The Second Delegates Conference of Barh Mukti Abhiyan was held in the premises of Tera Pantha, Nirmali on April 5-6, 1997. It took off with a brief presentation by Sri Vijay Kumar, the joint convener of Barh Mukti Abhiyan, apprising the audience of the scenario leading to the inception of Barh Mukti Abhiyan. He said : when the floods in 1984 breached the eastern embankment along the river Kosi near Nauhatta in Saharsa, it amounted to a breach of faith the people had reposed in it for their well-being. Till then the small breaches in the embankments and the damages caused thereby were regarded as mishaps, but what happened in Nauhatta was nothing short of a cataclysm. The course of the river forced itself out of the embankment. Flood waters engulfed an area of nearly 70,000 hectares nearly half a million people were rendered homeless and countless people and animals lost their lives.
This disaster impelled us to carry out an in-depth study of the problem of floods and by 1987 we had gathered a lot of information on it. In the year 1987 the western embankment along Kosi was breached at Samani and Ghonghepur and the embankments along other rivers met the same fate at 103 places. Now it was evident beyond a shade doubt that embankments aggravated the catastrophe of floods and hence we launched a programme of mass education on the problem of floods on the basis of our experiences and perception derived therefrom. Throughout the river basins of North Bihar-right from the Ghaghra in the west to the Mahananda in the east-we tried to raise awareness among people through camps, meetings and a host of other channels of dialogue with them. We had evolved a clear understanding that neither is it possible to control floods through technical means nor is it desirable to do so. Floods are welcome, but not the kind that have been created through the construction of embankments. We want the natural floods visiting the rivers—floods that are part of the life cycle of rivers, and not the man-made and unnatural ones. Breaches in embankments cause a veritable deluge and not floods. The obstructed waters outside of embankments cause a different kind of floods which inflict suffering for a long time in the form of waterlogging. We tried to apprise people of all this. Now the engineers too have dropped the idea of flood control and started talking about flood management. That is to say, they too now concede that whatever has been done to handle floods till now is futile and that something different needs to be done and that is exactly what we believe too. But what they propose to do by way of remedy to the flood problem – construction of dams like the one at Barah Kshetra, well, we don't agree with that. In fact, when it comes to flood management as such, nothing concrete ever happens to that end; only empty rhetoric is bandied about.
Now let's take a look at drought areas. Dry farming and watershed management were attempted there along with efforts to restructure the cropping pattern. But nothing of the sort has been attempted to date in the flood areas. You talk about flood management, and pat comes the reply-flood plain zoning is the thing to do; and no, nothing thereafter and hence in order to raise all these issues we created an organization called Barh Mukti Abhiyan in 1991. Freedom from Floods Campaign is a relative proposition. We do not want freedom from natural floods. But, then we do not have natural floods any more. We have only man-made, unnatural floods and we do want to be freed from that. We organized the first conference of Barh Mukti Abhiyan in Vidyapati Bhawan in Patna on July 1-2-3,1992. Some seven hundred delegates from the entire province and different parts of the country participated in it. It was perhaps for the first time ever that so many people deliberated on the problem of floods and thereafter a padayatra programme was undertaken from Koparia to Birpur in the Kosi area on the initiative of the local people.
Engineers present the problem of floods as a technical problem and thereby render it beyond the comprehension of common man, whereas this is entirely a matter of common sense. In fact, they hardly ever enter into any dialogue with the common man- and take seriously what he has to say in this regard. They are given to working wilfully in their own domains. We want to bust this myth of flood problem being entirely a technical problem.
We chose a remote place like Nirmali to hold our second conference because right here fifty years back a conference of flood sufferers was held on April 6, 1947 and veteran leaders like Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. Srikrishna Singh and Shri Guljarilal Nanda had participated in it. The proposal of Kosi High Dam was mooted here publicly the very same day. But later on embankments were constructed along Kosi instead of high dam and now that their role has come to be dubious, there is yet again a talk of high dam. A lot of work has been done on the role of high dams during these fifty years. Perhaps this is yet another effort to foist this measure on us and we must analyze the realities of the situation, for those who will build the dams won't care a damn what happens to people later on. While choosing Nirmali as the venue for conference the historical context of the time and place was dominating our minds. This is a small place, there will be lots of inconveniences, but then this place has a historical significance and that is highly important in the present context.
'Strange is the irony with us. Sardar Sarovar Project has displaced only 1,29,000 people-but the entire world knows about it. Here in Kosi there are some eight lakh people trapped inside of the embankment and as many outside of it and Kamala area to it, and the number mounts up to twenty lakhs. They have been having a hell of a time, but no one cares a damn about them. We are happy to have friends here from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka as also from the drought areas of South Bihar and river basins of North Bihar. We extend a hearty welcome to all of them.'
The local people have helped us a lot in organizing this conference. Sri Hari Prasad Sah, Sri Surya Narayan Kamat and Prof. Dhirendra not only joined us in making arrangements but also boosted our morale. We shall make utmost use of all this help and evolve strategies for future action on the issue of floods.
After the introductory speech of Sri Vijay Kumar, Sri Hari Prasad Sah welcomed the participants. The conference was formally inaugurated by a prominent social activist of the region and president of the Bihar Kudal Sena, Sri Ram Lakhan Jha.
Sri Jha said :Water is vital for life as vital as air and food grains. It is difficult to imagine life without water. But science went crazy and disrupted man's harmony with nature and fought against it. The fallout appeared in the form of ravaging floods and droughts. He further said that when there was utter ignorance in the world then India lit up the world with knowledge about it and this knowledge was generated on the banks of rivers. Our civilization, culture, religion and cultural heritage everything was created on the banks of rivers. Unfortunately science went beyond the limits and reverted this. Look at Mithila-bounded by the Gandak in the west, the Kosi in the east, the Himalayas in the north and the Ganga in the south; This entire tract was sanctified by various rivers. Remember, Videha, remember the mother Sita-all of them blessed this land and today we are here to discuss the floods afflicting it. We have got trapped up. See, this is a booklet circulated by Kudal Sena-giving the call : `Stop floods or knock down embankments'. We have been raising this issue since long. We held a conference in 1987 and said that floods are man-made-nothing but a game of technical manipulation.
'I would like suggest that you constitute a committee to have an exact idea of the money spent on all the flood control projects and progress made therein. We could do this for north Bihar at the least. No evaluation has been made of these schemes as yet; we do not yet know anything about their achievements. Please come and have a look in the Kosi-Kamala area : there is a colony for Irrigation department personnel, materials are dumped in houses and no one ever visits the place. I am sure things are the same in other places too. Please make arrangements for people's evaluation of all this. Take a resolve to that effect in this conference.'
The inaugural session came to an end with the speech of Sri Ram Lakhan Jha.
The second session was presided over by Dr. Guru Das Agrawal and conducted by Sri Dinesh Kumar Mishra. Introducing the theme of the discussion Sri Mishra said that in many areas a delusion of development has been created in place of development. The same thing has happened in the area of flood control as well, where instead of controlling floods, a delusion of flood control has been created. In this session the delegates from various river basins dwelt on the situation of flood and waterlogging in their areas.
Sri Kameshwar Lal Indu from Chanpatia (West Champaran) dwelt at length on the situation in the Gandak area. He said : The plight of the people of this area-whether inside of the embankment or outside of it-is to wait for rehabilitation. There is a virtual maze of rivers in Champaran where the Gandak descends from the mountains and the Burhi Gandak originates. There are altogether 59 rivers-big and small-in the sixteen blocks there; There is a river every half Km./one Km. in the area and we are settled in their midst and hence flood is nothing uncommon here. A barrage was built on the Gandak in 1965 and the Indian P.M. and the King of Nepal made many promises in their inaugural addresses on the occasion, but we are still waiting for any of them to come off. And Champaran and the people of the soil were betrayed. It was claimed at the time that flood would be controlled in Champaran through this measure. The irony is that the size of Champaran keeps on fluctuating. The Bihar-Nepal boundary lies here, and the river passes midway. One bank of the river lies in Nepal. In the west lies Uttar Pradesh and in the east lies Bihar. The river keeps on shifting its course and erosion continues. The bank lying in Nepal, being laid with boulders, does not suffer any erosion, but the one lying in U.P.-Bihar goes through non-stop erosion. When floods come there is no erosion, but when flood waters start receding there is a lot of it. The size of India is diminishing and that of Nepal is increasing. Negotiations are held to sort it out, but to no avail. Very much like the Teen Bigha dispute with Bangladesh, there is dispute with Nepal over a plot of twenty acres. This has been persisting for years and we are living in a state of uncertainty. Well, coming back to the question of floods—the left hand embankment along the Gandak was built some 250 years ago. It looked as though we are secure now. There was no breach in it till 1993. The right hand one at Pipra Piprasi has suffered breaches 53 times in 40 years. The left one was breached in 1993 washing away the entire block. Brick houses, farmlands, farmyards everything vanished. The place we regarded as secure for past 250 years—well, there is no village over there now. Bathana, the most educated and prosperous village of Champaran, is no more. Who can say what will happen during floods this year? Flood is our destiny. Irrigation was to be an offshoot of embankments. The home-area of the then President was also located within the command area of the Gandak canals which must have entailed the extension of the embankment up to Nepal. The work on canals was started in Nepal. The power-house feeding on Western Gandak canal was installed in Nepal. The government of India makes all these arrangements in Nepal. And here we are being submerged in West Champaran. Today the waters of the Gandak are inundating the entire area of Muzaffarpur and Vaishali. There is no water when it is needed. The soil on which the embankment has been erected does not avail of canal waters. The great sage-poet Valmiki was born here. He was a robber turned superman. But we are plain robbers now. Committing robbery is no more a crime here—it is a business. Why is it so? The river Sikarhana has originated here. It widens its course and demolishes nine blocks. Whether 250 years old or 40 years old, no embankment ever functions. The western embankment lying in Bihar is repaired by the people of Uttar Pradesh. The link of this part with the rest of Bihar is snapped for six months. Nearly 20 lakh people trapped between Padrauna and Tamkuhi live in a hapless state—danger looming large on their-very survival. No one knows how long a village would exist. And relief is a permanent feature of our life When there is no flood, there is erosion. One has to wade through three Kms. of water to collect 1 Kg of Chooda (beaten paddy). And that too is quite a cut-throat affair. It has been claimed that there will be no more floods, that there will be enough water for irrigation as well as supply of power. The land of Champaran is enormously fertile, it only needs water and it will get that. We did get water but the waterlogged area was much larger than the irrigated area. Lakhani chaur and Tarkulva chaur used to have three crops. But there is not a trace of crops there any more. People were ruined, turned destitute. We waited long for some improvement in the situation, but nothing came about. We lost heart. And now even our spirit is to be shattered. It is pointless to say that someone is inside of the embankment and someone is outside of it. Everyone's lot is the same. Right here Mahatma Gandhi Project was started some 35 years back. It is called Masan Dam Project. The scheme was designed to cover 150 villages. 750 personnel were appointed by the River Valley Project. The project has vanished but the employees have been very, much there for 35 years. Work was not even started—perhaps the heavens know if it will ever be started at all, or perhaps there is no need for this. The day this will be started—the very same day will spell a doom for whatever remains of Champaran. This has no utility at all. So, this is the suffering of Champaran. We have been struggling for past thirty years over these very issues. We have fought many battles. The drainage programme was launched here twice. Canals were dug, sluice gates were built. But when the time for drainage came and gates were opened, instead of water draining out of the chaur the river waters rushed through them. And the villagers were forced to close the sluice gates.
The sluice gates built for drainage of water added to the suffering of people by causing an onrush of water. Our holy rivers have descended from above and likewise our misfortunes too have descended on us from above! We cannot stop floods. When the embankments do not serve any purpose any more, what is the point in retaining them? And so there should be a movement, there should be a drive to that end. The contract of quarrying is another menace facing us. It has ruined the entire block of Gaunaha. This is the first block of the country and has Bhitiharwa Ashram in it where Gandhiji had stayed for some time. And this land and its people are in deep trouble because of this quarrying business. Today we are assembled here to find some way out. This can be a way to life, or a way to death; this can be a way to living death, or a way to dying life. Whatever the way we choose the people of Champaran will be there with all their might.
Sri Deonath Devan from the so-called flood-free area between the rivers the, Kamala and the Kosi, said : 'The river Kamala continues to be a curse, particularly for the people of Madhubani district. This river, in fact, had an altogether different profile in the pre-embankment days. In order to dazzle people in their constituencies, hog some credit and make it to the assembly or parliament thereby, our leaders embanked the rivers. As Sri Ram Lakhan Jhaji pointed out, the area lying between Pirhi and Jasma Marar, where there is no embankment is free from ravaging floods and people are rather better-off there. There is hardly any village lying alongside the Kamala embankment that is not afflicted with waterlogging. In the pre-embankment days the flood waters would rush down freely, spread out fertile clay or silt and recede just as freely. And mostly there would be a good crop. Yes, floods did come even then, but the waters never rose above the knee level. During some rare floods only the waters rose up to waist level. do not know of any instance of a village being washed away before embankments were erected; but afterwards many villages are washed away or just vanish every year. And this is an ever mounting danger. When the Kamala embankment was built up, leaders and contractors were in the forefront, but now that people themselves say—enough is enough, we have had a hell of a lot of security and comfort, we do not want embankments anymore, then hoodlums are sent along with contractors and police force to tell us threateningly not to obstruct embankment work. The reason is obvious. After all, if there is no embankment work, how will the money-spinning business of vested interests flourish? How will they share the spoils? And hence building and breaching of embankments is necessary so that this business of loot could continue. I have visited the Kamala and the Kosi embankments and observed the earth work going on. Wherever repair work is carried out, the earth lying right inside of the embankment is dug up and laid on it causing large pits alongside. This makes way for the river to surge up to the embankment and erode and breach it easily. Now tenders will be invited for contracts of piling to protect the embankments. Our farmlands outside of the embankments are waterlogged; they are not cultivable. Now if the people breach the Kamala embankment at Bhagwanpur, Nirmala and Khairi, the police force comes and rounds them up, criminal cases are lodged against them and they are shoved inside jails. What is the option left for people in such a situation but to chase the contractors, engineers and goons away? How so ever vehemently the people might protest, the government is hell bent on building embankments and repairing the damaged ones. Surely, if this is not so, what will be left for the administration to do? Last year we staged dharna on the issue of floods because the Kamala embankment had been breached at many places and people had been forced to breach it at many points. The administration said that anti-social elements had breached it. The question is : whose carelessness and wilfulness is responsible for breaches in the embankments? When we breached it we did so to save our lives, because there was no channel left for drainage of water. Even after our repeated requests not to build embankments, if the administration embanks the river forcibly, then surely they must be benefiting from it in some way or other? So something concrete must be done to address this problem now and sooner, the better.'
Going further ahead Sri Kameshwar Kamati from the same area said that when the embankment was breached last year, the local administration did not lodge the first information report. They simply kept on saying that the embankment had been breached. And the political leaders kept on saying that the anti-social elements had breached it. And that was that.
‘What is more’, he further said, “I am from an area that is technically flood-free. During 1987 floods water entered into my house and rose to waist level and knocked it down; I am yet to rebuild it. There are hundreds and thousands like me who are not able to rebuild their houses. So this is how things are like in the so-called flood-free areas.”
Sri Sampat Lal and Digambarjee (Dist.-Madhubani) from Nirmala and Khairi respectively described the plight of their villages thereafter. They also recounted how they got a bit of relief from waterlogging in their secure area when the flood waters breached the embankment at some places and people breached it at some others. They said that farming was revived in their villages nearly after 20 years as a result of this.
Sri Dinesh Kumar Mishra intervened at this point and said that, in fact, the options are very limited indeed, for the area Sri Deonath Devan, Kameshwar Kamati, Sampat Lal or Digambarjee have talked about would get inundated by the waters of Gehuma, Sugarve or Supain even if it is spared by Kamala and Kosi. The reason is obvious : the level of river bed is higher that of the outlying land, and sluice gates, if there are any, are hardly ever functional.
Sri Rameshwarji from Gunakarpur said : 'My village lies on the left bank of Kamala where the water rushing down the slope does not find its way to the river. In case of breach in embankment the entire area is swamped with silt, as it happened in 1987. This much of earth work would cost a lot. And then people don't sleep in nights out of fear for three months. Even those places are waterlogged where no breach has occurred. There is a lot of divergence between the plan, estimates and actual work done. Spending money is the only aim—nothing doing with actual work. Last year when the embankment at Nirmala was breached, the amount of earth deposited in the area would have cost crores if effected through contract. Why doesn't the government take this into account? If our area waterlogged, and we dont speak up against this, then this reflects that our development is coming about !'
