We welcome you all to this meeting to discuss the problem of floods in north Bihar and its possible solutions. We had a long cherished desire to hold such a meeting in Darbhanga and that day has finally come today.
Why are we holding this meeting and specially on this day has got some significance. It was on this day, the 6th April 2000, fifty three years ago, that a meeting of the Kosi Sufferers was held at Nirmali and it was attended by the veteran leaders of their times. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Sri Krishna Sinha and Gulzarilal Nanda, Lalit Narayan Mishra, Hari Nath Mishra etc. etc. Some 60,000 people who were hit regularly by the floods of the Kosi also attended this meeting. All these leaders had expressed grief over the plight of the flood affected people and it was this day that the then minister for planning C. H. Bhabha had publicly announced that the government was now going to build the Badh kshetra dam over the Kosi in Nepal and the dam would solve all the flood problems faced by the people. Besides, the dam would irrigate 12 lakh hectares of land and would produce 3300 megawatts of hydroelectric power.
This dam has not been built so far but the assurances continue still. We had held a meeting of Barh Mukti Abhiyan at Nirmali on the same day and same place on the 5th and 6th April 1997 to take a stock of the flood control works done over the past fifty years. We had resolved then that we shall be holding a similar meeting every year on these dates at some place or the other in north Bihar and we have so far succeeded in keeping our words, even if the meeting has been symbolic. Last year this meeting was held in Khagaria.
Barahkshetra dam has not been built so far and one cannot say with surety that it will ever be built either. The experiences gathered over past fifty years have raised a big question over the viability of these darns as a solution to the problems of irrigation and power production and that the flood protection has always been a low priority use of the dams. The issues of capital costs of the dams, their gestation period, the impact of earthquakes over these dams, strategic defence, displacement of the people and their rehabilitation etc. have put the dams in the dock.
Whenever there is a flood in north Bihar, all the leaders start chanting the Barahkshetra Mantra. They claim that if Nepal agrees to the construction of this dam, this dam would be built. Fifty years have passed but an agreement with Nepal is not in sight. If we start constructing this dam today; it will take about fifteen years to build. Do we have any interim plan to face these floods during this period?
We got the gift of the Kosi embankments in lieu of the Barahkshetra dam in 1955. After that, without any debate and without any preparation, almost all the major rivers of the state were embanked. We had only 160 kilometers of embankment length along our rivers and the flood prone area of the state was limited to 25 lakh hectares. Now we have 3,465 kilometer length of embankments and flood affected area has risen to 68.8 lakh hectares. The floods have aggravated over the years and we are all aware of the fact.
Now we have only the annual ritual of relief and the assurance of the Barahkshetra dam. The farmers have now found an alternative of migrating to Punjab and Haryana, leaving their own agriculture behind. That is the given situation to us and within those constraints what are the alternatives left before us or whether there is any alternative at all. We shall try to discuss these points in two days to come.
It gives me a great pleasure to find amongst us the intellectuals of the town, professors and teachers, advocates and students. the participants have come from places like Saran in the west to Katihar in the east. There are participants from Delhi and Bangalore too.
Barh Mukti Abhiyan welcomes you all and we hope that we will have a fruitful discussion today and tomorrow.
Prof. Jivaneshwar (Darbhanga)
India is an agricultural country. Floods and droughts discourage agriculture. Flood is the major problem of the Ganga basin. Over eighty per cent of the population still makes its living through agriculture. The state has not given the attention that is due to agriculture. North Bihar is an area of floods and as long the floods were natural, this area was well off. The floods that we are seeing now are unnatural and manmade. I come from Darbhanga and till 1975, we used to have three crops every year which has now reduced to just one. Now we can only grow wheat and that too if the flood water is drained in time. Ever since the Jathmalpur-Hayaghat embankment has been built, all our crops are drowned. One rarely sees paddy now.
Before the embankments were built, the water used to come and go freely. After the embankments were built, those who live within embankments have become more vulnerable and those living outside these embankments live in a permanent fear of the breaches in the embankments which might sweep them away anytime. The government has created a firm device in the form of embankments for our destruction.
The government does not want the floods to go because, if that happens, the plunderers will be inconvenienced. We lose our entire crop and what we get in return-5 kilograms of flour and some pulse, few matchboxes and candles and that is the end of the role of the government in our lives. When these killer embankments were not there, the floods used to come and wash the lands and go. The politicians and engineers have pushed us into a permanent flood trap. Entire water, from Benibad to Jathmalpur passes through Hayaghat. If the water of such a big area will pass through a narrow space, floods are inevitable and our government has done this.
These embankments should be removed and if there is a movement over this issue, we will all join that. We have protested against the embankments in 1987, 1990 and 1995. I am pained to say that our protest fell on deaf ears. We have also taken up this issue with the political parties that they rise above their partition interests and make a common cause of fighting the floods along with the common people.
