We will have to put an organized effort and struggle for our cause. There is a time bomb kept over our head. On behalf of District Sarvoday Mandal, Kosi Pramandal, we oppose embanking of the rivers.
He thanked those present in the meeting that they have extended a hand of solidarity to the victims of the Kosi Breach of 1984. That man made tragedy had snatched many precious lives.
Dinesh Kumar Mishra
He said that, '... I am an outsider for the area and it does not look nice that an outsider should narrate the sufferings of insiders. I came to this area for the first time on the 8th October 1984 and had boarded a boat at Navhatta to take a look at the situation. After roaming around for the day in that boat, I landed in Bangaon in the night. I had never seen so much of water after one month of an accident in my life. I may an engineer by profession and had a brief to build some houses as I had working experience of such situations. After coming here I realized that unless the water is drained out, there was hardly any role of an engineer here. While traveling on the embankment where hundreds of thousands of people had taken shelter, I used to enter the huts of the victims and look for food materials that they might have had for themselves, if any. To my surprise, I could not locate one in any of the houses. I developed a feeling that I could not do any thing there in the capacity of an engineer. A person like me had no existence before the might of the river. I had to send a telegram to my friend Vikas Bhai at Varanasi about the situation that I had seen here in Saharsa and I was at the end of my wits. I wrote to him about the unprecedented miseries here in Saharsa and told him that if he rated himself as a social worker, here was the place for him to work. If he could not do anything, he better wind up the show withdraw. Next day I wanted to go to Balua Hat and Chapram as I was told that further south, the situation was even worse. I tried but had to return from Balhi-Barsam. I went to Varanasi to meet my friend Vikas Bhai and the moment I entered his premises, he fired me with a question, '... Engineer Saheb! Are you ashamed of what happened at Saharsa that you dislodged half a million people from their homes and hearths?' '...Why should I be ashamed of something where I had no role to play?' was my reply to him. He, himself an engineer, told me that those who inflicted such miseries on the people were my fellow professionals and that should lead us to ponder and feel sorry. He had gathered some resources to build cheap huts for the flood victims at the rate of Rs. 1000/- or so. But I was unable to draw lines on deep running water for building such huts where the ownership of the land was not known. The Kosi had taught me the first lesson of engineering. We studied the flood problem of the area later and that led to regular contacts with the people of the Kosi Basin.
The Kosi embankments have breached 8 times till date. It was in Dalwa in Nepal in 1963, in Jamalpur in 1968, in Bhatania in 1971, in Bahuarawa in 1980, in Navhatta in 1984, in Gandaul and Samani in 1987, Joginia in Nepal in 1991 and in Kusaha in Nepal in 2008. The Joginia episode is quite interesting. The then minister of Water Resources of Bihar had asserted in Bihar Vidhan Sabha in the same year that should an embankment breach anywhere, he would resign his post and in the month of July 1991, the Kosi embankment breached at Joginia. The river, however, receded after breaching the embankment and a disaster was averted. The people could not be saved last year, however. Some 527 people are reported to have died in last year's Kosi Flood and this figure of deaths is highest in any single year in the basin ever since the records are maintained. The river is preparing for its next assault from the day the breach was plugged at Kusaha. It was in 1937 that the dam at Barahkshetra on the Kosi was first proposed in the famous Patna Flood Conference. This was presented as the final solution of the Kosi problem. The then Chief Engineer of Bihar, Captain GF Hall is on record to have said that Nepal would never be interested in this solution and will never put itself to inconvenience for the benefit of Bihar. Nearly 60,000 persons will have to be relocated if this dam is built and the way our displaced persons are treated in our own country is no secret.
Why Nepal does not take interest in these projects is never told to the public. Anugrah Narayan Sinha had told Bihar Vidhan Sabha on the 22nd October 1954 that if anything goes wrong with this dam min Nepal, then areas up to Bhagalpur will be at risk and hence the dam will not be built. Many reports have been prepared about another such dam at Nunthar on the Bagmati and it is repeatedly mentioned in all the reports that there is no flood cushion provided in that dam. There was a meeting in the Water Resources Development Centre of Patna University in 2004 and the Secretary of the Water Resources Department categorically said in that meeting that the financial position of the state would not permit any dam on the Kosi to be built for at least 60 years to come. If this dam starts taking shape in 60 years, it will take another 20 years to build it. Does the Government have any interim plans to face floods for the coming 80 years? They have no answers to such questions. The bed level of the Kosi is rising at a rate of 5 inches annually between Mahishi and Kopadia. In the past 45 years the bed level of the river must have risen by 225 inches. If that be so, the embankment should have been raised by as many inches i.e. 18 feet 9 inches. Will the river be stable if the embankments are raised that high? What will happen to the people if such an embankment breaches?