Sri Vinod Kumar Sah of the Mahananda Tatbandha Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, Kadava, Katihar said : The western embankment of Mahananda starts from Belgachhi. Some five lakh people inside of the embankment have been suffering for last 25 years. While there was no embankment, the politicians took the people for a ride that once the river is embanked that will be the end of the floods. But today all of us are having a tough time-whether inside of the embankment or outside of it. Even landlords owning 200 bighas of land in our area have turned paupers, Surely, the dams and embankments built in our area have done us a lot of good they have turned farmers into labourers and labourers into beggars ! Governments keep on changing, but one thing remains the same : neither the government at the centre nor the one at the state ever provides even a handful of grain to the people inside of the embankments. It looks as though there is a deliberate design to mete out step-motherly treatment to them. When our survival was threatened during the floods in 1987 we were forced to breach the western embankment along the Mahananda near Kachaura, but the government plugged the breaches later on. So, the embankments kept on being built up at many places and the security of those living inside of them was played around with, annually. At long last, we decided that we shall not bear it any more and last year (1996) we formed Mahananda Tatbandh Virodhi Sang harsh Samiti which began its activities under the leadership of Sri Mangan lnsan. The Samiti workers chased away the engineers, contractors and the police force on Feb, 2 this year when they were here to repair damaged. Mahananda embankment at three places. Later we came to know on the 7th that the repair work was to begin again from the next day. We came to know of this too, that this time a platform will be built on the embankment for providing shelter during floods and that a lavatory will also be built there. We did not agree with this. If platforms and lavatories are to be built they should be built in our villages. But we are sure that this platform is being built not for us but for the accommodation of police force on the embankment. In the night itself we announced on the loudspeakers that the embankment repair work was going to begin from the next day so that all the adjoining villages could know about it. By early morning nearly seven thousand people (as per government estimate) gathered at the site of repair work and once again we chased the contractors, engineers and the police force and warned them not to come here for this work ever again. We made the contractors give us a written undertaking to the effect that unless local people wanted it, they will never build up the embankment again. Even then the administration did not withdraw this programme and we were forced to gherao the block office on Feb. 17 raising the fact that a government which cannot provide even a handful of grains to the flood-stricken people cannot be allowed to build up embankments. With the embankment being open people on both sides of it are very happy. Those inside of it are happy because the flood water will not rise up to fatal level now and those outside of it because they will not have to face the danger of breaches in it now. Everyone knows how to cope with normal floods in our area. Go and have a look at our area today : there is a bumper crop of wheat on both sides of the embankments—the kind that never happened before. Now it is all the more difficult for us to comprehend the logic behind embankments. But today we are sure of one thing : that so long as embankments are there or are repaired, we shall keep on opposing it fiercely. And come what may, we shall not let it be built or repaired any more. I would expect this conference to constitute a state-level committee which could keep a watchful eye on all this and provide necessary guidelines to us.
Sri Brahmadeo Chaudhary from the rehabilitation village Kathaghara lying east of the eastern Kosi embankment said : 'Today we are gathered here to make an evaluation of work done during the last fifty years after the first conference held in Nirmali. In fact, the situation has worsened in our area after the construction of the Kosi embankment. My village lies alongside the eastern Kosi embankment around the 114th Km. point. The elderly people say that before the river, was embanked, there was never any dearth of paddy, pulses and oilseeds in our area. We had fishes and makhana in plenty. The area outside of embankment remains totally waterlogged—there is no channel of drainage at all. The entire area is enveloped by a water creeper called 'bhakhan'. Every year the village inside of embankment suffers erosion and sand is spread out all over. Wherever a bit of silt is deposited there are good crops there, otherwise the people of this entire area, whether inside of the embankment or outside of it, flee to Delhi and Punjab in search of a living. Formerly only the adults used to go out but for last ten years the children have also started going—usually to the carpet industry area of Bhadohi and Mirzapur. The people inside of the embankment are stricken with flood and erosion. I hope this conference will generate some suggestions towards a permanent solution to the flood problem and that they will be acted upon.'
A resident of the Bagmati area, Sri Vijay Kumar (joint convener of Barh Mukti Abhiyan) said : The river Bagmati can be divided into three parts in Bihar. The upper part stretching from the boundary of Nepal in the district of Sitamarhi to Runni Saidpur is embanked on both sides along a length of 32 Kms. The river is free even now from Runni Saidpur to Kalanjarghat in Samastipur. But it was embanked as early as in the fifties between Dharmapur and Dhamara Ghat, where it joins the Kosi. If you move along the river Bagmati you can perceive the difference between an embanked and a non-embanked river clearly. We had a very distinguished engineer here. He had made quite a name—he had done and written a lot about Bagmati. Quite a famous engineer—but he had no spine at all. Such people are very useful for the power-that-be. As has been said aptly :
Takht ke aage adab se aaiye
Reedh ki haddi alag rakh aaiye
(Appear before the throne meekly leaving your spine behind.)
The essence of what he said about Bagmati till 1954 is that Bagmati is a flashy and virgin river and that it would not be proper to put it into wedlock, that is, to embank it. The water of Bagmati was regarded as holy and life-sustaining as the sermons of Gita, but when the work on Kosi embankment was started, politics took on its true colours. Those who regarded the Bagmati as a flashy and virgin river kept mum at the time. The upper embankment along the Bagmati terminates at my village. I am from an area where the embankment is very much there and yet it is not there. But still the upland embankments do affect us. I have been a witness to the time when there was no embankment. The waters of Bagmati used to spill over in the entire area, the floods used to be a welcome phenomenon, there used to be good crops most of the time and everything was just about fine. When this upper embankment was built up there was emergency in the country and hence vocal protest was not possible against it, because almost anyone having even a bit of influence was in jail. But the farmers had perceived that whatever a handful of educated people were doing with the river was very ominous. Neither do they know anything about the nature of the river's flow nor do they know anything about the quality of the soil carried by it; and they do not have any sense of our life-style and requirements either. They did protest but it could not take a decisive turn, and the embankment was built up. Anyway, things are a bit bearable in our area, but the area right north-west of it where the Bagmati embankment touches the boundary of Nepal, is fraught with problems. The embankment is breached there by flood waters and people also breach it to let out the stagnant water. A well-wisher of ours from this area is a minister at the centre these days and was formerly the chairman of the Bihar Legislative Council. His area too was severely waterlogged. And there too the people used to breach the embankments under the leadership of the honourable minister. He had recounted this himself on the occasion of releasing Mishraji's book ‘Bandini Mahananda’. He had narrated how they used to breach the embankment with pick axes and spades earlier and with the help of diesel pump later. The inlet pipe of the pump was inserted into the waterlogged area and the outlet pipe was placed onto the embankment and the pump was started. In a short while both the embankment and waterlogging were done away with. We do not know about his stand in this regard at the moment, but he had stated this in a public forum and we have a video record of the occasion with us. Whatever happened in 1993? Some people say that building a dam at Nunthar in Nepal is the solution to the floods caused by the Bagmati. There is one Kulekhani Dam in Nepal on this river although a modest one in terms of its height. This too is a power generation scheme in which a power house has been built up alongside the Dam. Here it is important to point out that whatever dam is proposed in Nepal-which we shall discuss later—has power generation as its main objective, and not flood control. Whether it is the proposed Barahkshetra Dam on the Kosi, or the Nunthar Dam on the Bagmati, or the Chisapani Dam on the Kamala—each one is to be built with power generation as the prime objective. During the 1993 floods the pipe carrying water to the powerhouse of the Kulekhani Dam burst and that caused water to flow back into the river. Owing to high pressure the on rushing water forced itself through the Karmahiya barrage built across the river and entered into the Indian territory, but it had already killed eleven hundred Nepali citizens. When this water rushed into Bihar it breached the Bagmati embankment at six points. There was absolutely no trace of four villages. We could reach that place only several days after the disaster and then the hand pump pipes were the only indications of any village having been there. A havoc was wrought on the entire area. The villagers had taken shelter on the raised spots nearby. When we talked to them they did express their grief at their houses having been washed away, but they also looked heartened at the prospect of a bumper crop, as the river had deposited fertile silt on their farmlands in ample measure. When the administration proposed to repair the damaged embankment, the local people protested vehemently. And when it persisted, a 'Shaheedi Jatha' (Martyr Squad) was formed in the villages; people resolved that they will rather lose their lives, than allow repair of the breached embankment any more. A conference was held in the Middle School at Dheng on July 31, 1993 in which the local people took a pledge to stop repair work at any cost; and in spite of all the efforts made by the government since then the breached embankment could not be plugged till today. So, such a massive support of people was mobilized there against the embankment. If you go to that area today you will find that wherever the waters of the Bagmati spill over there is a bumper crop there; otherwise, or lack of alternative irrigation arrangements there is gloom in the rest of the area. The dry areas are terribly infested with grubs. The Bagmati Project was to bring about security from floods through embankments but people do not want that kind of security any more. The Bagmati Project was to provide irrigation ; nearby 40 crores must have been spent on irrigation alone, but not a single kattha of farmland could be irrigated. In the Bagmati area too, the people are now sick of all this and they want to see their river free. In fact, this drive is aimed against the trio of political leaders, engineers and contractors which has a vested interest in the earth work. Every scheme, from Jawahar Rojgar Yojana to the construction of embankments is in the grip of this racketeering trio. Organized protest to this is the only option left now. We shall have to make some effort in this direction exactly without any more delay.
Sri Ram Mandan Kamat presented his views 'thereafter. He said that right here on April 6, 1947 the then minister for planning had announced the Barahkshetra scheme which was to cost Rs. 100 crores at the time. But because of the constraint on funds the Government of Bihar took up such a scheme of embankments in which slots were made for irrigation and power generation as well. He said that his village, Kamalva, lies between the Kosi embankments in the district of Madhubani. What was the achievement of this scheme after all? We are now spared by Kosi, but we are afflicted with floods caused by Bhutahi Balan. There was a scheme to build embankments along this river, too, but the people of nearly 60-70 villages opposed it in an organized manner and have not allowed any work under it to date.
Sri Vivekanand Mishra from Naruar (Madhubani) expressed his disagreement with the opinions put forward so far. He said : When we oppose a certain scheme, it is important to consider it in its entirety. I would not like to dwell on the opinions of friends having come from other areas in today's discussion; I would rather concentrate myself on the situation pertaining to the Kamala-Balan embankments where along lies my village. I was listening very intently to a senior friend's observations on Kamala, and the very first thing he said was that flood is a curse. Friends. I believe that flood is not only a curse, it is a blessing as well. I find many people sitting here who have seen the days before Kamala and Balan were embanked and who must have experienced that even then floods came and caused damages. The building of embankments may have caused changes in the nature of all this but it would be baseless to say that embankments alone have added to the severity of floods. All the consequences brought about by the embankments may not be good, but floods are not caused solely by them. Rameshwarji was telling a short while ago that they breached the embankment last year. Perhaps the reason behind this was that the government could not fill up the gap in embankment breached in 1995 opposite his village and flood waters entered through it in to their village and houses. Now, it is an altogether different matter that enormous silt was deposited on the farmlands in his village. But the fact remains that the waters entered into their houses owing to that gap in the embankment, and that enraged them to breach it. I had been to that village at the time and a copy of the FIR lodged had also been given to me. Digamberji said that they had also breached the embankment near their village. May be, the silt was deposited there too. But what about the consequences of it in places ahead of Phataki, ahead of Nirmala, below Bhagwanpur? They breached it in upper reaches of Belhi. Mahabir Babu of Pachahi is here. Waters rushed into his village too. I was also a there. The situation was very bad. There was a move to breach the embankment but people said no to it. If we agree with Devanji's logic and breach the embankments, we cannot deny the possibility of a civil war-like situation being created here. The people of my village, too, are in favour of breaching the embankment, but then what will happen to the people of Kothia and Raiyam? Their houses will remain trapped in water for three months. Granted that breaching will do some good, it will bring in fertile silt, but what about other problems created? No, I don't agree to stop flying aeroplanes if they are used for smuggling activities too. The sensible thing would be to rectify the technical faults made in the construction of embankments. All of you sitting here are scholarly people, and you must have read in the fifth chapter of the Durga Saptshati that when Madhukaitabh conquered all the resources of nature, the goddess Bhagvati made her appearance to redeem the situation. This is very much true, as the inaugurator of the conference said, that we could not maintain our harmony with nature. I would like to bring to your attention, gentlemen, that way back in 1964 Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay had warned in his discourse on 'Ekaatma Maanav Vaad' (Integrated Humanism) not to tamper with nature to such an extent that it turns into source of misery for us. It is just well that numerous seminars are being organized these days on the question of environment and floods. It is true that the tracts constituting the source of water have only bare mountains in them now and are turning treeless. Formerly the flood waters used to carry tree trunks which helped in reducing its speed. Right since I have come of age I have not seen these tree trunks carried by flood waters. In 1995 I visited the area in which the Kosi canal waters irrigate the farmlands, and I saw the pitiful sight of sand having spread out in them and ruined them. I have read Dineshji's books. Twelve crores have already been spent on a scheme of five crores; may be another twenty five crores might be spent on it furthermore. Now this should be studied. But then this hardly means that we should demolish embankments. I can never agree with this. We raise the question of striking harmony with nature—people build houses, beautiful houses, and they are washed away. But this does not mean that because formerly we lived without clothes so we should start living in the same manner even now. No one will agree with this logic. This is not at all possible now. The embankments built along the river in last fifty years have brought about changes in my lifestyle-I have adapted myself accordingly. Now if these embankments cease to be there it will take me another fifty years to adapt myself to the changed circumstances.
'We are going to hold a symposium on the question of floods in Darbhanga in the month of May. But I believe that before presenting one's views on an issue in a non-political forum one should consider well the people's perception relating thereto.”
Sri Bhola Prasad Singh of the Auranga Baandh Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, Palamu, sad : I have come here from the Auranga valley area in the district of Palamu. I am happy that people ranging from the Brahmputra area to the Kosi area are here and are presenting their views. A dam is proposed on the Auranga in my area. This proposal was first mooted way back in 1974 when it had an estimate of Rs. 41.67 crores which has mounted up to Rs. 488.41 crores today. Earlier a friend has suggested that whenever a scheme is launched it should be allowed to go ahead. You see, whatever scheme is designed by the government, a cost-benefit analysis is made thereof. I would like to ask whether the common people are ever involved while carrying out cost-benefit analysis in the scheme area of those who are present here? Are they even informed about it? No-it never happens so. The same thing happened in my area. First we heard that some work was to be started but could not come to know what exactly it was. Later, in 1988, the concerned officials of the forest department gave me some information on the submergence area. After a lot of enquiry we came to know from the department of water resources that 21 villages are to lie in the submergence area, whereas our survey had revealed that 28 villages were to lie in it.
When it came to rehabilitation, the government said that 25 decimals of homestead land will be given to each family you build your houses thereon. Fortunately, we had witnessed the rehabilitation provided in the Malay scheme where 55 families had left their original places but got back later. And hence we had our doubts about the proposed rehabilitation. In addition to that we raised the issue of irrigation as well. We wanted to know how much irrigation this scheme was likely to provide us. One honourable minister came and said that most of the farmlands of Palamu, Latehar and Garhwa sub-divisions could be irrigated through this scheme. Whereas the truth was that our farmlands were to be scantily irrigated and most of the farmlands in the Aurangabad district were to benefit from this. We then opposed the scheme. By way of an alternative we suggested that weirs be constructed which will cost less, provide benefits quickly and will remain within our own control. During 1992 drought some work was done to this end; and the farmers have benefited also from this; but the idea of construction of the Auranga dam is still not dropped, it is very much there.
'Let me give you an instance of how cost analysis is carried out in my area. The compensation for trees and plants lying in the submergence area there has been fixed at a rupees per tree. Palamu is an area of lac cultivation. A single tree yields at least 4-5 kgs. of lac annually. But the compensation for destroying the tree for ever is one rupee ! We must know and raise these issues. We shall have to know their legal aspects as well. And no doubt such studies will strengthen this movement.”
Srimati Rasoji from Pachminia (Madhubani) dwelt on the plight of women during floods and hoped that there will be proper discussion on such issues in the conference. Thereafter an advocate from Patna, Sri Ramchandra Lal Das presented his views. Introducing Sri Dasji, Sri Vijay Kumar said that when the Kosi embankment was breached at Nauhatta in 1984, a case had been instituted against the government of Bihar claiming compensation and rejecting relief; it was Sri Dasji who had argued for this case. In addition to this, Sri Dasji is the convener of the Bihar state unit of the PUCL and is a sensitive and powerful advocate. Taking the discussion further ahead Sri Dasji said : I am not an expert on this issue, but I do have an awareness of the realities of the situation. And I have observed and reflected on the calamity of floods. As a legal practitioner I kept on raising questions in my mind such as what is the calamity of floods? Why is the government indifferent to it? What is the range of impact of the problems caused by it? Some of you have put forward your views on all these questions—some more will do that later. Some of you are highly experienced persons and hence things will certainly move ahead; I am sure you will reach some decisions. But what is deeply disturbing is the fact that mass movements in the country are losing their vigour; that the government is turning more and more apathetic; and that we are getting passive to such an extent that today there is a hardly ever any reaction to the problems facing us. The way your thinking is manifested, or the way the thinking of the government is centered on mere governance—well, it is creating a situation leading to an alienation from people. It is very important to evolve a strategy against it. But this cannot be done in a meeting; and, moreover, this requires enormous moral courage. There is a need to fight a new kind of battle, because so many big battles have turned feeble in this country, and the morale of the fighters has been shattered. I hope the next speakers will dwell on these constraints. You have very limited resources, you have so few people along with you, and your expectations are so high that the prevailing practices won't serve you—you will have to explore a new strategy for it.