Ganga Devi (Kusheshwar Asthan)
Flood waters enter our houses in the month of June and we have got used to face the miseries and not the floods. Children, cattle and the habitation; all suffer alike and the situation continues for, at least, six months. The flood that we collect and keep for consumption, gets exhausted and we are forced to live on snails, crabs and fishes alone along with aquatic weeds. Fuel becomes scarce and the stale food and dirty water that we are forced to drink gives rise to various kinds of diseases.
The plight of women is even worse. They have to look after the children, the cattle and prepare food—all standing in water. A slight mistake can cost her life. In case of child-birth, the situation virtually gets out of hands and there is no end to the miseries. In case of a medical emergency, the people are stretched to their wit's end. I have a very high hope from this meeting that some action plan would emerge from here.
Md. Jamaluddin (Darbhanga)
This programme is being held here in a closed room in the town. It would have been more effective if it was held in open in some village. It would given an opportunity for the flood affected villagers to speak and their version would have been closer to the reality.
The problem is that even if we have some suggestions to make, who is there to listen to and implement all that. When those in power suggest something, one gets a feeling that something will be done now. The height is. nothing happens even when those in authority also say or propose something. Their assertions are also not grounded. We have also carried out protest in Hayaghat area and negotiated with the officials and the minister. We are not interested in relief because relief is no solution to our problems. The government should complete all the abandoned schemes and raise and strengthen all the existing embankments.
The Hayaghat block remains submerged for over four months a year. This water should be drained out early every year and if there is any move in that direction, we shall all be available to join the efforts. Earlier speakers have said that the embankments should not be built but I firmly believe that not only embankments should be built; they should be strengthened and raised also.
Rameshwar Sah (Jhanjharpur)
Floods cannot be prevented-even the Chinese could not do it who are trying to build embankments some 2,500 years ahead of us. There is no escape from floods. Now the point of discussion can be whether we want to face the floods that are natural or manmade.
Our engineers are interested only in their salaries and the contractors in the payment of their bills. Beyond that they are not bothered about floods. My village is located along the bank of the Kamla. Some 25-30 years ago, there was no embankment on the Kamla and the life was smooth. Then the embankments were built with a hope that if there was any problem, it would now be solved but the problem went on aggravating. We took up the matter with the government but without any result. We were then forced to cut the embankments. This led to the recovery of our lands from waterlogging as the fresh soil got spread over it. This has got a great educational effort. Our neighbouring villages have seen that it pays to cut the embankments and they are also have resorted to same.
We have cut the embankments of the Kamala at its 57th and 59th kilometer. There has been a deposition of 3 meters deep layer of soil in one single year and this area is now a cropped area. The government which cannot maintain embankments along small rivers like the Kamala wants us to believe that it will build the dam and will be able to maintain it. The government is playing politics in the name of the dam and we are being fooled.
Prof. V. N. Jha (Darbhanga)
Flood is a serious problem and it is unlikely now that the government will be able to take any initiative in the regard. There are many intellectuals, social workers, teachers, students and young men and women and concerned people assembled here. Let us come to a consensus and decide as to what we can do in this regard. Let us try to touch all the issues related floods as we have many learned and experienced people amongst us. We also have with us those who have put in lot of struggle. Let us make full use of the time available with us and try to come out with some programme at the end of two day's meeting.
Prof. S. H. Bazmi (Darbhanga)
I extend my gratitude to Barh Mukti Abhiyan for organizing this meeting at Darbhanga. This will benefit all of us including our students in the Water Management Course. This will also lead towards finding a situation to the problem faced by all of us.
Ram Swarth Choudhary (Darbhanga)
Water provides shelter for various kinds of lives. It also is a source of precious stones. In its destructive form, water is no less a killer. Last year some 32 persons died in our vicinity. Students of Navodaya Vidyalaya were travelling in boat along with their guardians when the boat capsized and they died. Boat men are sailing their boats. There is a high voltage line in the way. Current sometimes leaks and those who lead others to their destination, die in the mid-stream. We have deviced so many means to die. Sometimes we drown, sometimes it is electrocution, capsizing of boats or burial under the debris of collapsed houses.
Democracy has given us the right to vote but it has snatched the right to life. Area of floods starts just west of the place where we are sitting at the mordent. Over 1,500 villages of the blocks of Hayaghat, Kalyanpur, Singhwara, Jalle, Gaighat, Aurai and Katra etc. get submerged every year. I might have travelled in about 7 to 8 hundred amongst them. It is difficult to tell the woes of the people here. Parents raise their children with so much of hardships and difficulties by producing whatever they can in their fields. Whether this child is going to survive or not, is not certain. We are in deep financial crisis as well. We pay rents for producing three crops a year while it difficult to get even one. Our misery is created by human beings, it is not natural, it is thrust on us by the government.