The Kosi used to flow in 15 different streams between the Parmane and the Lagunia. The engineers left 14 streams and forced the river to flow through only one stream i.e. Lagunia and assured the people that they were safe from the floods of the Kosi. But Lagunia is flowing now 15 to 20 feet higher than its initial level. Where all the water will go if the embankment on it breaches, nobody thought. We will have to think what should be done in that situation. We should try to send the river back to its original profile of 15 streams. This will allow the silt carried in the river to spread over a vast area along with the flood waters. There will be moderation of floods and the water levels would reduce automatically. If this is done, then even if the dam on the Kosi is built, there will not be any need for providing the flood cushion and the height of the dam can be lowered. If we are able to face the floods on our own land, this will be in the larger interest of the country and the society.
The Government also says that it will link most of the rivers. Is it possible without involving Nepal? Will Nepal respond favorably if the scheme is proposed to her? The state government is talking about linking the rivers of south Bihar and also says that there is not enough water in those rivers. What is the use of linking those rivers then? If this is to be done to cater to the whims of someone, it is a different story then. Let us now talk about those who were displaced due to construction of the embankments on the Kosi. These people were encouraged to sacrifice their interests in larger interest of the nation and the society. They were ditched when it came to their rehabilitation. Why a package that is given to the oustees of the Narmada cannot be given to those in the Kosi? Narmada oustees got the land and housing both because they could fight for their rights. Our people did not fight; they left for Delhi, Punjab and Mumbai etc. If all of them come back, there will be a civil strife here. They opted for easier options of looking for employment elsewhere and those left behind do not have the will to fight it out.
I was talking once to Shri Ganesh Prasad Yadav in Sitamarhi. He has been a minister in the state and talks about the people's oriented approach. I asked him how injustice is met to the people when outright persons like him were there in the cabinet or in the government. His answer was you cannot motivate dead bodies to rise and respond. Nothing can be achieved without struggle, he said.
I wish to extend further what Dinesh Ji had said earlier. He said that the struggle is yours and no outsider will be able to lead the struggle on your behalf. It is worth noting that he is an outsider and circumstances led him to do what he could do for you all. I must say that the rulers and the subjects have a relationship that is linked to taxation. The ruler taxes his subjects and in lieu of the taxes, he promises certain services. When we face floods, it becomes the duty of the ruler to take care of our well being. To say that this is a relief is an insult to the subjects. It is desirable that whatever taxes we pay to the rulers should be returned to us in such cases because it is the sins of the rulers that lead us to unbearable situations. It should be our right to get our well being ensured in such situations till our lot gets bearable.
The other thing is that whatever Mishraji has written or said, he has learnt it from you. It is your job to check what all is left to be said or written. Kindly go through all his writings and verify that he has written only those things which you expected him to write. Many friends here have suggested about starting a movement. Should you proceed in that direction, we will accord all the help that we can.
Mishraji has written a lot about the Kosi issue for a long time now. Having read all that, I arrive at a conclusion that Kosi Crisis is the biggest environmental crisis of South Asia. Among all the environmental movements running in the country, Kosi is not getting the attention it deserved. The crisis not only relates to environment but also to public health. This crisis should be defined and identified on those lines alone. The story of embankments starts from the writings of Mishraji seems to be unending. When the embankment breached at Navhatta in 1984, the Government had said that the life of the embankments was only 25 years and that was over. It added that it was not possible to maintain those embankments and keep them in good shape of repairs. Twenty five more years have passed since then. And on the same logic the embankment of the Kosi is not safe anywhere. This was not intended to provide permanent protection either. The debates in Bihar Vidhan Sabha are an indicator to that affect. The year the barrage was completed (1963), the shortcomings of the project were manifested as the Kosi embankment breached in that year itself.
The people of Chhattisgarh had given a slogan recently when their houses were being demolished in the name of development. It said that 'We are the Government in our villages, and our's is the Government in Delhi and Raipur.' You are residents of the Kosi basin and, in fact, you are the government here and it is your government in Delhi and Patna. Unless this feeling comes in each one of you here, the problems will continue. The persons whom you sent to Vidhan Sabha have not done anything for the area and to assume that they will do something in future will be a mistake. Our parliament and Vidhan Sabha is silent about the outcome of the treaty between India and Nepal and we are facing the consequences of it. This is the time to scrap this treaty first. When our elected representative fails to perform, movements are born. The government uses force to suppress the movements. Sometimes, in order to oppose the state's repression, the movements also get violent. If the movements get violent, the things go out of hands. Mishraji has written many things and has repeated them time and again. The repetition becomes necessary because the one who should listen to the woes of the people refuses to listen to the voices. He said that there was no point in giving a call to the dead. Let us resolve here today that if a call comes from somewhere, the dead will also start waving their hands. The embankment will keep on breaching till such time we are silent and the Kosi Treaty is in force.