So far as the legal aspect is concerned, Verghese Saheb had filed a suit in the Supreme Court on behalf of the people living inside of the Kosi embankment. The issues raised were those of compensation, waterlogging and rehabilitation in the Kosi area through the REALS. The total area ranged from Bharda to Dagmara barrage site on one side and from Bathanaha to Nauhatta on the other. The question was one of compensation for the land having come under the embankment. When it was fixed, in Many cases the price of the land was fixed on the basis of the owner's status and hence the poor suffered heavy losses. Glaring irregularities had been found in numerous cases from Bhimnagar barrage to Nauhatta. The provisions of Kosi Development Authority too had proved a hindrance to it. And then there was the issue of land reclamation. One thing led to another. At long last the government had to admit that it is not possible for it to provide the kind of rehabilitation people want. Then it was decided that efforts should be made to sustain livelihoods in the area. Apparently this was somewhat possible for those who owned farmlands there. But what about those who were dependent on the farmers of these villages the washer men, barbers, teachers and such others? Thus the discussion on economic rehabilitation took many turns. Similarly when the eastern embankment along Kosi was breached in 1984 near Nauhatta, the Rural Entitlement and Legal Support had filed a suit against the government of Bihar on behalf of those affected by that breach claiming compensation instead of relief for them, because the maintenance of the embankment was the government's responsibility. The case gradually reached the Supreme Court and in Feb. 1989 it enjoined upon the government of Bihar to constitute a committee within next three months having the representatives of embankment sufferers along with the government representatives on it. The judgement of the court enjoined upon this committee to furnish its report on the amount of compensation within three months and make arrangements for the payment of the same within the next two months. But as time passed the enthusiasm slackened and there were difficulties in meeting the expenses towards the case for lack of financial support owing to the sudden death of Sri Prem Bhai of the Banvasi Seva Ashram, Govindpur (Sonbhadra) and the case could not be pursued properly.
'What I mean to say is that in any such case we should rise above sentiments and lay stress on the collection of facts, because legal battles are fought not on the basis of sentiments but on the basis of facts. Hence we must do our homework properly and if there is such a case we must pursue it vigorously. If you work hard to build up a case backed solidly by facts and win it in the Supreme Court or Patna High Court, this surely will jolt the inertia pervading all around and this will be no mean achievement,' after all.'
Sri Harikant Jha picked up the thread of discussion after Sri Ram Chandra Lal Das. He alluded to a statement by Vinoba to the effect that in order to solve a problem one should take recourse to compassion, truth and meditation. He said 'I come from an area situated right outside of the eastern embankment along the Kamala-Balan. There are 15 sluice gates in this embankment out of which only 3 are barely functional. Some five thousand acres of farmland around my village is terribly waterlogged; there is absolutely no channel for drainage. When the embankment was breached during 1987 floods, the breach was plugged. When the breach occurred for the second time, it was plugged again and as a result the entire area is a heaven for mosquitoes now. Coming to Vinoba's approach well, we sought compassion, we made fervent appeals, but all to no avail. I have brought along some documents for Mishraji. We staged a lot of dharnas, presented a lot of memoranda; nothing came of them. Now we expect help from these friends alone; if we get this a lot can be done even now. Vivekanandji has raised some questions; I deem it important to answer them. He has said that embankments are not only a curse, they are blessings too. When there were no embankments there was a proverb in my area to the effect that `Balan in spate will get us a new house'. (`Aayega Balan to bandhenge dalan'). That situation is no more there. Today Balan in spate will mean breach in the embankment and which in turn will mean nothing but damage. I would implore you to have a look at my area before forming any final opinion. Right now we are afflicted with floods, drought and fire—all in a series. We should think over all this to find a way out.'
Acharya Baldeo Singh coming from Gopalganj said that yesterday he had a look around the embankment at Nirmali. It was evident that the area must be bristling with problems during floods. Many previous speakers, he said, have expressed their views regarding embankments. A lot of things have been said about the damages wrought by them. But we cannot deny the fact that if there were no embankments the river would wash away many things. In the Gandak area the river enters Gopalganj through U.P. and it affects six blocks particularly. Many villages have been washed away by the river, Big landlords are now living in huts alongside the embankments. It is a highly erosive river demolishing villages/ crops overnight. So this is our plight and it makes us extend our support to you.
Sri Ramji Sanmukh from Ranipatti (dist.-Supaul) said that embankments were built along the Kosi in his area in 1957. The river Kosi, as the elderly people say, did not create much problem formerly. But after the construction of embankment some 300-400 acres of farmland in the Raghopur block is waterlogged the whole year round turning the farmers of the area in to beggars. The condition inside of the embankment is had anyway but it is not at all good even outside of it, because of big obstructions in the channels of drainage. The eastern Kosi embankment is very much there, and then there are canals, sub-canals, branch-canals, roads and railway lines. Of course, they all serve important purposes, but taken together they intensify the problem of waterlogging. In all, the Kosi embankment must have been breached at ten places till now. The status of irrigation is revealed by the fact that against the target of 7.12 lakh hectares it barely irrigates 1.85 lakh hectares. Go and ask anyone in Birpur about the amount of power generated by Kataiya powerhouse. In addition to all this one more problem was created by the fact that engineers and contractors came into this area from outside after the inception of the Kosi Project in large numbers. They had a lot of money and they purchased our lands for a pittance. Some of our land was acquired for the project and some of it was grabbed by the project personnel. People turned destitute. And that has led to migration in search of work. All the male members of the village migrate for long periods. And this has been happening in the Kosi area for past 30-35 years; this has not started today. Only the women and children stay back in the village who suffer much more misery than those who have gone away. So this is the fallout of Kosi Project—the fall out of the Kosi embankments. The very mention of Barahkshetra dam in this backdrop is alarming. A big danger will keep on hovering over us. If ever this dam creates a danger like the one created by the Kosi embankments, what will happen to our security? We should look at all this from this angle too.
Sri Pancham Bhai from Kunauli (dist-Supaul) presented his views after Sri Sanmukhji, He said : Since morning you have listened to the experiences of friends having come from various river basin areas. I belong to the Kosi area and whenever I hear any thing about other areas—say, about Narmada Project, or Tehri Project, or Subarnarekha Project I am deeply aggrieved. Why doesn't the cruel joke being played here in the name of flood control for past 40-42 years, and the consequent misery, ever turn into an issue of debate and struggle? Today we have in our midst scholars from various states. I would request them to tell the people at large about our plight when they get hack. A public interest petition should be filed on the issue of the Kosi and a pressure group should be built around it. Something of the sort is yet to happen here.
'The entire problem should be turned into a movement and this should definitely be peaceful as well as non-violent. This kind of movement is going on in the Mahananda area as our friend from there has narrated. There, too, a pressure group has been built up which forces the engineers and politicians to listen to what people have to say. And pray, why shouldn't the government take the steps that people themselves take?'
Sri Rajkumar of the village Saroja Bela (distt-Supaul) carried the discussion further ahead. He said: 'After debating the idea of embankments for hundred years, their construction was started in the fifties and that started affecting our farming system and entire way of life. The life of people inside of the embankments turned hellish. The debate on the construction of embankments was started way back in 1893 when Wilburn Inglis, the then chief engineer of Bengal, toured the area and warned not to tamper with the Kosi. This idea was fully supported in the meeting held on flood problem in Calcutta in 1897. In 1928, William Addams report on Orissa floods the embankments, roads and railway lines were regarded as a major reason behind ever increasing floods and waterlogging. Almost the same thing was reiterated in flood conference in Patna in 1937. Right here in Nirmali, in 1947, C. H. Bhabha had declared the idea of embanking Kosi as worthless and unscientific and hence rejected it. The Barahkshetra dam was proposed right here in 1947, but what fell to our lot was the embankment along the Kosi whose construction was started in 1955. All the concerned stakeholders knew about the problems arising out of embankments and they knew this, too, that embankments cannot be prevented from getting breached. And that is exactly what happened, Minor breaches in the Kosi embankment are a frequent affair, but when it was breached in 1984 near Nauhatta, it created a virtual cataclysm. An area of nearly 70,000 hectares was inundated and four and a half lakh people had to take shelter on the embankments under open skies. A petition was filed against this disaster claiming compensation instead of relief for the affected people. Getting trapped between the embankments or facing breaches in them is now our destiny. We should deliberate here on ways of redemption from this situation.'
Geologist and social activist Dr. A. K. Singh (New Delhi) said . 'I have been moving around in the Kosi area for past few days. I had already heard a lot about this area but was able to see it for myself only now. I have visited an area between embankments for the first time. Since morning I have been listening to your views and almost all the speakers have sounded very aggressive to me. But then I have been wonder struck, too, at the same time that why doesn't your 40 year long suffering ever turn into an issue in the provincial or national context? This is quite baffling for me. At the same time this is also true that outsiders can at the best sympathise with you; but the onus of making efforts lies on you. The problem, after all, is yours. The outsiders can only extend some help. Our friends from 'Marg' are here; they are very competent in handling surveys etc. Some technical experts are also here—they can provide a lot of help. But before anything else you will have to awaken and mobilise the people of north Bihar. When it comes to the issue of embankments or big dams, our attention is focussed on these institutions. In fact, they symbolise the concept of development wherein lies the arrogance to control everything without bothering to know one's own limitations. And, ironically, this concept of development was challenged for the first time in the fifties in America itself where it had been born. There in 1954 Elmer Peterson wrote a book called 'Big Dam Foolishness' and smashed this model of development to smithereens. He analyzed the cases of 25-30 dams and pointed out that such big dams are not needed at all. The model of development which was opposed there at that time was adopted here by us without bothering about our geographical, social and economic context. Let's take the question of floods, for instance. Didn't floods come fifty years ago? Yes, they did, but their nature was different. Flood waters would come and spill over. Little damage was done. But there is a spurt in urbanization now. People have not spared even the banks of rivers; they are building houses even there. If houses are built in such places one is doomed to be submerged. Say, for example, in Delhi : embankments are built along the river and right alongside them there are settlements—who can stop the waters? We must deliberate on these problems together and find some way out.'
It was very intriguing for the delegate from the district of Puri in Orissa, Sri Balvant Ray, to come to Bihar for the first time and listen to such experiences relating to floods. Unable to speak in Hindi, Sri Ray presented his views in Oriya. He said that he had been listening to the views of the speakers very attentively since morning and could grasp the fact that construction of embankments along the Kosi and other rivers has created serious problems. His own province too is a victim of natural calamities. Whereas the coastal areas suffer damages wrought by floods and cyclone, the western Orissa has come to be a permanent abode of drought. In fact, all the places - whether Bengal or Bihar or Uttar Pradesh—face similar problems more or less; at least there is no difference among the rivers originating in the Himalayas. In Orissa, too, the situation in the Brahmani, the Vaitarni, the Rishikulya or the Mahanadi areas is almost the same as described here regarding this area. The same problem of waterlogging and the same miserable state of irrigation prevail there too.
He further said I think we shall have to focus our attention on water resources, forest, land, population, common people and plans. Let the government design the plans through participation of common people and manage the water sources, forest resources; land and population properly. I have had the good fortune of visiting various parts of India, from east to west, and the degraded state in which I have found the forests reminds me of my bald head ! Thirty percent of the total area should be covered by forests, whereas the existing one is only eleven percent of it. Every year there is an increase in the population of India equivalent to that of Australia. The time has come to do something very seriously about all this.
“Your struggle is not only yours alone; this is a national problem and we shall stand by you in this struggle. I thank you for providing me an opportunity to come to Bihar and understand your problems.'
Sri Nrusingha Sharangi, also from Puri, Orissa, said : We have been working in Puri for last two years. We have contacts in nearly 300, villages there. When we received your letter we decided we must go to Nirmali. We believe water is vital for life. There are nearly 20 rivers alongside the sea-coast in Puri. There is a big lake called Chilka close by; I suppose you must have heard about it. Here we have listened to your experiences regarding how the rivers descended from the Himalayas have been embanked in your province bringing about immense misery in common man's life. Here we have also learnt that there is a lack of information regarding evaluation of these schemes, debates on them, the status of benefit and loss and accounts of expenditure incurred. Let me reassure you that you will not find yourselves alone in your struggle. All of us from Orissa are totally with you and we invite to you to come over there for further exchange of views.
After Sarangi a distinguished engineer from West Bengal (Calcutta) Sri Jayant Basu, added a new dimension to the discussion. Sri Basu was sometime in a government job, but while in job he did not get an opportunity to do whatever he wanted to do, and so he gave it up. He is in charge of the Bengal chapter of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM). He says these days he is negating whatever he learnt is a student of engineering. After introducing himself he said that he had come to Nirmali to express his support to the friends of Barh Mukti Abhiyan and their work. Sri Basu sought the permission of the audience to present his views in Bengali. He said that many questions like those of Kosi embankments are now being raised–among people and politicians. It is these people's movements that are forcing the engineers to learn their work in a new way. Protest is subdued where there are unlimited resources; but mostly this is not so because resources are very limited, after all. And hence the use of technology is being hotly debated. We have come to know about demolition of two dams in France and that of three in America. Work on big dams is being gradually stopped in these countries. They are stopping it there and we are starting it here vigorously. Aral sea once used to be a vast body of water. Enormous amount of cash crops was raised there in the name of development—and a single project almost sucked the sea up. Several kilometer long tunnels had been built; but the project had to be abandoned.
Viewed historically, all the major civilizations of Mesopotamia, Babylone, Egypt, Mohanjodaro and Harappa were destroyed owing to excessive exploitation of water resources and mismanagement of land and forest. It survived where there was an ethos of sharing with nature on an equal footing; it survived where there was ajudicious use of science; but it was destroyed where scientific arrogance came into play. The entire effort of west is aimed at the quickest and utmost possible consumption in life. That is why it is entering the third world so frantically . They have money—and they succeed quickly. They use the politicians, bureaucrats, engineers and contractors in this game in a big way.
'Actually what is needed is a new system of use of technology. Science should be used only after testing it thoroughly, otherwise it could backfire easily. Igloo was designed by Eskimoes; the skin of Sinkona has been a remedy to malaria since centuries. Sushrut and Charak have done enormous work. But western culture has been exploiting other cultures ever since. We shall have to design a new work policy and a new national policy as well to rectify all this.'
Sri Tariq Rahman of Sahyog, Gorakhpur, said : 'I am from an organization called `Sahyog'. This is a network of 40 organizations. In eastern Uttar Pradesh working on the issue of waterlogging and floods. But for some slight changes in its nature and extent, the problem is more of less the same everywhere—in our U.P., Bihar, Orissa, Bengal and Assam. A well-built and powerful organization is needed to address this. We should sit together and design a policy for the common good. Moreover, as stressed by Sri Ram Chandra Lal Das, we shall have to strengthen our legal aspect. Desisting from merely flashy and emotive speeches we shall have to take a concrete and constructive step based on facts. And that step would be to make a concrete effort at documentation, research and data collection so that we could present our views in a powerful manner. `Sahyog' is working in precisely this direction. Being a forum of some 40-50 organizations, we are carrying out mutual dialogue and exchange of informations, and have done some documentation work. We are making efforts to seek solution to the problem of floods and waterlogging as also to those arising therefrom the problems relating to health, agriculture, women or plain livelihood. We are working on some reports etc. in this regard. We are bringing out a bimonthly newsletter called `Samvet. I have brought along some copies of it—you can have them if you wish. In addition to this, if a scenario emerges in which we could work together on this issue, then (Sahyog' commits itself to come forward and extend a helping hand.'
This was followed by a speech of Shri Pradeep Kumar, who had come from Baba Srinath Shikshan Sansthan, Sultanpur, U. P. who dwelt upon the problem of waterlogging in the Sharda Sahayak Command Area. He said that the British has constructed the original Sharda Canal. A new canal running parallel to this canal was built in the sixties. The combination proved to be deadly for the agriculture in the area. Houses, too, have started crumbling because of moisture and salinity. Sansthan is trying to educate people about the canal and it's after effects and building pressure for taking up the corrective measures. On the constructive front the Sansthan is trying to develop alternatives on agriculture, housing, afforestation and pisciculture.
Delivering his presidential address at the end of the session, the famous environmentalist and civil engineer Dr. Gurudas Agrawal said : It has been said many times during the discussion that the game of embankment was a conspiracy hatched by engineers. Being an engineer myself I would like to say that you should view this issue from the following angle. Civil engineering was initiated in the University of Roorkee in the British period. Those who learnt it before that were not regarded as civil engineers. Were these embankments then built during the British days? It has been said many a time at many places that during the British period the engineers had themselves rejected the idea of building embankments in this area. Engineers themselves had taken a decision to knock down embankments in Orissa. Then how come they were built in Bihar? In fact, before the scheme took final shape the engineers were quite unwilling to go ahead with it.
Similarly when it comes to laying out a network of roads or railway lines, the question of technique comes to the fore. Water-drainage is adversely affected by such a proliferation, because on the one hand there is the promise made to lay out a network of these resources, and on the other there is mounting expenditure on these schemes; the result, naturally is that all the savings are effected on bridges, culverts and other means of water-drainage. The extension of rail lines and roads will continue unabated but nothing will be done to clear the waterlogging created thus. Now, what else can engineers do but lay out such a network?