There used to be a commissioner here, a retired army man who was an engineer himself. We were running a movement following the floods of 1987. While in discussion with him, I told him that our floods are not natural, these are brought by politicians and officers. He felt very bad about and asked me to prove it. I told him that he was an IAS and it is very difficult to explain anything to an IAS. Someday, if a village boy becomes an IAS, he might understand. But those days are gone.
I took the map out of my file and tried to explain him the position of the hills, the rivers and the flow. I tried to explain him the drainage mechanism of flow of water prior to 1956 when these embankments were not built and the one after the embankments were built. He saw some reason in it. A correspondent of the BBC had come that day and the commissioner told me to accompany him to the flooded area and at the end of the day the correspondent agreed that there was a vast difference in the thinking of the common man and the entire planning process. Why don't the planners take villagers into confidence. The real question is—why should an engineer or an officer listen to our views. There is a saying that is only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. The floods don't affect the engineers or the bureaucrats as it hit the common man. Why then the officers be bothered about us and listen to our views.
We are having only one crop instead of three. Whatever be the quality or the quantity of the produce, it enchants us. We are also attached to the legacies and heritage of our forefathers and we cannot just leave the place and run away from here. At the same time, we cannot live in peace either. The flood water never used to stay for more than 10-15 days, in any case. It stays now for, at least, four months. When water stays for that long a period, our mangoes, Jamun and Shisham trees have started dying. Same thing is happening to our cattle. When the vegetations and the animal kingdom is that badly hit, the ecological balance would be ruined and is it possible at all that the human beings will remain unaffected? What the land will produce—burnt trees and near dead animals. Even the children that are being born, are handicapped and spactics. It is not only the question of economic and social imbalance, it is also the question of the imbalance of the forces of nature.
The right to our natural ways of living have been snatched by this flood which is no more natural. The path of water, from mountains to the sea is called a river along which the civilizations have grown. We adore these rivers. When there was no means for travelling, the rivers provided us with access to other places. Rivers helped in fulfilling our basic needs. Cattle rearing and farming are two old professions that grew along the rivers. Even today, those living inside of the embankments come to the river area with their cattle and the milk yield is doubled within 15 to 20 days of grazing. But just as the area has become a single crop area, we are left with no work for about 8 to 9 months. Everybody is trying to dispose of some part of his agricultural land to purchase a piece of land in the town to live in peace during the monsoon months and thus, shifting the problem to the towns too. And how many people are in a position to do this also. There are number of people whose children could have gone to school and develop their personalities. They were pushed to Delhi or Punjab, instead. Now they can only feed their children but cannot educate them.
Waterlogging is on to rise because the rivers are prevented from performing their duties. Free the rivers and the water will go. But those who have a scheming brain, they think otherwise. They want these people to remain busy in meeting their two ends meet for if they get time to organize, they will fight for their rights and so it is essential to keep them busy.
But if someone is to be blamed for the present day situation of ours, it is we-ourselves. We know and understand everything and prefer to keep quiet. Our coming generations will never forgive us. We have had a tradition of plain talking. We will have to rise some day against the selfish motives of engineers, contractors and politicians. The fish swims, plays and has all sorts of fun inside the water but can be pulled out by the hook of the fisherman. Let us all try to work together.
Dev Nath Devan (Madhubani)
Our problems are so vast that it becomes difficult to fix the starting point. Rivers are not something new for us nor the floods are something strange. These are there since time immemorial and will continue to exist after we go. Floods were there earlier also and so were the damages due to floods. Earlier if the crop used to get damaged once, there used to be many times a good harvest. Life used to run uninterrupted. The rivers were chained before we had grown up and we were promised a very bright future. May be our leaders in the post-independence period were in a hurry to get name and fame and they started their venture to taming the Kosi. I am not sure whether the engineers had cautioned these leaders about the fall out of jacketing the river or not, or whether they kept silent or behaved as yes men to them. But it is certain that both of them earned the tremendous applaud of the people in the beginning.
There is a mention of the shift of the channels of the Kosi and the Kamala in our traditional folklore. These rivers are known to meander from east to west and vice versa. I come from the Doab of these rivers and our land is one of the most fertile lands in the world. Both these rivers were embanked. People were opposed to such tampering with the rivers but the leaders then, and those who succeeded them, over time took no notice of such resentments.
Let us have a look at the profile of these embankments. The Kosi embankment starts from a north-easterly corner and travel to south-west while the Kamala embankments start from north-west and travel to south-east. All this was done to make name and money. If one travels to the area that I am talking about with the engineers who had designed these embankments and they are introduced as that, then one is not sure how the people will behave with those engineers.