Gopal, Krishna has said that Kosi Crisis is a big environmental concern. There was a meeting in Patna recently in which concerns were shown that no environmental impact study is made in case of projects concerning flood control. This means that the flood control projects would not be discussed in public and objections, if any, by the public will not be attended to before the construction starts. It was in this meeting that I came closer to the Kosi issues. Later, I tool many books written by Mishraji over the issue and now I have developed some understanding of the problems here. I have been roaming around in this area for the past few days along with Gopal Krishna and Rakesh Bhatt to acquaint myself with the environmental issues of the area. No impact study is made when an embankment is constructed. There was a provision of environmental impact assessment of embankments in the notification of 1994. It was possible then to know before hand the number of families likely to be trapped within the embankments, the extent of waterlogging, impact of breaches and the means to deal with etc etc. That policy that was changed in 2006 and the flood control projects were kept out of the purview of environmental impact assessment. We are not aware why this change occurred and we are trying to identify its reasons. If an embankment is built in your area, no environmental assessment of its impact will be done unless there is change in legislation. It is quite likely that there may be political reasons for withdrawing this provision or else it may be the handiwork of vested interests. We have to understand the is because if there is a construction of a dam in some area, then there will be engineers and labors coming there from outside, the value of the property will shoot up, a house that may not be fetching rent of Rs. 500/- may now get a monthly rent of Rs. 5,000/-. Vehicles will be needed for movement and the people will start renting vehicles also, road construction would start and that might benefit the local contractors etc. When there is so much of activity around, the question of making an impact study id relegated to background. If somebody raises these concerns, there may be other set of people to advise him to keep quiet. Now, one has to carefully examine whether the project will benefit the small or big contractors, politicians, and other vested interests or will it be useful for the masses and that too in a distant future. I am trying to understand all these factors and the matter appears to be serious. We will have to decide what legal course is available to us.
Gajendra Prasad 'Himanshu'
You have organized a meeting to observe the 25th anniversary of the breach at Navhatta and you should be congratulated for that. You have invited me for this meeting and gave me an opportunity to talk to you all, I am grateful to you for that. The Kosi is a very vibrant river. If the Kosi is left to its own device, it will create disasters and even if it is abandoned after taming it without proper repairs and maintenance, it will create problems. Our body gets into old age from youth and contracts many diseases in the process. We take all precautions and visit doctors with the hope that he will cure the disease. If we go to an incompetent doctor for treatment, he will not be able to diagnose the disease and prescribe right medicine. We must exercise care in choosing the doctor. Same thing holds true for the river also. If a river falls sick, who will treat it is the crucial question. This is the job of the Government. If the government is strong, it will choose the right doctor. We used to read in our child hood that the Hwang Ho is 'Sorrow of China'. Likewise, the Kosi was rated as the 'Sorrow of Bihar'. For the past 40-50 years this statement is withdrawn from the books. Neither this is taught nor are questions asked in examinations if the Kosi is 'Sorrow of Bihar'. This happened because the river was tamed in 1950s. This is no more a river of sorrow. Mishraji has given a detailed account of what had happened in 1984, in his base paper but whatever happened in Kusaha last year, has brought the river back to its 'sorrow' phase. You can call it sorrow or name it a killer river now. It is quite likely that the questions may appear again in examinations why the river is called the 'Sorrow of Bihar'. The river under control is useful for the society but an uncontrolled river can cause devastation.
The Kosi is not an ordinary river. It is a cancer. One really does not know where and when the cancer will become fatal. Nobody knows when this river will erode the apron or the spur or when will it do away with the embankment. When I was the Irrigation Minister of the state, I used to visit the area and our engineers used to tell me that the behaviour of the river is quite unpredictable. One does not know when will sand cast an area, erode a village, water log fields and overturn a boat? The government wants to tame such a violent river by distributing relief material and then self pat its back. How would you feel if I inflict an injury on you that you start bleeding and then I come with ointment to apply so that the injury is healed fast? The question arises, why should the embankment breach? It breached because the structure was weak and it breached because the government was weak and it did not bother about proper maintenance of the embankment. Rats and jackals kept on digging holes into the body of the embankments, it was never repaired and the Government was not aware what was going on. The bed level of the river kept on rising and the government did not know. Earth should have been put on the embankments and they should have been raised and strengthened. This was not done. When I was the minister, I had raised almost all the embankments by about five feet. It was never done thereafter. Breaching of the embankment was an obvious corollary. The government has asserted this year that no embankment will be allowed to breach. Why the same thing was not said last year? You could save the embankments this year but could not save them last year because you were asleep. You were not concerned. When I was the Minister of Irrigation, there used to be Chief Engineer Mr. Nilendu Sanyal. He was a very competent engineer. When the embankment breached in Kusaha last year, the government looked for him. Many committees were constituted under him and solutions were found out. Why the government could not prepare an engineer of his caliber in these years?