'Apart from this I would like to say one thing more : whenever a big project will be launched the people must pay for it in some way or other. It could be in the shape of displacement or submergence or in some other form. But it should be ensured that no injustice is done to them. And this issue is decidedly not technical.'
Continuing his address Dr. Agrawal said : In spite of being an engineer myself I have no hesitation in saying that Indian scientists and engineers are spineless. The education of science makes one spineless and administrative training turns one's mind into a designing and scheming one. The basic principle of engineering, in my view, is that engineers only play along with society. Were the society not in favour of the Kosi Project, the engineers could not have gone ahead with it. Now the crucial question is : what should be the proper agency to speak for the society? We have to seek an answer to this question. I would like to say, on my part, that the government should not be allowed to handle water resources in any manner whatsoever. The government should not have anything to do with irrigation or flood control or with any other kind of management of water resources. Let the people manage the land and water resources directly through gram panchayat, regional panchayat or at the most through district panchayat. The government should only provide technical advice and financial resources if asked for—but the entire responsibility should lie with the local community.
Concluding his address, Dr. Agrawal said : 'In the changing scenario the issue of public interest litigation is being vigorously debated in the entire country. You must be aware that a few days ago the honourable justice Sri Kuldip Singhji passed a judgement in the Supreme Court indicting the Ganga Swachhata Pariyojana (U.P.) for not bringing about any improvement in the status of pollution of the river Ganga in past few years although Rs. 5-6 crore were spent on it. Not a single paisa can be spent hence forth unless the project reassures the Supreme Court that whatsoever it is going to be undertaken will bring about appreciable reduction in pollution of the Ganga. Surely, can't the Supreme Court pass a similar order enjoining upon the Kosi Project not to spend a single paisa hence forth and have a broad evaluation made of the benefit and loss effected to date through the participation of people, on the ground that the crores of rupees spent in north Bihar in the name of flood control is aggravating rather than mitigating the problem of floods?'
Last Session :
The last session was presided over by Sri Haldhar Bhai and conducted by Sri Vijay Kumar. It began with a statement made by Sri Dinesh Kumar Mishra. He said : It was contended in the morning session that we are misrepresenting facts; that there is a lot of scope for improvement even now; and that it won't be proper to negate everything done. We absolutely disagree with the first contention that facts are being misrepresented; for the facts and figures we have presented are the ones furnished by the government; and if they are false then the debate takes an altogether different turn : that if all this is false, then what is true and how come the government is carrying out a false propaganda against itself? So far as the second contention goes—that there is a scope for improvement in many things even now—we can agree with it only with certain reservations. For, the things which are wrong in principle and have been done for immediate gains alone, must be opposed. But wherever even a right kind of work has yielded wrong results owing to incompetence, sloth and lack of interest, there is definitely a scope for improvement there and that should be brought about.
It is said that building embankments is very worthwhile. When the British saw our rivers and floods they felt we are petty and pitiful creatures; we don't know how to live properly. We are trapped in water for three months every year and don't bother to do anything to prevent it. Such 'uncivilized people must be taught how to live properly'—that is how they thought about us in the beginning. But generation and collection of revenue was much more important for them than this. They perceived that if the flashiness of the rivers is checked, their course is fixed and they are controlled thereby, that will be the end of flood and the government could collect taxes from the people for this. And at the same time when flood waters will cease to spill over in large areas, irrigation will be needed there and by providing it taxes could be collected from the people once again. They were to profit doubly from it. But the British slipped; they chose the river Damodar for this experiment.
It appeared to them that embankments could be built along the banks of the Damodar to check its waywardness and they did so. After the 'mutiny' of 1857 they had to extend roads and railway lines in order to quell any rebellion. They widened and strengthened the Grand Trunk Road and initiated work on Asansol-Howrah railway line. It was completed in 1860 and the next year in 1861 malaria broke out as an epidemic in the district of Burdwan to which there was no allelopathic remedy till then. The reason behind this was that the drainage of rain waters was blocked owing to railway lines and it was a favourable condition for the breeding of mosquitoes. On the other hand the flood level rose unexpectedly high inside of the embankments which posed danger to them and they got breached. In addition to this, people also breached them at many places. In all, an extremely anarchic situation was created.
In fact, the inhabitants of Damodar Valley had evolved a system of their own to cope with floods behind which lay their centuries long experiences. They had built up low height dykes along the banks of the Damodar. When the rains came the water accumulated in the fields and paddy seeds were broadcast in it. Paddy seedlings would grow in stagnant water and so would the larvae of mosquitoes. Meanwhile the river too would rise between the dykes. By the time of transplantation the dykes were either breached on their own due to pressure of water or else they were breached by the people. Now the silt-laden water would rush towards the fields along with fingerlings which gobbled up the larvae of mosquitoes. Thus the paddy plants and fishes grew together. Whenever the river spilt over, the water flowed into the fields meeting all the demands of irrigation; and in case of prolonged failure of rain there was a string of ponds to cope with the situation—there was a pond opposite every house which served as a source of water for irrigation as well as a shelter for the fishes. And that is why there was no trace of malaria and a good crop of paddy and fishes in plenty were assured. After the rains the dykes were constructed along the river over again. This was the reason that the district of Burdwan in Damodar Valley was regarded as one of the most prosperous agricultural areas in the country.
The British could not comprehend this strategy for survival and it appeared to them that anti-social elements breached the embankments. Along with the construction of Grand Trunk Road and Asansol-Howrah railway line, Eden Canal was also constructed parallel to them. All these structures ran from east to west and the land sloped from south to north; and hence during the rains five 'ghostly walls' in the shape of Eden Canal, Asansol-Howrah railway line, G. T. Road and both the embankments along- the Damodar obstructed the flow of rain water one after another. Now, no sooner did the British protect one of them than the other one was breached. They got sick of the patch-up work.
Owing to embankments built along the river Damodar rain water from the outside could not flow down into the river causing ravages in the so-called secure area and the flood level between the embankments went beyond control. At long last the British started knocking down the embankments along the Damodar and as early as 1869 they demolished a length of 32 Kms. along the right bank. They provided for water-drainage through Eden Canal, constructed bridges and culverts across the railway lines and roads, and swore not to tamper with the river ever again in future to control floods. And sure enough, they did likewise till 1947.
Having had a bitter taste of flood waters, the British now comprehended it very well that if embankments were constructed along the river the sand deposit would gradually raise the river-bed; the fertilizing flood waters laden with silt would not reach the fields owing to obstruction of spill-ways; the rain water flowing freely down into the river would be blocked outside of the embankments; the waters of tributaries would not flow into the river owing to the embankments at the confluence of rivers; and it would not be safe to open sluice gates built at such sites because on doing so the waters of the main river would rush into the tributary, and in that case the water of the smaller river would either lap up backwards or flow alongside the embankment causing ravages in newer areas. This will create a demand for embankment along the smaller river and, if conceded, will block all the drainage channels for rain water between the embankments along the main river and the tributary. In such a condition either the embankments will have to be breached or else the water will have to be pumped back into the river. In addition to this, the problem of seepage through the embankments will be there too. Moreover, the embankment will have to be raised all the time to cope with the rising bed of the river and no body can guarantee it that no embankment will ever be breached. The higher and stronger an embankment, the more insecure the people taking shelter behind them would be. The waters of a free river, on the other hand, spilling over into a large area would never cause as much damage as that of the embanked river. The Damodar taught the British all this and meanwhile they had also come to know about the fall out of embankments built along the Hwang Ho in China, the Mississippi in America and the Po in Italy. Very sound at calculating things as they were, they quickly concluded that benefits accrued over years through embanking a river are knocked off in one stroke by breaches in a single year. Engineers knew all this hundred years before the embankments were built along the river Kosi. If politicians, who are more vocal and powerful, feign ignorance of facts, well, this is their prerogative; but the colonial masters did not contest the opinions of their engineers usually.
So that is that regarding the embankments. Let us now have a look at the desilting of rivers. Almost every year the leaders talk about it as a solution to the problem of floods.
Common people talk about this measure of protection from floods usually and no doubt if the river beds are deepened and widened the capacity of the river channel will be enhanced. reducing floods in the area. The idea seems perfectly sound apparently.
But coming to think of the quantity of soil/sand carried by water, this measure too appears impracticable. If we take the instance of the Kosi in the context of deepening and widening river beds, well, it gets a deposit of 11,000 hectare meters of soil/sand every year. Now if a one meter (wide) one meter (high) embankment is built out of this much earth, it will go round the equator three times ! When it comes to the desilting of rivers, we shall have to think about the handling of an equal quantity of earth. As I have said earlier, the bed of the Kosi is rising up at the rate of 12 cms. per annum between the embankments from Mahishi to Koparia along a length of 33 Kms. If the average distance between the embankments is taken to be 10 Kms., nearly 39.6 x 106 cubic meters of silt/soil is deposited in the river every year which is equivalent to 66 lakh trucks load of earth; and this will have to be dredged out every year in order to maintain the present level of the river-bed. If this earth work be done in the working season from Dec. 15 to May 15, nearly 37,000 trucks will be required at the work site daily; and if so many trucks be lined up closely, the other end of the line will be visible nearly 260 Kms. away. The annual expenditure incurred on dredging this much of earth and loading it into trucks alone would be around Rs. 46 crores, whereas the government of Bihar spends around Rs. 40 crores annually on flood control in the entire province ! Nearly as much of earth will have to be dredged out between Birpur barrage and Mahishi. And then the Kosi is not the only river here. The basins of the Gandak, the Burhi Gandak, the Bagmati, the Adhawara group, the Kamala and the Mahananda also lie in north Bihar. Where shall we transport this much of earth? There is a ready made answer to this it will be dumped in the chaurs. Now the question is : will any farmer be willing to have sand dumped on his farmland? And, say, if all the chaurs are filled up, what will be the resultant impact on water-drainage and environment?
Now even if the desilting of north Bihar rivers is taken up, will that be any good without increasing the width or depth of the Ganga, for these rivers join it finally? Merely dredging out the rivers of north Bihar will do no good. And if dredging work is started in the Ganga, what will happen to Farakka barrage? It will be a big hindrance to desilting or dredging. And so long as this barrage will be there, the desilting of Ganga will be pointless. If, say, we do sort out the problem posed by Farakka somehow or other, even then the tangle remains. Ahead of Farakka the Ganga divides into two parts. One part, called the Padma, flows towards the Bangladesh and the other, called Bhagirathi/Hooghly, flows through West Bengal into the bay of Bengal. We cannot desilt the Padma, but we can definitely desilt the Bhagirathi. However, this will increase the flow of water in the Bhagirathi and that will create a political problem with Bangladesh which is already staking its unfair claims to the Ganga waters at Farakka, Again, if we do manage to desilt the Hooghly somehow or other, the problem at the confluence of river and sea will remain : their levels are in a state of equilibrium there which will be upset only temporarily and things will be the same again after a year or so:
Moreover, where shall we get the funds from for such a massive work? If the machines are to do it, how much will their purchase, operation and maintenance cost? And hence even the Rashtriya Barh Ayog (1980) is not in favour of this mode of flood control.
When the Prime Minister visited Bihar in the end of August in 1993 he laid stress on mitigating the impact of floods through the desilting of rivers. It is difficult to say anything about the impact of desilting on floods, but earth work contractors and truck owners will definitely benefit from this !
It is possible to effect this in case of smaller rivers having very little soil/sand in their water. But once the dredging work is started in these rivers, all the bridges will have to be rebuilt or extended and the soil/sand dredged out will have to be transported to some secure place. In spite of this, two to three rainy seasons are enough for the 'Ghost' of soil/sand to sit back on the tree! This measure of protection from floods is not even talked about in the context of Himalayan and Ganga basin rivers.
Now sometimes the idea of raising villages is put forth. Around 4500 villages were raised in Uttar pradesh in 1955-56. What in fact was done was only this much that a 2 ft. high dyke was built up around the village and the area thus enclosed was filled up with earth. This was not even levelled. So, that was the way the village was raised up ! Now the houses having one foot high plinth had one foot high earth piled up on them. When it rained the outside water entered the houses and even before draining it out the walls started slumping. Being unlevelled, the new earth turned into impassable mud. Children and animals got trapped in it. Then people began to oppose the raising of village in this manner. By then the programme had picked up and it was widely publicized. And now there was no one to pay any heed to the miseries of the trapped villages: But, ironically, the demand for the raising gained momentum in other villages owing to publicity! One thing more happened at the same time: the budget for raising villages was passed in March and by April the irrigation department personnel arrived to execute it. This was exactly the time when the crops were ready for harvesting. But the irrigation department had to do its job. The earth required for raising villages was dug out of these fields. They did not mind destroying the crops because they had to accomplish the target, after all ! The vulnerable villages had to bribe the personnel to stop work but the assertive ones chased the engineers/contractors. By the time this measure could be reconsidered some 4500 villages had already been raised. The Rashtriya Barh Ayog observes that owing to the raising of villages the movement of bullock-carts came to be difficult and the villagers had to make the double arrangement of having their houses up above in the village and godown and animals down below in the lower parts. The damage to crops could not be stopped even after raising the village. And that is why the programme had to be abandoned. What a big gulf indeed between the perception of the people and that of the government!
An effort has been on for past few years to revive this programme not only in Uttar Pradesh but also to implement it in Bihar by citing the instance of its success. Obviously these changes are coming about not for technical reasons alone. Many factors like the politics of vote, grabbing acclaim, or the longing to prove one's worth to the voters, etc. are behind this; otherwise, an utter reversion in the opinion of engineers would not have been that easy. The study of this entire episode would be quite interesting in itself.
Let us have a look now at Kusheshwar-sthan the place of pilgrimage for our flood control schemes. The entire area lying in the district of Darbhanga had to be declared a bird sanctuary in 1994 as a result of the farce enacted between the Kamala and the Kosi embankments in the name of flood control. The waters of the rivers Kamala, the Kosi and the Kareh accumulate in this block : there is absolutely no channel for drainage because of rise-in the river beds owing to embankments. Boats ply the whole year round. The landlords have turned into water lords. Water creepers have replaced the crop of paddy. And hence the block was turned into a bird sanctuary for the promotion of tourism. There is a tower in the city of Pisa in Italy which tilted to one side because of some faults made while laying its foundation. Now, erect towers are found all over the world, but a tilted one is there in Pisa alone, and no wonder tourists flock to see it from all over the world. The same kind of sloppiness and technical faults have resulted in the present state of Kusheshwarsthan which can be an attraction for tourists in future. Around ninety thousand hectares of land here is submerged in water and this is the very land that was to be irrigated through the western Kosi canal. Moreover, it has another remarkable feature too. Many villages lying between the Kosi and the Kamala embankments here were rehabilitated , but misfortune overtook them even in this. The entire rehabilitation area was submerged and they had to get back to their original places where they keep on suffering ravages caused by floods over again. In fact, those living in the so-called secure areas outside of the embankments are suffering much more tormentthan some eight lakh people of 338 villages lying inside of the Kosi embankments. The Central Water Commission had constituted a committee for the first time in 1959 to study the flood problems faced by the villages settled between the embankments along the Kosi and the Kamala; and as far as the available information goes, the last proposal was mooted in 1988 providing for a water drainage scheme worth Rs. 52 crores. Recently some programmes of water drainage have been designed by the Ganga Flood Control Commission too. But it has not been implemented effectively to date. There is merely a difference in the number of schemes proposed for the rivers Gandak, the Burhi the Gandak, the Kamala, the Bagmati and the Mahananda; the rest of the facts are almost the same in all of them.
As things are today, countless houses and hamlets have been ravaged owing to these schemes and numberless people forced to go out of the province to eke out a living. Numberless women are doomed to suffer virtual widowhood even though their husbands are alive; and the carpet trade is flourishing in Varanasi, Bhadohi, Mirzapur and Allahabad by destroying the childhood of the children of Bihar. After all, why are there direct bus services from places like Saharsa, Muzaffarpur and Kunauli to Delhi or Jalandhar? And it is not difficult to understand the implications of government bus services from Patna to Bhadohi either. Shramjeevi Express could very well have been called Ajatshatru Express, or Sharmshakti Express could equally well have been called Tirabhukti Express for that matter; but this was not done so; and the present names are much closer to the reality. In spite of its fertile land, abundant water resources and ample mineral wealth Bihar has been reduced to a mere centre for procuring cheap labour.
There has been a lot of fuss recently about the 'anti-social elements' breaching the embankments. Once I went to Manihari (Katihar) where almost every year the so-called `anti-social elements' breach the embankment along the Ganga. When asked about it, they said : We are hemmed in by rivers on three sides—the Mahananda in the 'east, the Kari Kosi in the west and the Ganga in the south.: This is our problem and breaching the embankments is the only way out. When the river would be in spate in pre-embankment days, the water level rose in our area and as soon as water receded in any of these rivers it came down immediately. Our problem has worsened after the construction of embankments. During the rains the rainwater is blocked between these three embankments in any case. And if a breach occurs in the western embankment along the Mahananda or in the eastern one along the Kari Kosi, we are submerged. Will this mass of water trapped between the embankments ever drain out on its own?