The embankment of the Kamala starts from Jainagar and travels south-east while the western Kosi embankment starts from Bhardah and travels towards Ghonghepur in the south-west direction. These embankments are spaced at only 2-3 kilometers in the lower reaches. This is the passage left for the water that originates from Nepal, between the Kosi and the Kamala. There are many rivers located in between. Now, Mr. Engineer did you not notice this simple fact that the waterway is too narrow for the catchment and that there will be problems in future. And Mr. Politician ! Did you also not know that this is going to happen in the future. Then what sort of a technocrat or a leader you are?
I personally call such people fools if they knew it and yet perpetuated the fraud on the people. I do not know what is the fittest word to address them. I am from the area which is protected from the floods of the Kosi and the Kamala, both. What should we be doing if our crops are lost and the cattle perished? We have lost the status of being human, being protected by the two embankments. Those who are trapped between the embankments of the respective rivers have a sordid saga of frustration to tell. We do not get our monson crops and just as the water does not get drained out in the sowing season of the Rabi crops, we rarely get our wheat, green gram or lentil. What solution the engineers or the politicians have now for our problems? What is it that they have been educated for? Why did we spend millions of rupees on the education of such people?
It was said in the morning that the people have started cutting the embankments. This is a fact and is resorted to in my area also. The government, in the beginning, used to say that these breaches are caused and that the anti-social elements affect the breach. Are our people anti-socials? In 1995, the Kamala embankment was cut at 2-3 places and we followed this up by Dharna and demonstrations at the block head quarters. The SDO came and confronted us by saying that it was something strange that the people would cut the embankments and, yet, sit for Dharna and demonstration. We asked him to tell us as to where is the population protected by these embankments. Is it not the population living between the area protected by these embankments? Now, can it be inquired as to who cut the embankments and why? The SDO lost his cool and said that we were behaving like press reporters. He was emphatic that the embankment was cut by the anti-social elements while we were pressing that we had cut the embankments. We also wanted the SDO to show us the 'social elements' for whose benefit the embankments were constructed failing which the state should assume the responsibility of breaching.
We have been studying the entire episode since 1954 and are of the opinion that the easiest way to make a fast buck is through earth cutting. Build the embankments, cut them or allow them to breach and redo them and continue with the fraud. Sometimes, distribute some relief to silence the people. The ministers, engineers and the contractors make hay while the sun shines and the people suffer silently. You might have heard of the wall of sand. Come to my area and I will show a real sand wall. Name the river and you have it.
Until the engineers realize that the places where the Kosi and the Kamala embankments start are separated by hundred kilometers or so and where they converge, they are spaced only at 2 to 3 kilometer, is a mistake and unless this mistake is rectified, things are unlikely to improve. And unless this is done we have little reason to believe that the politicians, engineers and the contractors are working for the common good of the people. Dacoits used to raid the villages in earlier days and plunder the way they liked. But once they have looted a place, they would not show up there again for twenty five years. We are robbed annually. Now the contractors have become the social workers, the engineers are learned people and would remain so, and the pledge of service that has been taken by the politicians is no secret. They have to serve their seven generations and whether their progeny is capable of taking up the leadership or not, they will have to be groomed for that. It does not matter whether their children are interested in politics or not.
Wherever and whenever the officials have talked over the matter with the concerned villagers, even by mistake, the results have been commendable. Well, this is the time to carry out all the repairs of the embankments and flood control but they will start the work in May or June and repair the embankments in the rainy season. They are bound to collapse then. It will collapse every year but the designs will not change. A concrete bridge was constructed last year in the village Panki which is very close to my village. This was washed away this year. The approach road in a length of four times the waterway of the bridge was eroded and was washed away. Where then is the design and what impression one gets about the technology. We construct the wooden or bamboo bridges in the villages and that is damaged only when the wood or the bamboo gets rotten with time. Once built, the bridge lasts for 20-25 years. But what goes wrong with the concrete bridges constructed at a cost of Rs. 85 lakhs and it does not last even for a year?
A few years ago when we used to raise these points with the engineers and bureaucrats, they used to scowl at us and ask whether we understood anything of engineering? Now, they have started saying that they have to carry out the instructions of the government since they are only there to carry orders. If the government wants that the embankments should be built or if it wants that they should be raised and strengthened, we are duty bound to do it. Talk to the politicians and they say that they could convey the message to the government but they alone were not capable of changing the policies of the government. They can always issue a statement that the government will not build the embankments any more. The fact is that the government cannot build embankments because it has no money to build them. This year it has got some money from somewhere and the work on the embankments has started. They do not bother about the character of the river, topography of the land or the amount of water that flows through the rivers. They concentrate over the embankments because there lies the money.
Take any map whether it belongs to REO (Rural Engineering Organization), PWD (Public Works Department), District Board, or that of the Water Resources Department, you will never find anything that will be helpful in draining the water out. All the structures will obstruct the flow of water. We must consider all these problems here and plan our course of action.