The government says that it has prepared plans and budget to implement schemes etc etc. But this all is the part of governance. You should show the results of the works that you have done. Gopal Krishna has said that the government is not functional. What all is expected from the parliament is not getting fulfilled. This is true. We will have to take the struggle from parliament to streets. Mishraji has written a lot about the plight of the people before the embankments were constructed on the Kosi. The same thing was said by Parameshwar Kunwar. Lahtan Chaudhary and Hari Nath Mishra also. Sufferings were there before the construction of the embankments and they continue to exist even now. But nobody talks about the prosperity that dawned in the intermediate period. Mishraji has written a lot about all the aspects of the Kosi in his book and that has been compiled at one place to facilitate any debate. I am surprised that he is not from Bihar and belongs to Uttar Pradesh and stays in Jharkhand these days. He is here in your village along with many learned people from Delhi. Many seminars are held in Delhi, from Mavlankar Hall to Constitution Club, everywhere. People assemble there to discuss how to eradicate poverty from India. But such seminars are rarely held in places where from poverty has to be eradicated. This you and Mishraji have organized in a village and we should be grateful for his gesture. I can imagine the hardship that our friends from Delhi must have faced in coming here. I can understand that such people are brought to Patna or Delhi but it is beyond my imagination that they will ever come to Chandrayan or Muradpur. There is no facility available here and if one cares to go a bit inside, within the embankments, there is no road, no electricity, no school or a college, nor there is any hospital. Who will study or teach there, who will get an employment there and what treatment will be available there to a patient; we will have to ponder over all these aspects.
No debate on the Kosi Project is complete without making a mention of Parameshwar Kunwar. Whenever the issue was debated in the Vidhan Sabha, he would make it a point to talk about the plight of those trapped between the two embankments of the Kosi and water logging and put all the blame over the officials of the Kosi Project. He used to say that the benefits accrued by the Kosi Project offset the losses incurred by it. The Government was expected to clear water logging from the project area that was not done. This was failure on the part of the Government. A board should have been constituted to take care of the development needs like roads, schools, hospitals and employment of those trapped within the embankments. If the government could not do even this then it should acquire land afresh and properly rehabilitate them once more so that they are relieved of the rigors of the hard life they are subjected to. This project was primarily a flood control project but was not implemented the way it should have been. This has converted a boon into a bane. This bane will have to be reverted back into a boon. Some people suggest that the embankments have done immense damage to the area and should be demolished or they even suggest that lot of sediment has been deposited within the embankments and that should be removed. But the sediment is coming in the river waters since ages; this is not a new phenomenon. Removing sediments would involve billions of rupees. It is also suggested to build a high dam at Barahkshetra on the Kosi in Nepal. It is hard to talk about the political and local impact of such a construction. We hear quite often that the Chisapani dam on the Kamla and the Nunthar Dam on the Bagmati should also form the package. Somebody has just taunted on the proposal of these dams. All these dams are debated between the two countries at least four times a year. But what is the outcome? That country is like our brother; we share the common culture but just look what kind of questions it raises in talks? Just few days back, the Vice -President there took the oath of his office in Maithili and that led to turmoil there. The objection was why the oath was not taken in the local official language. In that situation if we build a dam at Barahkshetra, Nunthar or Chisapani and if their security and safety is threatened, what will happen to us? If anything goes wrong with these dams, then Bihar will submerge. It will be a deluge here. Therefore, building dams there is not an easy thing to do. Otherwise also, Nepal will never submerge its villages for the benefit of Bihar. The location of the Kosi Barrage is also not favorable to us.
Not an inch of the Barrage land belongs to us. It is fully located in Nepal. As long our relations with her are normal; things go well but a slight shift leads to checking of our luggage. We live close to the area and are aware of what goes on there.
Dinesh Kumar Mishra
We have compromised our position and accepted the status quo but do we have any obligation towards our coming generations? Our friend here was saying that a three kilometer wide strip of land here is permanently waterlogged and should be improved. I remember, the same issue was being debated in Bihar Vidhan Sabha once and it was suggested there that benefited by the project should be asked to pay a betterment levy. Lahtan Chaudhary was opposed to a blanket levy and was of the view that only a narrow strip of about three miles width along the embankments have really been benefited by the project and hence if any levy is to be imposed, it should be imposed on those people only. This was in 1959. The land that was worth taxing in 1959 has now been waterlogged and its remedy is being sought. What will be the remedy and who was responsible for this lapse? As I look into the annual reports of the Water Resources Department of Bihar, I find that for the past over 20 years, the report says that 1.82 lakh hectares of land east of the eastern embankme