They further said : 'What is the option left before us but to breach the embankment along the Ganga? If we do not do so, at least 5,000 people of the villages called Manihari, Medinipur, Ajam Tola and many others will lose their lives along with the block or thana personnel. Even if the government pays compensation at the rate of rupees ten thousand per deceased person, it works out to rupees five crore; whereas the repair of breached embankments would hardly Cost more than ten to twenty lakhs of rupees. In fact, the local administration personnel themselves get them breached as the floodwaters do not distinguish between the government and non-government people,... How is the act anti-social then?.... No cases are ever lodged in this regard because life is dear to everyone; and every officer is scared of the fact that if the people did not breach the embankments out of fear of the police or litigation, what will happen to their own lives? For years we have been asking for a sluice gate near Kantakosh across the railway line east of this place, but to no avail. If this sluice gate is constructed, there would be no need to breach the embankment; but it looks as though no heed will be paid to it unless some disaster befalls us.'
The question is : do we suggest an umbrella for protection from the sun which is well within a common man's reach or else arrange for the sun not to shine at all? Surely, we must know our own limitations and those of science as well. The snag is, the engineers do speak on the prompting of their conscience, but only when they retire—including veteran engineers like William Willcox and Wilburn Inglis. The tradition continues to date and perhaps it will be so in the future as well. The decisions which should be taken purely on the basis of technical opinion are-taken by politicians, and when it comes to the crunch, they pass the buck to the engineers who stand agape in bewilderment.
There is a lot of ballyhoo about Barahkshetra dam these days. Although a full discussion on it is scheduled for tomorrow, here is a bit of information on it in passing.
The present day cost of Barahkshetra dam is said to be rupees twenty five thousand crore; and without bothering a jot about raising such a stupendous sum of money, an intensive and alluring hype is on that such an expensive mega-project is the only solution to the flood problem. The money likely to be spent on this single darn at the present rate will be more than the outlay on two five year plans of Bihar. Even as the government keeps on wailing over the lack of funds for repair and maintenance of embankments, it is difficult to know how will it raise such an enormous sum and how many generations will have to pay it off : for not even a single brick can be laid without raising loans. Well, let the people ask this question and demand an answer to it.
People sometimes ask me if all this is not the right thing to do, what is the alternative? Now this can be answered in two ways. First, that the government has all this information and so if the people say whatever is happening is not good for them then the government itself should take some initiative on this; for the people can only express their sufferings and cannot provide an alternative owing to utter lack of information and technical competence. And second, if the layman himself is to provide alternatives, then what will the fourteen thousand engineers with the department of water resources, Government of Bihar, will do? Shouldn't their responsibilities be defined in that case?
'The trouble is our engineers speak in two kinds of idiom. From ten to five during day hours their idiom is official in which they merely talk about engineering and its implementation. Budget, benefit-cost ratio, the best and the cheapest remedy among the available techniques etc. grab their entire attention. But their idiom is altogether different after five in the evening. Then they adopt the stance of what can we do, after all? Even some of the politicians are often heard to say ‘Yes, you are perfectly right, but the government can't be run in this manner, can it?' The contractor is least bothered : he is only to do the job and collect the money. It is the people who are in the soup. And hence we believe that any scheme should be debated openly and widely and we should be well aware of all the good and bad aspects of -it before it is launched. In any case, we must identify the limitations of a given project.'
The well-known Gandhian and activist, police officer. Sri Ram Chandra Khan had this to say on the issue in discussion :
There has been a good discussion on the role of embankments. Some speakers have expressed their views on science too. Embankments have been built in our area in a most unscientific manner. They have absolutely nothing to do with science. I have not been a student of science; I learnt only a bit of it till matriculation; but I am not ignorant of it. When it comes to embankment or protection from floods, I am reminded of Banaras. The city is situated on one bank of the Ganga and the other one is free; and it has been so for centuries. Water can spill over and flow freely and ensure protection from floods thereby. Why don't the scientists learn from it? Science, in fact, is an encounter with truth. When science is put to use for man he should be very watchful. When science is utilized in case of embankments, there should a sort of balance in it. It should be based on the facts of the situation. One of the synonyms for river in Sanskrit is itatinee'—the one bound by the banks. Now, have you ever seen the way rivers carve out their banks? There are some two hundred main rivers in this country. They have deepened themselves only just enough to be able to join the sea. They have carved out their banks too accordingly. Rivers are nothing but flow of waters; they are channels of drainage created by nature. Water occupies three-fourth area of the earth and this is meant for the well-being of man. We should study the nature and impact of rivers originating in the Himalayas. Rivers need to flow on freely as all the rainwater cannot be soaked up by the soil. But we have embanked them. This has impeded their flow. Science has put the nature into bondage. It should reexamine its relations with man. Embankments can definitely be built up but perhaps in the manner shown by the Ganga in Banaras. Embankments should be built the way rivers carve out their banks—the way suggested by nature itself. Any different way can only cause destruction.
Let us now consider the construction of embankments along the Kosi and the Kamala-Balan. As Dr. Agrawal said, when such schemes are operationalised they do good to some people and harm some others; and he said it can't be helped. It is true, so long as one does not sacrifice something for one's motherland, it can't be saved. Man does not attain perfection without fighting against authoritarianism, savagery and barbarity. But I would like to say to Dr. Agrawal here that there is the other side to it too. If a sick person passed on his disease to a nurse or doctor, it would hardly be called remedy. It would be a mere transfer of disease. Let us take the case of a lion. It is but natural that when it is hungry it will attack some animal. But what kind of animal does it attack ? No it doesn't attack any violent animal—doesn't attack even an elephant. It attacks an innocent creature like deer, which doesn't even try to harm a lion or a tiger in any way. So I say there should be a serious discussion on the idea of harming someone—destroying someone in order to benefit some other in the name of development. We have had the tradition of harming some one only in order to save one's life in an extreme situation of calamity. We should harm others only when the very survival of the country or the society is threatened—and that, too, only after invoking the God. To harm someone for one's own benefit cannot be the tenet of any religion nor can it be a tenet of humanity or that of science or any 'ism'?
Dr. Dhanakar Thakur, a doctor and social worker from Ranchi, said : It's a matter of deep regret that an important issue is being discussed after such a long time. In 1993 we had an opportunity to organize a technical symposium on the issues of floods in Mithila. That was a delegates conference. I have found the same kind of thing here too. I agree with some of the views presented here and disagree with some of them. For instance, a friend said that malaria broke out in Burdwan for the first time in 1861. In fact malaria dates further back than this. This should be rectified. Another thing to be noted is that Mithila is already backward in the matter of transport. And so aren't we perhaps giving in to a devious design to keep Mithila backward under the pretext of warding off problems created by roads and railway lines? Figures testify that this area still has a relatively lower per capita length of road or railway line. And then recently an agreement was reached with Bangladesh on the division of Ganga water in which the Chief Minister of West Bengal played a crucial role. The agreement was hyped a lot on the national level but I firmly believe that it will damage Mithila's interests.
“We should not be confined to debates on our local interests only, but if anything wrong happens voices must be raised against it.'
The convener of Nehru Yuva Kendra, Saharsa, Sri Toofan Chandra Josh gave a new turn to the discussion through his unique style of presentation. Expressing his disagreement with the views of most of the speakers, he said : I was full with nerve initially but it has now petered out to one-fourth of it and one-fourth of the audience too has left away. Mr. President, sir, please don't set any time limit for me. Speakers have been rattling on in the same way for quite a long time now and have been receiving clappings too. I shall speak in support of Vivekanandji's views and oppose the ones expressed by others. I have listened to the views put forth by Dr. Thakur and Dr. Agrawal. But I fail to comprehend the latter's ire with the department of railways, so much so that he dragged it into the discussion on embankments and mounted an attack on it to the effect that it is improper to lay out a network of railway lines. The department of railways has not been fair to Bihar till now. There is a dearth of railway lines in our state compared to other states. And hence whosoever talks about setting this imbalance right in effect talks about the development of our state and deserves to be appreciated for this. Agrawal Saheb is a scholarly person. He very well understands the meaning of laying out railway network. This does not imply at all that there won't be any space left for even human settlement. He has presented quite a scientific fact in a most unscientific manner. And herein lies his bankruptcy which makes him unscientific. I don't know what Vivekanandji said exactly—perhaps he said that embankments do not cause harm only, they also do some good. It looks as though great nature lovers have gathered here ! Mishraji has written a tract called 'Thus Comes the Floods' In the very first page of it he has given an account of how the British competently and successfully opposed the idea of embanking rivers. And just a while ago he said just the opposite of it : that the British embanked the rivers for the generation and collection of revenue ! We suffer from a typical malady that the moment you start a development work some people would immediately say you are doing this for kickbacks Mishraji has written in his tract that when women committed 'Sati in the former times, drums and cymbals were played so stridently on the occasion that the cries of the burning woman were muted in the din so created. And you are doing the same kind of thing here together : you won't allow any development work to go ahead. And, moreover, Mishraji was rattling off a lot of humbug regarding floods and fishes. We ordinary people know only this that formerly people used to say : No need to take poison if you want to die; go to Saharsa and Purnea instead '. Malaria, Kalazar, Cholera and Plague used to break out in the area and finish off strings of villages. But now embankments have reduced the incidence of malaria. Formerly when people started from Manasi they would remain trapped in flood waters for four to five months in a stretch; they would perform their ablutions on the boat; and entire settlements would get submerged : yes, we were terribly afflicted with floods. And so I would like to say now that all the facts and figures presented by Mishraji are wrong. There is such a bumper crop of paddy in the area inside of the embankments that everyone is far better off than ever before. You just have a look at those having come from the areas inside and outside of the embankments to attend this conference—have a look at their clothes and faces—you will find traces of happiness and well-being there. No one dies of starvation' any more in the area now. I don't claim there is no poverty, no misery there; that heavens have descended there. Surely those living inside of the embankments do suffer some miseries that those living outside of it do not. Nevertheless, things are definitely not so terrible as not to allow any embankments to be built at all—and stop development thereby. We know we are having better crops than we just used to have in the pre-embankment days. We are better off in every way. This is wrong to say that people were happy before the embankments were built and now they are miserable. Don’t look into the figures; they are a bundle of lies; and the agencies that have computed them do not mean well by the country (interjection : the figures have been furnished by the irrigation department). No, that is untrue, they are not irrigation department figures. The truth is that the Kosi project is irrigating an area of twenty lakh acres. And when you put it at three lakh acres Only, that is definitely a false propaganda you are carrying out against the project. You are simply spoiling away my time. Another thing which has been said is that while many embankments and dams are being demolished in America and Europe, we have started building them up here. What a gross simplification and distortion of facts—almost bordering on absolute lie; no, one should not do this kind of thing, I tell you not a single dam or embankment has ever been demolished to date—not even in socialist countries. We built Bhakhra Nangal dam—and didn't demolish it. We are building the one on the Narmada—and build we must. Howsoever much the foreign agents might try to stop it we shall not let them do so. We shall provide a thrust to development—we shall raise the Narmada dam. People cannot be duped anymore now. You talk of technique whereas in fact you have absolutely nothing to do with it. Mishraji says the British successfully opposed the idea of embanking rivers. Some of our intellectuals say that we should not build barrages anymore. Go and have a look at the entire stretch from here to Nepal. the present prosperity there is entirely a result of the barrage. If this conference is to send off this message—well, then, excuse me, this is some kind of a terrorist act like so many others going on in the country—this is a conspiracy to lead us to anarchy and I won't have anything to do with it. This country does not belong to Medha Patkar or Sunder Lal Bahuguna. In spite of all the protests made by the foreign agents the Kosi has been embanked. And the condition of the people living inside of the embankments is not as bad today as it was formerly. You talk about harmony between man and nature. Brother dear, wheat is a product of nature—why do you eat it then? Why do you eat rice? (Clamorous protest from the audience).
Sri Ramchandra Khan intervened at this point, calmed things down and said : You should listen to Joshji patiently. He is not passing any judgement through his speech. Let him have his say How can a consensus emerge unless we are countered? How does it matter if Joshji bashed Mishraji on a personal level? His very name is 'Toofan Chandra' ! When that didn't do for him he added 'Josh' to it! So he very much behaved true to his name !I would only request him to maintain decency and decorum demanded by the occasion. Agrawal Saheb raised the issue of sacrifice a short while ago. I would like to say that there is a limit to sacrifice : they are made for big causes and never for the petty ones. When I argue against sacrifice in this context, in effect, I argue against the wrong idea of embankments, against the misuse of science and against a take model of the so-called development. And I repeat that sacrifices are made for big causes. If in spite of this there are some who ignore facts—well, they have nothing to do with the reality of the world, with the truth of science and with the status of this country. Anyway, there are people like Joshji among us who have a different ideology. And we must listen to him with utmost regard.
After the pacifying intervention of Sri Ram Chandra Khan, Sri Toofan Chandra Josh resumed his presentation and said : 'I would like to be forgiven if anything went wrong owing to my style of presentation. To my mind development comes about only when dams and embankments as well as roads and factories are built up. One gentleman said that increase in population is impeding development. That is to say, those already born are the lords of this earth—and won't allow anyone in here anymore. Now I would like to ask how would it be like if he himself had been stopped right before his birth? Had he not been born a bit of forest could have been saved ! But then who would have come to Nirmali to deliver a speech ! It seems blaming the lack of family planning alone is left for us to do. In France and Germany there is a drive to add to the size of the family. They have such a dearth of labour power. What I mean to say is let us not over simplify a problem. The scientific outlook entails the promotion of the policy of development—no one would like to move backward. Do what you will—but must you forge ahead. And to iask not to beget children so that there is no deforestation—well, this is not feasible at all. We shall carry out afforestation and beget children too. Even now there is a lot of forest left in our country. In fact the developed countries, do not want India to surge ahead and hence they have floated devious designs to that end : the programme against child labour and the issue of environment are a part of them. This campaign against child labour and the issue of environment do not relate to our national problems; they have been foisted on us by the western countries. Foreign money is behind all this. Yes, be sure of it I do not contend that it is the same here too, but the possibility of it cannot be ruled out. And hence don't believe all this blindly.'
In his brief presidential address Sri Haldhar Bhai summed up and rounded off the discussion. He laid stress on regarding all the viewpoints in totality and then evolve a consensual way out. The session came to a conclusion with his address. The Second Day of the Conference—April 6, 1997.
As per the schedule of the conference, the morning session was slated for a discussion on the proposed dam at Barahkshetra, but it was deemed necessary to first present a statement on the questions raised by Sri Toofan Chandra Josh and then carry out discussion on the dam. The session was presided over by Sri Rameshwar Singh, Joint Convener Barh Mukti Abhiyan, (Hazaribagh) and conducted by Sri Ranjeev (Saharsa).
Sri Vijay Kumar made a statement on the questions raised in the last session yesterday. He said : We thank Sri Toofan Chandra Josh for having presented his different views very firmly. We would have been all the more happy had he based his views on facts. In one breath he called the eminent scientists like Dr. G. D. Agrawal and Dr. A. K. Singh unscientific and mentally bankrupt. We did not know anything about Sri Toofanji's background , but when he said that all the figures presented here are false, that the agencies which have computed them do not mean well by our country, then he revealed himself : that he has absolutely nothing to do with facts and he does not have even an iota of knowledge in this regard. Presenting his so-called true figures he said that the Kosi project is irrigating an area of twenty lakh acres; to this I would only say that this was not even the proposed target of the Kosi Project ! And if the water resource department of our state (which has furnished these figures) does not mean well by our country, as he has -alleged, then he is raising an issue of such a dimension before which the agenda of this conference pales into insignificance. We can have differences with the government; we can very well doubt the figures furnished by it; we are perhaps contending this, too, that whatever the government has done on the score of floods is not worthwhile; but it would not be fair to say—not at all proper to allege that our government is not loyal to our country. I think Joshji should have shown some moderation. He called us terrorists, extremists, foreign agents and what not during his speech; he only forgot to call us traitors. Now if the people of Manihari, Kadava, Dheng, Bairgania, Khairi, Fataki and other such places lose their lives owing to floods or waterlogging, they turn out to be responsible citizens of this country; but if they do anything to the contrary, and that reveals the ineptitude of the government machinery and the personnel related there to, the easiest abuses to heap on them are to call them terrorists and foreign agents. Even the clothing of the people having come from the areas lying within embankments were an eyesore to him : well, why not have them stripped, too, and relish it? What has been left there for us after all? There would hardly be any village in the area which was not eroded ten times during last forty years. And the five month long floods he talked about—and people of the area performing their ablutions on boats during the period—is the situation any different in the area even now? Move around in the entire Kosi-Kamala area and you can count the young men on your fingers—all of them have migrated to Delhi and Punjab. So this is the kind of development that has come about for us I Now if we state this bare fact you don't even like to hear this :
'Wo aahon se bhi naakhush hain
aur hamen jeene bhi nahin dete
Garaz unka ye maksad hai
Ki ham ghut-ghut ke mar jaayen'
(They don't even like our moans
nor do they let us live on
All they want is we should suffer
on and on to death.)