Ramesh Jha (Madhubani)
I will attempt to put my views in two parts. One —I will narrate my own experiences of living in the flood area and, two- what we should be doing next. There are many villages south of Madhepur like Rahua Sangram, Bhith Bhagwanpur, Bheja or Rasiyari. The schools in these villages do not have summer vacations, they have monsson vacations instead. These schools are closed from July to September every year. Flood is an annual feature here and rain water stagnates in most places. This leads to Malaria, Kala-azar and cholera etc. Twenty years ago, if somebody fell in these villages, it was impossible to take him to the neighbouring hospital at Madhepur. He used to die here in the village itself.
Mishraji has written in his book that population in the flood area is more than other areas but I would request him to visit our area. In my village of Rahua Sangram, we used to consume 18 maunds of rice in a common feast which has come down to just 5 to 6 maunds. The population of my village has gone down and it has gone down because of floods. Not only that, whenever, there is an election, most of the ballot papers are returned from my village because the voters have gone away in search of employment. Only those people are left in the village who do not have any contacts outside. It would also not be fair to put all the blame squarely on the government. We are also responsible to a great extent. When a wooden bridge is constructed in the village, the villagers take away the planks from the structure to make charpoys. What the government will do in such cases. This, however, is a fact that the people's representatives have not done anything in our area.
The area enclosed between the Kosi and the Kamala embankments is called thap or thapaharin the local language. This is a very backward area. Novelists like Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyaya and Phanishwar Nath Renu has written a lot about this area and that is worth reading. The water that our ancestors used to worship is known by various names. The water that you drink is Jal, the one that we use for washing is Pani. The water that flows is called Salil, and the one that is adorable is Aap. Water has been called the most important element of all the other powers of the nature the fire and the wind. They prayed to water to save them and this honour was not given to other forces of nature like fire and the wind. When we return from the burning ghats after cremation of a body, it is customary to prey to the water for purifying us.
When you look at the availability of water in this area, it appears that the area should be quite prosperous and happy but the poverty and deprivation in the area gives it a deserted look. You go to any major town of the country, you will always find people from this area living in the same poor condition.
Shatapatha Brahman is, probably, the first scripture to use the word Mithila. It is also described as the one with abundance of water, flooding and waterlogging and these phenomena were never taken as things to be worried about by the local populace. The scriptures have also classified an area into two parts. The area where the farmers used to base their agriculture on the rivers they called it Nadi Matrika and where the agriculture depended on rains, they termed in Dev Matrika. Our area, Tira Bhukti or Tirhut has been mentioned as Nadi matrika. Had the floods been a problem, it should have got mentioned in that form somewhere or the other. Darbhanga gets flooded every year. I am not an engineer or a scientist but whatever analysis I have of the situation, I have a feeling that you cannot blame the government alone for the prevailing ills. There has been a deterioration in the environment and there are different reasons for flooding in different areas. Orissa was flooded recently because of cyclone but our floods occur due to some other reason. There has been an alarming rise in the incidence of skin diseases following the floods of 1987. Our floods might also be caused to human interventions in the Himalayas.
Dev Chandra Anal (West Champaran)
I belong to the Doab of the Gandak and the Burhi Gandak. Some 50-55 years ago, in our childhood, we used to go to see the floods in these rivers and rarely this water would rise beyond your knees. It just used to come and go. The fields used to get fresh soil, the Chaurs used to get fresh soil, and the fields used to be rejuvenated and there used to be a bumper crop of paddy. We used to have different variety of paddy for deep waters. The floods have now acquired fierce proportion. In past four to five years, many villages have been eroded and consumed by the river stream. Those who had money have migrated to the towns but the poor suffer. They have to make their own arrangements and are compelled to migrate. The grip of exploitation tighten, thus.
There was a famous saying about Champaran that it is a place where even the crow would not care for rice. Nobody used to bother about a job in Champaran. But, now a days this is what the people of Champaran look for. Paddy yield is declining day by day and it is being replaced by sugarcane. On the other hand, sugar mills are facing closure and people use crushers to make Gur and that has a market in Nepal. Sugar cane fields have become a den of criminals. Robbery and kidnapping has turned into an industry. Some organizations are now coming forward to oppose this unfortunate occurring. There has been noticeable change in the form of floods in Champaran and some areas are getting flooded just with the onset of snowmelt in the Himalayas.
The floods that follow the small and early rainfall occupy the lower areas and is called Sarehi in the local- dialect. Then we have the usual big floods. We maintain that the embankments have been ineffective in controlling floods and that is a proven fact now. The next assertion that the construction of the large dams in Nepal would yield good results, is also viewed with suspicion. We will have to bear the floods and put up with them. Large dams are the plans for further exploitation. These will only benefit the city dwellers and not the villages. We must raise this point with our leaders. We must emphasize the need for smooth drainage of the flood waters to the sea and explore all the means to produce power other than the large dams. We also have to rediscover the housing design to suit the flood areas and construct raised platform in the villages to provide shelter for the cattle.