We were advised not to eat wheat in order to save nature. Family planning was mocked and scoffed at. We never shrink from criticism; in fact, this is exactly what we are doing. But positive and sound criticism is one thing and a travesty of it is quite another. We are not gathered here to make a mockery of things; we are here to carry out a serious dialogue.
'Put forth your views based on facts—you are most welcome. Now, if the estimated cost of western Kosi canal mounted phenomenally from thirteen and a half crore rupees to five hundred and seventy crore rupees, it should be a matter of concern for all of us. But how did this make foreign agents of us and why did it rattle you? The Barahkshetra dam will cost twenty five thousand crores of rupees. Have you got the money? Where else will it come from but the foreign countries? And then you won't bother to remember foreign forces ! True, this country does not belong to Medha Patkar or Sunder Lal Bahuguna alone; it belongs to all of us. But this is also true that it was only because there were no such person around in this region at the time that the embankment was built along the Kosi in 1957, the Kosi Sufferers Development Authority was constituted thirty years later in 1987—which is yet to be functional anyway. When the work on the Kosi Project had started, people had trust in their leaders and engineers. That trust does not exist any more. Until this faith is restored people like Sundar Lal Bahuguna and Medha Patkar will continue to wage the struggle. We are holding this conference exactly because we have not believed the publicity carried out blindly—because we have examined things meticulously. To say that we are nuts about Mishraji's fancy ideas is to humiliate us; on the contrary, our flippancy can definitely drive Mishraji's crazy. He doesn't even belong to this region. We have gathered here in the hope that perhaps something could be done even now. Ram Chandra Khanji has been here for two days—not for enjoying any entertainment programme but because of his suffering caused by people's Misery. Toofan Bhai has perhaps left away. If he was earnestly serious he should have been here. We have put up the data concerning some of the projects here in the pandal and will feel very happy if the same is proved wrong. However, this should be with authentic proof and not just a verbal rheotic. I conclude here with a hope that the next speakers will present their views grounded in facts and worn dilute the seriousness of the situation.'
After Shri Vijay Kumar finished with his statement, Sri Dinesh Kumar Mishra made a detailed statement on the issue of Barhakshetra dam. He said : The proposal for the Barahkshetra dam had been mooted for the first time in the flood conference held in Patna in 1937. But nothing came of it and finally embankments had to be built up along the Kosi in 1955. The dam could not be constructed at the time owing to two crucial deterrents. For one thing, its cost was enormous rupees one hundred crore in 1947 and one hundred and seventy seven crores in 1952. And for another, the engineers and geologists could never agree on the question of security of the dam. These questions continue to persist even today.
According to the Second Irrigation Commission (1994) the cost of the dam had turned out to be Rs. 4,074 crore. Going by the statements of political leaders appearing in newspapers, the dam will cost around twenty to twenty five thousand crore rupees. The question is : where shall we get so much money from? Obviously, many international financial institutions must be encouraging the government to go ahead with it. Whereas the possibility of an earthquake like the one that befell Muzaffarpur in 1934 cannot be ruled out, this is perhaps causing no concern at all. There is no change in our stance on these two issues even today. Moreover, it is important to discuss some other aspects of the issue too. The catchment area of the Kosi around site number 13 near Barahkshetra in Nepal, where the dam is proposed to be built, is 59,550 square kilometers. There is an increase in the catchment area of the river from site number 13 to Bhimnagar barrage by 2266 square kilometers; and the catchment area of the Kosi lying in the Indian territory below it is 11,410 square kilometers. Thus a catchment area of nearly 13,876 square kilometers will lie below the proposed Barahkshetra dam area. The catchment area of Bagmati is only slightly less than this and it is equivalent to the catchment areas of twice that of the Kamala. That is to say, a mass of water equivalent to one Bagmati or two rivers like that of Kamala would still flow below the Barahkshetra dam area, whether the dam is built or not. Today this is exactly the mass of water that is blocked outside of both the eastern and western Kosi embankments and causes severe waterlogging there. There is going to be no change in this situation even after the Barahkshetra dam is built.
What is more, the only refrain of engineers and politicians for past 45 years has been that the embankments will be effective only when the dam is built at Barahkshetra. Let us examine this claim too. Say, the dam is built up; the entire silt and sand is blocked inside its reservoir; the water released from it is absolutely silt-free; and the embankments are in a fine condition. Now, this is an ideal situation—never realizable in practice. For one thing, the water released from the dam will never be silt-free. And for another, we cannot rule out the possibility of a situation in which the water is left free to flow during the rains and the reservoir is filled only at the end of the season in order to maintain its longevity. The direct impact of this will be that the river will keep on meandering between the embankments, the erosion of villages will continue as ever and there will be no change in the condition of floods at all. And a danger will still keep on lurking after the reservoir is filled when the rains are over. In case there is a downpour in October as it happened in 1968 and 1978, the gates of the dam will have to be opened and flash floods will have to be faced. Normally any such dam will not be able to stop the incidence of floods after September 25. Those living between the embankments will face all the more danger in such a situation. And, ironically, it will be the very same people who will be encouraged most to raise their voices for the construction of dam at Barahkshetra.
So far as the flood problem goes, there is going to be no impact on it whether the Barahkshetra dam is built or not. But flood control continues to be the only plank of its publicity. If we have a look at the 1981 estimate of the dam the mist of confusion is dispelled. Out of an estimated outlay of Rs. 4,074 crore, Rs. 2,677 crore have been earmarked for power generation and Rs. 1,347 crore for irrigation. Only the rest of 50 crore rupees have been allocated for watershed development and soil conservation. This leaves no doubt about the real aim of the project. Flood control will be the plank of publicity for the dam whereas the real aim will be power generation. Now, what is the harm in owning it up? Why raise one more hope regarding flood control in the minds of the people?
Let us now take a look at the claim regarding irrigation. The dam is supposed to irrigate 12.17 lakh hectares of land in India and Nepal. A similar claim was made while designing the present Kosi project in 1953. It was said at the time that 7.12 lakh hectares of land will be irrigated through this project. Later, in 1975, the Ram Narayan Committee averred that this estimate is totally wrong and that not more than 3.74 lakh hectares of farmland can be irrigated through this project in any case. To start with, some 1.85 lakh hectares of land was irrigated through it last year. Similarly the western Kosi canal was to irrigate 2.61 lakh hectares. After spending `barely' Rs. 227 crores of rupees an area of 16,000 hectares could be irrigated in 1995-96 ! Who stops the targeted irrigation through these schemes? And how come, a magic wand will be waved, once the Barahkshetra dam is built, to get us desired irrigation? More than ten times the original estimate was spent on the eastern Kosi canal; and the present estimated cost of the western Kosi canal is Rs. 568 crores which is 40 times the original estimate ! Now, will it be any strange if the cost of the Barahkshetra dam mounts up from Rs. 25 thousand crores to Rs. 250 thousand crores? The present annual plan outlay of Bihar stands at Rs. 2,200 crore. The Barahkshetra dam alone will gobble up more than the budget allocation of two five year plans in Bihar. They say sixteen such dams are proposed to be built. Where shall we get such a whopping sum from? It is estimated that the Barahkshetra dam will generate power to the tune of 3,000 megawatts. At present there is a capacity to generate 1800 megawatts of power in Bihar against which only around 350 megawatts is being generated. Why not utilize the existing capacity to the full before building a dam or installing a plant? And who can guarantee the fact that the generation of power from the Barahkshetra dam will not get stuck up at 500 megawatts instead of going up to 3,000 megawatts?
The proposed allocation of only a little more than one percent of the total outlay for watershed development and soil conservation clearly indicates that they are not being taken seriously even now. Moreover, whatsoever the extent of flood control likely to be realized through the dam, it will be done so only by regulating the flow of water from the reservoir.
And then there are the questions of displacement and rehabilitation likely to be caused by these dams in Nepal. Many projects in India and abroad are in abeyance on this ground. In India itself the work on Tehri, Subarnarekha and Sardar Sarovar projects has been stalled owing to this. No one is coming forward even to lay the foundation of the Koel-Karo project. In Nepal itself work on Arun III dam is suspended owing to the issue of rehabilitation and the World Bank has pulled out of it presently. We do hope that if ever the Barahkshetra dam is built up due care will be taken in this regard.
'Apart from all this, the sharing of expenditure, cost of electricity, strategic safety of the dam, the strategy for disaster management etc. are many other dimensions which will have to be sorted out before starting any work on the dam. There is an imperative need to carry out an open and wide debate on all these aspects of the issue, so that whatever is done this time around is done keeping in view the living reality of the situation and not on the basis of sentiments alone. Whatever the scheme may be, we should design it keeping in view our needs and resources as well as our capacity and likely problems.'
Sri Mishra concluded his statement with the hope that the coming speakers will express their views in this backdrop so that we could discuss these issues in detail while debating on the resolutions to be adopted in this conference.
Sri Ramchandra Khan presented an elaborate statement on the issue thereafter. He said : Keeping in view the kind of ideas generated in conferences like this and the kind of dialogue that is being carried out with people directly, I believe we do not need the prop of any political ideology, or that of any organization, nor do we need the help of any government or any scientist to clarify the moral footing of this drive. What, after all, is the outcome of the debates carried out to save man in the entire country on the level of ideas and support? Some of the debates generated by the problems have long been going on now and some are an outcome of the imperialist thinking. Whatever development has come about during last fifty years under the influence of this thinking has added to the problems of a large section of people—has, in fact created a crisis for them. The problems of the common man have been caused by the kind of scientists we have had, by the kind of scientific capacity we have had and by the outlook of development we have had. I am here before you in support of this suffering human being. The discussion you have initiated is quite a comprehensive one. It is very important to look far beyond for this. But you will excuse me for saying that in order to look far ahead up to the horizon, it is equally important to look at one's own ground and all around it. Water is vital for the existence of fish. A fish can but live like a fish and not like a monkey. Have a look at the areas lying between the Kosi, the Kamala and the Balan—there is an altogether different scenario of development there. We lost everything—our farmlands, our birds, our trees and our flora and fauna. What was the need of an embankment along the Kosi? It very well carved out its own course—as every other river did so. What was wrong with it? If a little more water was discharged from it during the rains, what was wrong with that? Is there any river in India whose water level does not rise during the rains? And when it comes to this, why was not the Ganga embanked? Floods come there too. This entire idea had been challenged even at the time when the work on the Kosi embankment was on—I am not saying anything new. Even then the idea of embanking the Kosi, the scientific basis of it, the project itself had been challenged. No debate on environment had been initiated by then, but the whole thing was challenged never the less. And this had been done by Bahadur Khan Sharma. Well, I am not dropping his name because he was my father. It is a matter of historical fact that the Gandhians and Socialists were pitted against veterans like Jawaharlalji. Five hundred people must have gone to jail including women. Work on the Kosi embankment was suspended for a year—guns were aimed at people, but many constables disobeyed the orders to fire. And they, too, threw down our guns along with licenses. Governments in those days were not as insensitive as the present ones. All the people were released without bail. Bahadur Khan Sharma was not even arrested. Anugrah Babu and Sri Babu were there; they constituted committees to initiate a discussion on rehabilitation. Work on the eastern and western embankments had to be stopped for one year because of people's organized protest under' the leadership of Bahadur Khan Sharma, Parmeshwar Kunwar, Suraj Narayan Singh and Kaushalendra Narayan Singh. This is a matter of history now. It is a matter of great pleasure for us that Shri Parmeshwar Kunwar is surviving still. People from different states, from all over the country, have gathered here to discuss the very idea they had sown here. And what did we get from all this? The area where there was no Kosi; where there was no question of any displacement; where no ravages had been caused to the river and farmlands, to flora and fauna, to birds and animals, and to the roads well, it was exactly that area which got everything—schemes, laboratories, roads, command area, and development authority—everything. The rivers originating in the Himalayas descend on the plains and join the sea what is wrong with that? There is an excess of water for three months—what is wrong with that? People had their boats snatched away in our area. Even our women folk used to ply boats. We virtually lived in boats. We have seen crops that grew along with the rising water-the paddy varieties like Desaria, Barogar, Malmardan etc. Their plants grew along with rising water. The water level in the Kosi never rose higher than eight or ten feet. And today it is 15 feet during six to eight months every year. There used to be waterlogging for two months only, whereas it continues for eight months presently. All of you must be knowing that the river used to recede with the playing of drums in Durgapooja. Where are our real rivers now? All of them are fake ones. the Kosi, the Kamala, the Balan, the Tilyuga—all the rivers are ravaged today. They are in the bondage of embankments. The soil carried by the Kosi is not fertile. When the soil carried by the Kamala, the Balan and other rivers mixed with it, turned into a fertile one. This admixture of soils created a new kind of soil creating forests and a productive habitat thereby. But everything was lost. I would appeal to those designing schemes inside air-conditioned chambers to come out and face the ground realities of the Kosi area, listen to the views of common people and design schemes only after that. But then the pity is we have to make the blind see and make the deaf hear. We have to tell them about the sufferings of twenty lakh people living in the Kamala-Kosi area—about what they gained from these schemes. We are asked to make sacrifice; we shall certainly do that; but we shall do that in the interest of the country and society at large; we shall do that in the battle field; we shall make sacrifices everywhere but never to promote and fulfill the petty interests. We want our farmlands and farmyards back; we want our Kosi back. Let the water flow on—let the river flow on. The farce that has been enacted in the name of science, in the name of embankments, must be opposed tooth and nail. There is the issue of Barahkshetra dam : what will happen to it in case of an earthquake? China is there : what will happen in case of a war? We bribed away Tibet to China only to seek protection from war. We did strike a friendship—but more with China than with Tibet. The river Kosi originates in Tibet. If China is such a good friend, why not ask it to control the Kosi for three months for our sake? Let it handle the waters of the Kosi so long as we are not able to use it here. If we are to harness the source of water; there should be a distribution of the Kosi waters in China and Tibet too.
They were to give us house for a house—did anyone get it? We were to get land for land—did anyone have it? We were to get jobs—did anyone get any? Our entire area is waterlogged for six months every year—and this is the only infrastructure we have! We know no one can regenerate our lost environment—so it would be futile to talk about it. Does anyone know anywhere about the fate of twenty lakh people ? Do you know where does the Kosi Sufferers Development Authority exist and what it does? There might perhaps be some information about it in some book authered by Dinesh Mishra. There are many paper organizations around—some don't even exist on paper. I have tried to raise all these issues on national level and I have approached the Gandhians, the Sarvodayists and whosoever I could get to in order to generate a debate on them. The Gandhians introduced me to Dinesh Mishraji. He has done a remarkable job of documentation; he has presented the historical and scientific aspects of floods very coherently; but a lot has been left out even then. This material is lost in government files and archives. A perusal of that material could perhaps reveal the actual shape of theKosi Project and the concept of the command area some 40- 50 years back. What was its extent and what was the kind of infrastructure to be developed? This work is yet to be done, Mishraji. When I was a student I had formed the Kosi Student's Association in order to provide information to people about that area as also to work there. I think we should conduct a ground survey of that area. Mishraji has done this work for years. I need people like him. And hence I have a proposal for you. I am not asking you to follow me; just move along with me. My time is yours—and you spare your time for me. I was sorting it out with And Prakashji a while ago. I plan to put aside a part of my salary for arranging a motor boat. I have got some old timber and two pumping sets; we shall put them together and build a motor boat. I have seen such boats in Banaras and Allahabad. We shall move in them. And then we shall see what is the Kosi like during the rains; and also what the embankments have done to the rivers. You will be able to see a virtual ocean then; you will be able to see a veritable deluge and terrible waterlogging then. Please visit this area : I shall be there along with you; and so will be the Kosi Kamala Visthapan Munch and Jan Chetna Parishad.
If we could do something like this we would be able to build a pressure on scientists not to design any project without examining and understanding the society and to keep man in the centre of it. Whether it is science, or technology, or whatever, it is important to judge it on thebasis of how much it touches human beings on the basis of the nature of its exchange with them. Somehow some people have an illusion that science, government and religion have got everything to bestow upon society, whereas the society has got nothing of the kind. In fact, it is the society that generates science, that creates religion and that brings about development. I am perceiving the dangers of an export culture too, lurking all around. They will come and set up factories; we shall serve them and export our raw materials to them. We have turned into petty customers in their market.
'Let us talk about national policy before we talk about water policy. Stability is the core message of India; man must be saved for future; he is anxiety-ridden today. But the country is hurtling ahead without any ideology, reflection or ideals. What is the message of India today? Is the common man of India in the centre of our concerns? No one even questions this blind movement of the country, let alone try to stop it. When it is time for electing leaders all the racketeers, smugglers and black marketeers come ahead to do the job. The crooks rule the roost in the formation of our government. I had read a very illuminating allegory on the process of our development in a report circulated by UNESCO. It goes like this : A fish lived in a river very comfortably. Some time later a monkey came and started living on a tree nearby. It struck a friendship with the fish Both lived together—the fish in the river and the monkey on the tree. It rained a bit too much that year and the water level rose up in the river. The fish could very well save itself from water—it knew how to do that. But the monkey had no idea about it; got jittery. It said to the fish it will be left alone in case the latter went away to save itself from the excessive water. And then it suggested to it : Do one thing, take a high long jump; you can do it easily. It is only a matter of one long jump from somewhere close to the bank—and you will be out of the river. And then I will pick you up and drop you into a pond nearby. After the rains are over I will drop you back into the river in the same way; and thus we shall continue to live together. The fish liked the idea out of friendship and it came out of the river in one jump. The monkey started pushing it towards the pond. After a few steps the fish got breathless and the poor creature of water croaked. And so that is that : those who abandon their habitat and tradition, their resources and strengths, their knowledge system, society and culture well, they will die the pitiful death of that fish. And as for the monkey—well, it will remain monkey after all. Science is a risky affair : not used properly, it can backfire easily. Politicians are like scorpions inside a bottle—they keep on stinging one another. We have to do the job of corking the bottle up. We should cork up science too in this manner. So long as man is not the focus of our attention, it will be difficult to save our society and country as well as the horizon all of you wish to create.'
Making his statement on the issue Sri Anil Prakash said : 'I am here in Nirmali for the first time. This is the place where the foundation of the Kosi project was laid fifty years back by some great personalities. The then central planning minister C. H. Bhabha and Dr. Rajendra Prasad were present here on the occasion. I bow to their patriotism and love for the people; but, nevertheless, the project took an undesirable shape as has been presented very neatly by Sri Ram Chandra Khanji—and that does not need to be repeated. The fate of twenty lakh people was doomed at the time—absolutely doomed; even now there is no way out for them. And now here is this new proposal to build a dam in the Himalayan region. When the Kosi embankment was breached in 1984 near Nauhatta I had also been there. Shraddhanandji is here—they were agitating for compensation instead of relief it was a very powerful agitation. A close look revealed that the level of the river bed of the embankment was 8 feet higher than that of the outlying area. As of now, the difference is said to be around 15 to 20 feet. Now, if there is any breach in the embankment ever again in the future there, the magnitude of likely devastation can very well be imagined. When some engineers were accused of neglect in their duties after the breach occurred, they said they had already written to the concerned authorities about the expiry of the 25 year period for which the embankments were supposed to be in sound condition. When we wondered how could such a project be designed at all, they said we had better ask the project designers about it. It is a pity there was not a single engineer who could say the project was being designed in a wrong manner and hence he opposed it. And the crisis is there before us. As for the issue of high dam, Mishraji has told us in detail about it. This one dam will displace 5 lakh people in Nepal. The same thing is being proposed near Karnali and Almora. Around ten Iakh people will-be displaced there too. Where will they go? In India two and a half crore people have been displaced during last 50 years owing to 1500 high dams, factories and mines. The total population of Nepal is around one crore and eighty lakhs. Now if ten lakh people out of this are displaced, we can very well appreciate the gravity of the situation. The present cost of the Barahkshetra dam is said to be 25,000 crore rupees. But going by the track record of such projects, it will not be completed at less than two lakh crore rupees. Four such dams are in the offing. If work is started on them today, the total cost will work out to be rupees eight lakh crore. Our total foreign debt was 3 lakh crore rupees in 1992 and we had to bow our heads before all and sundry. Where are we heading towards, after all? Many companies and Japanese Super Fund are more than ready to provide loans for their own gains. The planners are not at all interested in the schemes of small dams and powerhouses which could be built at low cost and which would start benefiting people immediately. A big delusion has been created in entire north Bihar that the construction of the Kosi high dam will be a permanent solution to the problem of floods. But it would not be so—the flood problem will worsen in fact. A dam has its own level of flow. Once the waters cross that level the gates have to be opened. There is a very small dam at Banka, called Chandan Dam. Some two years back ten feet high mass of water started overflowing there. All the gates had to be opened. And the result was : five hundred people lost their lives; cattle died in thousands, and lakhs of acres of farmlands was devastated. Even the thermal power plant at Kahalgaon 150 Kms. away was affected by the disaster. Railway lines were washed away and numerous bridges were demolished. If such a small dam can cause such enormous misery, we can very well foresee the potential danger of a mega structure like Kosi high dam. A blunder was made in Nirmali fifty years back-almost a sin was committed, so to say. And it shoved twenty lakh people straight into the jaws of death : they have been having a hell of a time since then. If the construction of these four dams is taken up, that will spell a doom for the very survival of the people of north Bihar. If we could take a resolve here today to create an environment of stiff opposition to these dams right from here to Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and even in Nepal, this conference would prove to be worthwhile. We had been to Farakka recently. The flow of Ganga was obstructed there by building a barrage across it in 1975. There are 109 gates in it, but no power is generated. In the district of Malda to the left of the barrage and in the district of Murshidabad to the right of it, an area of 750 sq. kms. growing paddy and wheat as well as having mango and litchi orchards in it was devastated. A rough estimate has it that nearly 6 lakh people have been displaced in Malda and Murshidabad. The entire area of Dhulian is threatened and the survival of Malda itself is uncertain. The bed-level of the Ganga is rising up owing to the barrage and this is causing the bed-levels of the rivers joining Ganga from Farakka to Allahabad to rise up all the time. There is no system of drainage at all. Recently I got an opportunity to go through a report on the Gandak Command. The report says that an area of ten Lakh hectares is waterlogged in Bihar. Now this is a very dangerous trend. The movement of fishes from the sea has stopped. The varieties of fish called 'jhinga', 'hilsa' and 'banas' are extinct. In eight states the river waters join the Ganga. Fishes reach there from the sea through the Ganga via Farakka. Three fourth of the fishes were destroyed owing to the Farakka barrage causing heavy loss to the country. Nearly one and a half crore fishermen have lost their livelihood. The Ganga Mukti Andolan has decided recently to mobilise public opinion on a large scale in tandem with Barh Mukti Abhiyan and other organizations on the issues of Farakka and Kosi high dam. And I feel so happy to be here and interact with you and do hope we shall be able to raise our voices in an organized manner.'
Representatives from Multiple Action Research Group (MARG), Delhi, Messrs. Nikhil Verma and Subrata Dey maintained that so far our emphasis in development has evolved round the trickle down theory. That is, even if the development starts at the top, the benefits will trickle down to the lower strata on their own. This system, however, has not worked and we will have to empower the last man. This is possible only through small projects over which the community can exercise it’s direct control. Mega-projects and large dams do not subscribe to this idea. There is a need to amend the land acquisition laws making it more difficult. The need for a National Rehabilitation Policy will have to emphasized once again. Do people weigh all the pros and cons before they cut the embankment. They felt that in the projects like Narmada, the Tehri and Korba there always have been a dearth of information regarding the displacement and rehabilitation package. It should be our endeavor to disseminate all the available information to the people and struggle for the right to information.
Shri Vimal Verma (Supaul) blamed the administration for its indifference towards the damages caused by such projects and the sufferings of the people. He lamented that the medium through which one could reach one's voice to the top is of no use to us. He also expressed concern over the rising costs, gestation periods and truncated benefits from the projects.
The resolution session was presided over by Sri Rameshwar Singh and conducted by Sri Ranjeev.
The delegates passed the following six resolutions unanimously after an elaborate discussion on them. Forty friends participated in the discussion. The list of the friends who participated in debates on it is appended herein.
One of the important issues that emerged out of the debate was that most of the local participants wanted a separate session on Bhutahi Balan which could not be possible for lack of time. It was hoped that Barh Mukti Abhiyan will take an initiative on this issue very soon with the help of local organizations : a team will be formed to study the related problems and a separate conference will be organized on the problem of Bhutahi Balan alone. Sri Dev Nath Devan raised the issue of forming district level units of Barh Mukti Abhiyan, but many friends were of the view that this should be done by the local organizations and Barh Mukti Abhiyan should only extend necessary support to them.
Sri Ram Chandra Khan averred that we do not want freedom from floods; infact, we very much want floods. But this should be a natural flood and not the present man-made one. He laid emphasis on the use of the term flood management' rather than 'flood Control'.
Sri Kishan Kaljayee said that the existing 'cultural resources of this region should be promoted in order to disseminate information on the flood problem. Some friends dwelt upon the programmes to be taken up in future in their areas. Sri Tariq Rahman of `Sahyog', Gorakhpur, proposed to carry out a discussion on the problems of flood and waterlogging through `Samvet' and offered to send a copy of the same to each delegate regularly. The following six proposals were passed unanimously in the conference.
The Resolution Adopted in the Flood Sufferers Conference (Nirmali) held on April 5-6, 1997
1. We vehemently oppose the proposed construction of Barahkshetra High Dam in Nepal. We also oppose any outlay on any development project going against the larger interests of common people. The development projects designed through the active participation of common people alone can realize the true goals of development. And, hence, we shall wage a fierce struggle against the implementation of any development project going against the larger public interest.
2. An evaluation of all the programmes carried out to date under the flood control and irrigation projects be made by local people's organizations and the report thereof be published and circulated widely.
3. A new Flood Commission be constituted to explore alternative measures of water management (flood control) and let it be mandatory to include the representatives of people's organizations working on the issues of floods and waterlogging in it as members.
4. Wherever there is a breach in embankments caused by the floods or affected by the local people in order to save their lives, let the local organizations help one another in projecting the people's version of the actual situation.
5. Let the programmes of public meeting, seminar, symposium, padyatra etc. be carried out every year on April 6 and November 10/11/12 (the dates on which the Flood Conference was held in Patna in 1937) in order to raise awareness among people on the issue of floods.
6. Let the activities relating to arts and culture as well as to local folk arts be made an integral part of the campaign.
The following participants made active contribution in the adoption of aforementioned resolutions.
1. Sri Madhusudan Pd. Yadav-Laukahi, Madhubani.
2. Sri Rakesh Kr. Verma-Balhi, Saharsa.
3. Sri Satya Narayan Mandal.
4. Sri Nand Kishore Ray.
5. Sri Singheshwar Bhai-Salakhua, Saharsa.
6. Sri Acharya Yogeshwar-Rajanpur, Saharsa.
7. Sri Anil Kr. Lala-Darbhanga.
8. Sri Kishore-Katihar.
9. Acharya Baldeo Singh-Gopalganj.
10. Sri Ramashis Raman-Khajauli.
11. Sri Shyam Nandan Ray-Ghanshyampur, Darbhanga.
12. Sri Kishan Kaljayee-Jamalpur.
13. Sri Avinash.
14. Sri Ram Prasad `Roshan' - Saharsa
15. Sri Vijay Kr. Verma.
16. Sri Haldhar Bhai-Patna.
17. Sri Amardeo Kamat-Marauna.
18. Sri Indradeo Kamat-Marauna.
19. Sushri Sarojini Naidu-Khagaria.
20. Sri Hari Kant Jha--Jhanjharpur.
21. Sri Digambar-Khairi, Madhepur.
22. Sri Surya Nath Singh Yadav-Khagaria.
23. Sri Ram Nandan Kamat-Madhubani.
24. Sri Nalini Kant-Koilakh
25. Sri Rameshwar Singh-Hazaribagh
26. Sri Badri Narayan Pandit-Bhapatiyahi, Supaul.
27. Sri Tariq Rahman-Gorakhpur.
28. Sri Yogendra Paswan-Saur Bazar, Saharsa.
29. Sri Shyam Narayan Mandal-Dagmara.
30. Sri Danilal Sah.
31. Sri Ranjeev-Saharsa.
32. Sri Shashi Bhushan-Saharsa.
33. Sri Rajendra Jha-Saharsa.
34. Sri Devnath Devan-Madhubani.
35. Sri Ram Chandra Khan-Patna.
36. Sri Dinesh Kumar Mishra-Jamshedpur.
37. Sri Bhubaneshwar Singh-Siwan.
38. Sri Rajendra Singh-Saran.
39. Sri Anil Prakash-Muzaffarpur.
40. Sri Prem Kr. Verma-Khagaria
41. Sri Ajay Kumar-Vaishali.
42. Sri Nikhil Verma-New Delhi.
43. Sri Pancham Bhai Kunauli.
Vote of Thanks
The vote of thanks was proposed by Sri Badri Narayan Pandit at the end of the session.
A public meeting was held later in the afternoon in order to interact with the local people at large on the issues discussed in the conference. It was very well attended. It was presided over by Sri Dinesh Kumar Mishra and conducted by Sri Vijay Kumar.
Delivering the opening speech in the meeting, Dr. M. P. Yadav from the Bhutahi Balan area said : The conference has been going on here for two days. There has been a lot of discussion on the problems of the Kosi-Kamala area. But no discussion was held on the Bhutahi Balan which is barely 6 kms. away from here. Primarily, the blocks of Laukahi, Laukaha, Phulparas, Ghoghardiha, Madhepur in the Madhubani district and some parts of the Darbhanga district are affected by this river. The economic condition of the people living in the area ranging from Phulparas and Narahiya to Bhaptiyahi and Banvari has far worsened owing to floods. And hence there is a lot of resentment in people here. The people of fifty two villages had constituted a committee through which they had tried to project their problems in the legislative assembly as well as in the parliament. But no discussion could be held on them in today's deliberations. They say in our area that 'Aayal Balan ta banhlaun dalan' au gel Balan ta tutal dalan' : that is to say , people built up new houses in the wake of spate in Balan but their houses are in a sad state right since it has been embanked. No one said that when Balan flowed freely there used to be a bumper crop in the area. The yield was as good as two and a half maunds of paddy per katha. And hence the rivers should be allowed to flow without any hindrance. Anything contrary to this affects our mode of life, agricultural production and culture adversely. Today the production of paddy has decreased a lot in areas ranging from Bhaptiyahi to Sarauni and Neema. Previously the crop of wheat was grown in some measure but even that is in a bad shape now. There are no civic amenities. There are no roads. If somehow we get to Nirmali trains provide some relief. But even that becomes uncertain during rains. So this is the plight of 300 villages affected by Bhutahi Balan and hence people of fifty two villages had formed an action committee for its alleviation. But nothing came of it at all. This situation generates a lot of tension in Narahiya and Phulparas frequently. We should make an effort to diffuse this tension by persuading the people there to channelise their resentment for some permanent solution to the problems.
Sushri Sarojini Naidu from Khagaria expressed her views briefly after Dr. Yadav. She said she felt glad to have got an opportunity to say something. She lamented that no one understands the sufferings of women. She requested the Barh Mukti Abhiyan workers to involve as many women as possible in the various activities carried out by them. Sri Dayaramji from the Kosi-Kamala doab presented his statement after that. He said : 'We should consider the issues of floods and waterlogging very seriously. Our area lying in the Madhepur block is affected by the rivers the Kamala, the Gehuma, the Sugarve, the Bhutahi Balan and the Kosi. All of our problems have been caused by embankments built along them. Were they not there, we would have been safe. The floods we suffer are not natural ones; they are purely man-made. Some people have their vested interests in this. It won't be possible for us to find a way out without all movement. So, let us raise our voices together and make an organized effort to this end.'
Sri Bindeshwari Paswan coming from the terminal end of the western Kosi embankment said : 'I am from a village called Pachbhinda in Samani Panchayat in the district of Saharsa. My area has been severely waterlogged for past 25 years. You could not move there from one house to another without a boat throughout the year. As chance had it, embankments came to be built along the Balan in 1992 and they terminated it opposite my village. The silt carried by the Balan waters was deposited in the entire area. We desperately wanted the embankment work to be postponed for a working season or two so that our entire area got enough deposit of silt to stop waterlogging. But the leaders did not agree and extended the embankment. Today the work is suspended and the work on the embankment has come to a halt near Jallai-Mallai. Owing to this, the entire area lying from Samani to Ghoghepur, where the western Kosi embankment terminates, has continued to be completely waterlogged. No one listened to what we had to say. Now what else can we do but curse the embankments along the Kosi and the Balan? There are no facilities for education or health in the area. You name any problem and you will find it there. It is so difficult to list them out. We have been talking about waging a struggle on the issue of floods and other problems arising from the embanking of rivers and it looks as though we have come together for the cause at long last. We shall not follow anyone blindly any more now—we shall be in the forefront and move along with one another. This is our firm resolve now.'
Sri Brahmadeo Chaudhary coming from the rehabilitation village Kathghara Punarwas settled outside of the eastern Kosi embankment, said : 'While listening to Khan Saheb today I felt he will inspire us a lot and we shall be able to fight on the issues relating to the Kosi. I would like to say something about the relief work being carried out in the Kosi area. It was announced that each family will get two and a half maunds of food grains as well as two hundred and twenty five rupees in cash. Those whose houses have been eroded and who have taken shelter on the embankments will get polythene sheets as well as two hundred rupees for making makeshift houses. But the Circle Officer said that no family will get more than ten kilograms of food grains. And perhaps no one received any cash payment also. So this is how things tare like in our area : the farce of relief is at its peak there.'