Umesh Rai (Darbhanga)
These two months of April and May are very busy months for us because it is only in these two months that we have the sickle in our hands and we can harvest something. We will have some free time in the month of June and will hold a meeting in our village, just before the floods. We have seen our grand fathers purchasing an elephant by selling paddy straw alone and walking was not in our habit. So much was the production of grains in our area. There used to be a racing competition between train and a horse when we used to go to the fair of Harihar Kshetra and the horse used to win invariably. There always used to be some crop in the field and there was no dearth of grain or the fodder. We even used to feed grains to the cattle. Nowadays we have to purchase paddy husk. Three years ago when I purchased an ox at Rs. 8,500/-, my neighbors taunted me that I will have to sell this to the butcher only.
Our flood is entirely artificial. Three rivers flow between Surmar Hat and Hayaghat. It was in 1957 that Mahesh Babu proposed the embanking of these rivers and you will be surprised to know that it was Shri Bhogendra Jha who had opposed it then. Today Shri Bhogendra Jha might be proposing to build the high dams in Nepal but he had opposed the embankments. Mahesh Babu was more influential and Bhogendra Babu's voice was lost in the din. Today, three generations of a family lives on the same roof of the hut. I am not talking of the floor but the roof of a hut, and they have to cook their food and also attend to their daily chores there. We are pushed to a situation where either we can commit suicide or else, break these embankments to save our lives. These embankments are the single biggest reason for our plight today.
Should some guests visit us, we are compelled to send someone to the market to bring some snacks and then only entertain him. This might be quite common practice in towns but was unknown in the villages until recently. Children of farmers with 20 bighas of land are loading bricks in Delhi. There are eight bridges between Hayaghat and Muktapur. Just cut the embankment and all the water will be drained out without any problem. We had no problems with our floods. Why did you come to control them? They say Samastipur would be washed away. Is there any answer to such a madness? Last year, some 21 students had failed in the matric examination here and the rules of the examination were changed. Why nothing happens when 35 people are drowned?
When we talk of removing the embankments, the engineers say that we are unnecessarily haunting the embankments. They say that should there be any problem, relief would be arranged and you will not be put to any inconvenience. My analysis is that 90 per cent of the embankments are constructed by the engineers keeping the plunder in mind and the remaining 10 per cent out of their ignorance. There is a village called Lalpur, west of Bisfi, where the mouth of the Bagmati has got choked and its water gets diverted to enter Darbhanga and flood the town. The river gets dried after the rains in the lower reaches because of this blockade. It is small work to do some digging. We have done all that we could do to convince authorities of this small input but nobody listens. We have three small rivers the Shantidhar, the Ghoghraha and the Pachfutta; which are blocked because of the embankments and if opened, you will not find the water that you see on the either side of the Darbhanga-Samastipur road. The governments come and go but they all understand the language of movements only. Please give us a helping hand and we will do the rest. Our representatives, whom we elected, did not come back to enquire our well being. We will struggle and please help us in the matter.
When we decided to hold a meeting in Darbhanga, we had precisely these things in our mind which Umesh Ji has just said. Some two years ago, Arvind Sinha was here to shoot a film on Bihar floods and we tried to take him to Jathmalpur but the road was closed as flood water was flowing over the road near Dihlahi and we could not proceed further. However, we went to the extent possible and see for ourselves the overtopping of the roads. The scene was even more pathetic. A pyre was being prepared to cremate a dead body in the middle of the road. The filmmaker, Arvind Sinha, burst into sobs seeing the pyre saying that the people at the helm of affairs have denied even the cremation ground to the dead. We consoled him and requested him to do his job. We talked to the people while he was busy shooting. The people were of the opinion that the Shantidhar, the Ghoghraha and the Panchfutta should be opened and their problems would be solved. They did not want relief and proposed that if that was done, the government better tell us where we should be distributing relief. We will do that at our own costs. This precisely was the time when two big leaders of the country were sitting on Dhama at Darbhanga and Sitamarhi respectively demanding the dams at Barahkshetra, Nunthar and Shisapani. That shows the distance between the leadership and the people.
We promise all the support to the struggle of the people.
Jitendra Kumar (Saran)
We belong to the old Saran district which is surrounded by the Gandak embankments on the east, the Ghaghra embankments on the west and the Ganga embankments on the south. There are many Chaurs in the area enclosed by these rivers and their size is growing with the passage of time. One of these Chaurs is the Hardia Chaur which now measures 24 kilometers in length and 6 kilometers in width but with no drainage. The rainwater that collects in this ditch, does not find an outlet. The mango and Shisham trees have started dying now in our areas.