'Sri Ramji Sanmukh from Ranipatti, Supaul, said : Since yesterday we have been talking about various rivers of this state and the country. The more we grasp and assimilate these ideas, the more good it will do us. Outdated system and techniques have been foisted on us. There must have been some political or other kind of vested interests behind this. It is not that the circumstances have changed today : formerly it was the issue of embankments and presently it is that of the Barahkshetra dam. Three main channels called Sun Kosi, Tama Kosi and Arun come together to form the Kosi. A move is afoot to divert Sun Kosi in order to make it join the Kamala. We know absolutely nothing about the plans being designed over there in the mountains. It is being done in a very organized manner and is not confined to the Kosi alone; it is an effort to bring our society into a devilish grip. This organized effort can be fought off only with the help of an organized power. But our organizations splinter up and weaken our struggles thereby. However, when I see people gathered Mere from diverse areas of this state and the country at large, a hope is kindled inside me that a powerful voice of protest will emerge now. Even today the young men of our villages are very emotional; they can be organized with some effort; and they will certainly come forward selflessly. It is only a matter of seeking 'and extending cooperation. I am sure we shall be successful in our mission in future.'
Sushri Rajo Devi Patel (Khagaria) sang a revolutionary song after Sri Ramji Sanmukh finished with his speech. And then Sri Bechan Kamat (Nirmali) expressed his sentiments by quoting the following inspiring lines of a famous Hindi poet:
'Nar ho na nirash karo man ko
jag me rah kar kuchh kaam karo
Kuchh naam karo'
(Do not lose your heart, o man !
Do something worthwhile in life
Do make a name thereby.)
Continuing his speech Sri Kamat further said : “A conference had been held in Nirmali fifty years back. And this time round it has been held on a larger scale. Floods, have been an age-old phenomenon. There is a flood somewhere or other all the time. We shall have to step ahead in tandem with Barh Mukti Abhiyan. No organization can work properly unless we are united on human ground. Strength comes out of unity. We can deal with floods or any other calamity with the help of a powerful organization. We shall have to forget all our petty differences and get united on human considerations. And then, I am sure, we shall be successful in our venture.'
A well-known social activist of the region Sri Tapeshwar Bhai, said : This conference has initiated a discussion on the issue of floods after fifty years again. This place has had one positive dimension to it—it has been a land of movements. It is up to us now how we draw upon this fact. This has been my area of work : I have been working in Saharsa for past 25 years as also in the blocks of Phulparas and Ghoghardiha in the adjoining Madhubani district. I keep on grappling with the problem of floods here. I have had experiences of crossing the river Kosi during floods. I have studied the problems faced by the people of this area. The rivers Kosi, Kamala, Bhutahi Balan, Gehuma and others flow here. My own area is affected by Bhutahi Balan and Gehuma. Recently I moved around a lot in the Kosi areas in connection with the distribution of Bhudan land. I have been confronting a lot of problems, my dear activist friends When floods come, many people, including government officials, bide the right time for relief work to begin so that they could make a fast buck. There were many struggling friends in this region, but all of them were taken for a ride and led astray. When the Kosi embankment was breached by the floods at Nauhatta in 1984 there was an agitation for compensation there. I met the then minister Sri Lahatan Choudharyji in that regard. He visited the area soon after. We told him that the entire responsibility for the breach in embankment lies with the government. And hence it should pay compensation to the victims. Even after spending lakhs of rupees on them the embankments are breached all too often. Lakhs of people are turned homeless in no time. And this is so not only once or at one place alone. It happens so many times at the same place and people keep on being homeless. The people of this region were in the forefront of that agitation and went to jail during it. So all this has been a part of the history of this region.
And then there was the issue of smuggling oxen into Bangladesh through this area for slaughtering them on the sly. When people came to know of it they staged demonstration and stopped this. This was done here in Nirmali. Now the middlemen do not dare do this. And I am sure the people of this region will struggle similarly on issues relating to the Kosi, the Kamala and the Bhutahi Balan under their own leadership and they will succeed on their own. Vinobaji had said that being a border area this region will turn out to be the last frontier of struggle and hence workers from all over the country gathered here during the `gramdan' movement. This region has also played a leading role in the movement to realize the vision of 'gram swaraj’ (local self-rule) put forward by Gandhi, J. P. and Vinoba. So I have no doubt at all that when we start a struggle on these issues we must succeed.' Sri Tapeshwar Bhai ended his speech by quoting the following inspiring couplet :
'Jahaan par chaah hoti hai
Wahaan par raah hoti hai
Lagan sachchi kabhi bhi
nahin gumrah hoti hai'
(Where there is a will
there is a way
And an earnest devotion
is never led astray)
Delivering his speech Sri Shivanand Bhai of the 'Gram Bharati', Simultala said : I was here only to register my presence. After moving around in the area and interacting with local people, I have come to the conclusion that time is ripe now for launching an action programme instead of holding conferences. But the nature of the action to be carried out is a moot point, because there is a world of difference between a violent and a non-violent struggle Solidarity is vital in a non-violent struggle; and there should be no gap between word and deed. Those who profess concern will have to come forward to participate actively in the struggle. I have been preoccupied with certain pressing obligations. But one must lead this struggle nevertheless, meanwhile although I am not yet prepared for this. There were certain reasons beyond my control that hindered my full devotion to this cause. Anyway, I am happy that an environment of struggle is being built up, after all!. The struggle which should be carried out to liberate some 20-25 lakh people out of the jaws of death has been going on merely in the shape of discussions, conferences and meetings till now. I feel we should go beyond all this and bring the issue directly to the forefront now. We shall have to rouse the people trapped in the jaws of death into action and call a halt to the devious design going on against them. So far as my knowledge goes, which is based on studies, rivers and cows have been the mainstay of India's culture and civilization; our social texture has been woven around them. But it is a most lamentable fact that these very foundations of our culture are threatened. Most of you live in villages; and you have been witnessing the onslaught made and still being made on the rivers. Similarly, wherever there were a thousand cows formerly, hardly a hundred are left now. Arid the manner in which our cows and oxen are being smuggled for slaughter, their number will dwindle to such an extent within next 5-10 years that they will be mere exhibit in zoos.
And hence we must protect them. I had been to Koel Karo last year. Nearly 50 villages are likely to be submerged there. The local people took a resolve to fight against this. There is no one like Dinesh Mishra or Ram Chandra Khan there; nor are there any activists like us there. But there is a tribal chieftain who rose up against it and persuaded people to assert that the project won't take off without their consent. Last year our Chief Minister declared that if the Prime Minister did not agree to lay the foundation stone of the project, he would do it himself—no one can stop it. I too went there on the occasion. Some thirty thousand men, women and children had gathered at the site to resist it. Children were in the forefront and behind them were old women and men, while a large batch of young men was in the rear. They moved in a non-violent manner—in a true Gandhian spirit. They were absolutely non-violent. And the Chief Minister dared not go there to lay the foundation. Millions of rupees are lying there for the Koel Karo Project, but it cannot be launched. The same kind of organization is needed here too. We shall have to organize some 20-25 lakh people. We shall have to mobilise nearly 5 lakh people in Patna. But this dam will have to be stopped. It is a question of people's survival—they will decide it themselves. We have so many people and organizations with us. And hence I would appeal that a massive conference be organized. Howsoever small we might be individually, our collective strength is mighty. Please remember the first meeting of Gandhiji and Kripalani. Gandhiji asked Kripalani— ‘What are you doing these days?’ He replied-1 am teaching history. ‘To this Gandhiji said’ Well, don't teach history, create it. ‘And hence all we have to do is to organize people and rouse them up into united action. Let the people create history.’
Focussing on the misery of people living in the Kosi-Kamala Balan area, Sri Ram Chandra Khan said It is true that people from other areas are here too and they also bristle with problems, but our problems are much too crucial and frightening. Three generations have already been destroyed by this project in our area and when I think of the coming generations likely to be destroyed by it; I shudder at the very thought. All this, in fact, is an outcome of the willfulness of leaders. I was talking about Tibet a short while ago. One blunder made by India propelled it into unending miseries. India will have to take enormous pains to mend this. Had people like Jawaharlalji not been there, we could not have known the world, we could not have learnt English, we would have been ignorant of so many things. We have no model of the extent to which an idealist person can maintain his idealism while in power. So lakhs of people were sacrificed in Tibet and if one man can be held responsible for this, that was definitely Jawaharlalji. His vacillating approach, his lack of capability to take a proper decision at a proper time and his lack of sensitivity caused it. In fact, when a man of great stature makes even a tiny mistake, it assumes large proportions. I do not think my intervention about Tibet right now is a deviation. You would perhaps be aware that there is an organization called Indo-Tibetan Friendship Association and I am the president of its Bihar unit. We have decided to send a memorandum signed by 15 lakh citizens of Bihar to the Government of India raising the issue of the human rights of Tibetan citizens. We are planning to send in memoranda carrying one crore signatures from all over the country to the parliament. It will be forwarded to the United Nations Organization from there. I appeal to all of you to cooperate with me in this endeavour. In fact, ours is a fraternity of restless people. There are 20-25 lakh restless people in the Kosi-Kamala-Balan area—and so are similarly restless people in Tibet. We should work shoulder to shoulder with them.
I was talking with Dr. Agrawal this afternoon about the Chipko movement. The government was up against the mountains and forests in the sixties. And around the same time the people rose up here in the Kamala-Kosi-Balan area against the self-seeking leaders, middlemen and contractors who were masquerading to serve the interests of people. It had been demanded by the people of the area right then that the project documents lying with the government be made public. Now imagine : some 42 years back when the debate on environment and development was yet to be initiated; when we merely talked about doing constructive work; when the whole thing was only confined to the master plan in the UNO documents; as early as that the people of the Kosi-Kamala-Balan area had agitated against that model of development, that kind of science, the tempting slogans thereof and the vicious politics lying behind them. So let there be no illusion in anyone's mind that this area can ever be suppressed. This area was wide awake even when the terminology of scientific development had not yet gained currency. We had negated this model of development, this kind of science, the politics lying behind them and the slogans pertaining to them as early as that. And yet this terrible thing did happen and thereafter 20 lakh people of the area lived in a state of constant fear. There is no division in our area based on caste or religion—there is absolutely no division at all. The people of the area will never be taken in by any divisive designs. We all of us are absolutely united on the issue of our river. Howsoever much even a big leader might try to create confusion among people, he won't succeed; he will find me up against him like a rock. There is a tiny fraternity of people against whom is pitted the entire strength of science and present order, that of the state and technology, and that of middlemen, contractors and media : surely you must appreciate its tenacity and vitality. The state is out to take us on with all its might, but we are undeterred. And coming to that, the British too had exercised their might and so had other aggressors and Alexander the Great. But there is absolutely no trace of their crown and throne and emperorship. The imperialists have changed their strategy now—they want markets and not empires now. As it is, history reckons itself mostly not in terms of years or decades but in terms of centuries. The people living in the Kosi-Kamala-Balan area never struck a compromise against their interests. We did not even present any demands. But we did protest and resist; we did seek redressal and try to carve a new path for us. And now the time has come to project the sufferings of this area before the country and the world at large. Do not merely follow time passively. Were the leaders like Tilak, Lal, Bal, Pal and Savarkar any the smaller in stature than Gandhi? But there was a difference : when Gandhi got back from Africa, he said he wanted to know this country first. And right since then the country started knowing him. Gandhi listened to the call of the times; he grasped the movement of the times; and that made a world of difference.
We kept mum but did not accept defeat. Children in the Kosi area have not been going to school for past fifty years. The daughters of the area have not been married off at a proper age. It has been a long time indeed. Who would like to establish relationship in an area where the people cannot feed their kinfolks? If people somehow do marry their daughters off, it is difficult to send them to their husband's home; and if they are sent off somehow ritually, they are sent back, because we do not have anything to offer in dowry. We lost our farmlands; we lost our cattle. We virtually swallowed up poison. Not a single document has been prepared to date justifying the fact that it was proper to build embankments in the Kosi-Kamala-Balan area. What, in fact, has happened on the contrary is that even those who favoured it are now up against it today.
'I greet you and your friends heartily, Dinesh Kumar Mishraji, on behalf of the people of the Kamala-Kosi-Balan area as well as the people of this entire region for holding this conference here. We also thank you for listening to the accounts of our sufferings, for studying our miseries, for collecting informations on our condition and for disseminating them far and wide in this province and the entire country. I am with you all the time and I would expect you to be with me likewise. Shivanand Bhai brought along some medicines in our area. He is also running a programme of building 470 houses there. Well, 470 houses are but nothing in a population of 20 lakhs. But then his noble drive must be appreciated; and, moreover, at least a model will be created here anyway and some workers trained in the process. Dinesh Mishraji, if you want to continue your documentation work, some 20-30 volumes more can be prepared even now. They can cover all the aspects of the situation—the falsity of science, the falsity of so-called development, the deceit of politics and the deceit of state power; all this is yet to be written about. I assure you my utmost help in this venture. We shall come here again, we shall meet again—we shall keep on interacting. What we need, in fact, is a friendship with rivers. You talk about freedom from floods; but I feel we need our floods—we do not want freedom from it. But we do want to be freed from unnatural and unscientific floods. What we want, in fact is not flood control but water management and all our efforts must be directed to that end.'
The last speech of the meeting was delivered by Sri Mangan insan. Sri Insan is in the forefront of a powerful agitation against the embankments built in the Mahananda basin which are either breached by floods or by people constantly. He said We have talked a lot about corruption and dishonesty. We have had a long track record of dishonesty. A few people have deceived a vast majority for centuries in the name of religion and tradition as well as on the basis of social and gender inequity. We were turned into slaves to age-old customs. There is only one religion in essence—the religion of humanity; and it was exactly the one that was suppressed.
I was born into a very poor family. I have not had any formal education. I was a wage labourer; but I have been in public life since 1942-43. Work on the Mahananda embankment was started way back in 1971. I had opposed it even then. But I did believe, nevertheless, that if embankments were built along the north bank of Riga (Panar) and western bank of the Mahananda, the people of the area would definitely benefit from it ten years later—if not immediately. Some twelve panchayats of the Kadava (Katihar) block and fourteen panchayats of Purnea district lie in this area. It was necessary to build these embankments to save the crops and lives of the people in the area.
I did raise this in my meeting with the district collector and engineers in 1972. R. C. Jain Saheb was the collector at the time and he agreed to it on my persuation. But the engineers did not agree and stuck to their proposal. They contended that after the scheme is implemented there will be an excess of only 15 cms. of water between the Mahananda and the Riga; and hence there was nothing to be worried about. But today there is an inflow of 6 ft-8 ft high water in the area which can very well drown human beings. It is exactly these embankments that have endangered the security of human life, crops and settlements there. There were no more crops in the area since the embankments were built.vWhen water level rises menacingly people breach the southern embankment along the Riga or the eastern one along the Mahananda for their security. The breaching of embankments by people is a regular affair in Brinda Bad, Kachaura and other places. When flood water starts flowing over the rooftops, people are left with no option but to breach the embankments. This year they were breached by local people at three points near Kadava block for self-protection and we have started an agitation against the plugging of breaches.
When I was a member of the legislative assembly, I had put forward many suggestions. I had raised the issue of extending the railway bridge at Sonapur. When the scheme was designed only two extra pillars were erected in it for the drainage of water which was not adequate. The bridge was in a miserable state in the years 1984, 1985 and 1987. In 1991 water kept on flowing over it for nearly 12 hours near Jhaua. It was a relief that the embankment was breached at Belwari, otherwise the bridge would have been washed away. The length of the bridge must be extended some day or other. The trouble is that engineers design structures on the basis of drawings and contours, whereas we grow along with rivers and as such have more experience, but they feel it infra dig to discuss things with us. And it is difficult to fill this gap up. The river bed has become flat below Jhaua and hence water is not drained out properly, but there is no such problem in its upper reaches. Sluice gates can very well be constructed in embankments there.
We already knew that waters will be obstructed and thereby swell inside of the embankments; but we had absolutely no idea that there would be a severe waterlogging in the area outside of them. And we got to know this too only gradually that embankments could be breached as well. But now the condition is such that they are breached every year unfailingly somewhere or other—whether at Kachaura or Sikatia or Baharkhal or at Chandpur. And if they are not breached how will the waters be drained out ? So, when flood waters do not breach them, they are breached by people, because there is no other way out.
Actually the problem is that the ministers say they work on the advice of engineers as the entire issue is a technical one; whereas the engineers say that they cannot function independently and they have to work according to the wishes and instructions of politicians. The irony is that the affected people never get an opportunity to meet them together and discuss the problems with them; and so while the leaders and engineers get along as merrily on as ever, the people continue to have a hell of a time. ... I suppose there must have been good intentions behind the construction of embankments but they turned out to be counter-productive.
'Vinod Kumarji told you in detail about how things are like in the Mahananda area at present. We shall not allow the government to plug the breaches in the Mahananda embankments. Some friends have advised us to wage a legal battle on the issue. Well, how can we wage a legal battle unless we survive? Yes, we shall fight on legal level too—that is there; but the issue will be resolved through the people's movement alone.'
The convener of Barh Mukti Abhiyan, Sri Dinesh Kumar Mishra, proposed a vote of thanks after Sri Insan's speech and the conference came to an end with that.
बाढ़ मुक्ति अभियान बाढ़ पीड़ितों का निर्मली सम्मेलन निर्मली, जिला- सुपौल, बिहार रिपोर्ट 5-6 अप्रैल 1997
(हिन्दी, अंग्रेजी में पढ़ने के लिये नीचे दिये गये लिंक पर क्लिक करें।)