We had high hopes with the Gandak Canals that they will usher an area of prosperity in our area but the canals remain dry. If at all the canals bring any water, it does not irrigate the fields but converts them to a marsh. If there is a breach in the canal bounds, our problems are further aggravated. Worst is that these canals have impeded the drainage of the area and enhanced waterlogging.
Jadu Kumar Choudhary (Darbhanga)
I have been watching the floods very closely since we faced the devastating floods of 1987. I belong to the area located west of Hayaghat and up to Patauri. There were 12 deaths due to floods in this area last year. This has happened due to wrong handling of floods and we have lost our roads, schools, hospitals, health centres and public buildings. Instead of improvement in the civic amenities, we are losing whatever we have had with us. While the houses of the villagers are getting washed away, a good number of villages are getting engulfed by the rivers. The villages which were once the models of development are now getting deserted.
The labours are migrating from the villages and their plight in the towns is no better either. The situation at Hayaghat can be best described as the intellectual bankruptcy of our leaders and planners. There is a 25 kilometer long embankment on the right bank of the Bagman between Hayaghat and Surmarhat. The Kamala-Balan comes from north here and this river is also embanked. But in Hayaghat, everything is open. Our rivers do not flow in a single stream. These are the groups of the rivers. Now whatever water originates at Siraha in Nepal has to travel down to Hayaghat. If one measures the waterway through all the rivers in this length, this may well be near 2,000 feet. So much water is compelled to pass through a 200 feet wide bridge at Hayaghat. How can this be possible? The catchment area at Hayaghat alone is 6,200 Sq. kilometer and floodwater enters each and every house in this area. Last year, some thirty five people died in boat tragedies alone here. It is impossible to come out of the houses for 4-5 months. Boats are not there and should somebody fall sick, the death is inevitable.
We have done all that we could do to shake and wake the administration but it refuses to react. Last year also, we offered a 36 hours Dharana outside of the Commissioner's office to protect us from floods failing which he should implement the accord that was signed between the government and the agitators in 1987. So many amongst us were thrown behind the bars that year. All the plea falls on the deaf ears of the administration. We want a permanent solution to our flood problem. Build the dam if it is going to solve it and till such time this dam is built; do something to save our agriculture and civic amenities. There are such remote villages, located west of Hayaghat, that one has to travel 20-25 kilometers on foot to reach Laheriasarai. Barring agitation, there seems to be no remedy to our problems.
Krishna Kumar Kashyap (Barheta-Darbhanga)
I am a victim of floods and I am also a field worker. I have a feeling that no magic is as effective as the politics. It is a question of our survival and our human rights. Who decides that a sand wall should be built along our rivers. Who decides that there should be trees planted over these sand walls and cut. Now, the elections are held almost every year, you don't have to wait for five years. The person whom we elect and send celebrates every day as Holi and every night as Diwali and forgets you after going from here. He, who does not talk about you—don't send him next time.
There are five different ways of excreting in water in our area which the outsiders don't know. There are many such things that the outsider’s don’t know about us. Create a team that will take care of mismanagement of relief to rescue operations. If the government has got engineers or doctors or lawyers with them then we also are no less equipped. We have more people with diverse interests and knowledge. Let us make our own plans and force the government to follow that.
Umesh Ji wants to hold the meeting in the month of June. In that case, let us all treat this meeting as the preparatory meeting to that event. Let us take up a program before the floods this time and let all of us cooperate.
Kameshwar Jha (Madhubani)
The basic question is how did the Kosi embankment affect our lives after its construction. I got my enrolment done in class sixth in a school after my primary education in 1952. Madhepur College was established by then. It was a problem to reach the college in Madhepur in the Kosi area. Those from the nearby villages could reach the college on foot but for others it was really problematic. It was around this time that we heard that the embankments would be built along the Kosi. The pilgrims of our area who used to go to the Ganga those days had to pass through our village. There was a temple of Lord Shiva like the one at Amar Nath in our village and we all used to call him our Kaka (uncle). Pujas used to be performed regularly here and it was because of His grace that everybody used to feel safe in the village.
While on way to our schools, we used to hear that the embankments would be built along the Kosi and Dr. Rajendra Prasad will lay the foundation stone for the same. The people wanted to know what an embankment is? Some people used to guess that the flow of the Kosi would be converged onto one place here. We all were worried that ours is a sacred place and Sita was born here after her father, King Janak, ploughed the land. Why should such a construction take place here. We had been living here for the ages and earning our livelihood through agriculture. Any embankment will not suit us. It was like controlling the time for us. We then questioned that why should such a project be taken up here even if it is initiated by Dr. Rajendra Prasad or Gulzarilal Nanda. We will not allow this construction to take place. But it was built because of the political and technical reasons and having built the embankments along the rivers of the Adhwara group, the Gandak and the Baya, we have invited to problem of waterlogging to our area. The Himalayas are a loose heap of soil, the surveys were carried out till 1960-62 and the end product was the embankment. We find now that there was 80 per cent expenditure on the establishment and only 20 per cent on the real work—why should that happen? And what benefit we have got-our river beds have silted by 12-14 feet. The rivers like the Kosi and the Balan have acquired the shape of an ocean between Darbhanga and Khagaria. The Mansi-Saharsa rail line adds to the problem. Our area, Mithila, is squeezed between the Himalayas on one side and the Ganga on the other. We refused to be fooled anymore and we shall not allow any dam to be built.
Dinesh Kumar Mishra, (DKM) Convenor—Barh Mukti Abhiyan (Jamshedpur)
Barh Mukti Abhiyan is holding first meeting of Has kind in Darbhanga town and many new persons have joined us here and that is a very good sign. I am particularly happy that there are many learned people from the teaching profession and many students have also joined us here.
When we review the flood situation in north Bihar, we have to glance through all our rivers, from Ghaghra to Mahananda, and it is interesting to note that the flood situation is same everywhere. Should you happen to listen to the speakers with closed eyes, you will find that they are repeating the same thing, only the name of the river and the places changes.
I will tell you a real life incidence. There is a Chaur called the Amawari Chaur in the Raghunathpur block of Siwan district. It used to be a happy and prosperous area some years back. The Gandak canals came to this place in the early seventies. A branch canal and its distributary encircled the Amwari Chaur and the villages located on its periphery from three sides. This resulted in the virtual blockade of the drainage of the Chaur. The situation would gets worse if there is any breach in any of the canals.
I happened to meet a person on one of these canals which runs very close to the road linking Raghunathpur to Andar. He was grazing his cattle. In the course of our discussion he told me that after the harvest of the paddy in 1971, he had left for Bokaro in search of employment and had to return to his village because he could not manage to get a job there. When I asked him about his education, he became serious and retorted that if his education could not find him a job it was immaterial whether he studied up to standard four or up to a Ph. D. level. We kept talking for some time and at one time I asked him how much land he possessed. He replied in the same cryptic way saying that if the land could not feed him and his family, it was immaterial whether it was 2 decimals or twenty acres both are equal. All his fields, in fact, were lost to the Gandak Canals and the waterlogging that was caused following their construction. He said that the paddy which he had harvested before going to Bokaro was his last. The cattle that he was grazing were not his, they belonged to someone else.
Such a person does not reside only on the bank of the Ghaghra or in the Raghunathpur block. You can find him sitting on the bank of any river. He would talk about his grand parents, his early childhood, the good days that he had seen and then his present plight of poverty and deprivation. Some people have destroyed the resources of the society of their fellow brethren, be it in the name of flood control or irrigation. But, neither the flood could be controlled nor the irrigation was provided.
Shri Ramesh Jha called the water adorable. Water is the base of life. Rivers are like mothers. The Ganga is always prefixed as the mother and if one does not remember the name of a river, the Ganga comes to the rescue. On the other hand, some people call the Damodar—the sorrow of Bengal or the Kosi as the sorrow of Bihar. But the question is how the mothers can be a sorrow. This, in fact, is the adjective given to our rivers by the British. They came to India with a view to plunder the country. When they used to stand on the banks of the Damodar with a view to assess the revenue, they used to find it increasingly difficult to understand the behavior of the river. They could also not understand the floods of the Damodar. All that they knew that the kind of problems that the Damodar was posing, it was difficult to collect the revenue and hence they called it the sorrow of Bengal. Similar thing must have happened with the Kosi also.
Then, we will have to understand the process of conversion of the motherly behavior of the rivers to that of the devil. The British had not known the season of rains—it rains almost round the year in their country. The kind of floods that hit our country was also unknown to them. This was followed by their intense desire to conquer everything and the rivers came within this ambit. In the beginning of their rule, they tried to tame the rivers on the priority basis but never succeeded. Finally, when the tried to tame the Damodar in the middle of the nineteenth century and again failed miserably, they shun the idea of taming our rivers and demolished the Damodar embankments in 1850s, without making it a prestige issue. They never touched a river with a view to tame it as long as they stayed in the country. They were caught in a fix that even after the construction of the embankments along the rivers, if they failed to provide the desired protection against floods, they were expected to bear the costs of relief and rehabilitation. This cost was too much for them and hence they refrained from constructing embankments and thus, saved themselves from further embarrassment.
After the departure of the British, the onus of providing protection against floods fell on the native engineers. The new government was also under tremendous pressure to be seen doing something so that the people could feel that the old order has changed. There was a major flood in Saharsa, in 1953, and that provided an opportunity for the leaders and the engineers to find an instant solution to the problems faced by the people. There is no choice but to build the embankments along the rivers in such cases. it is something like taking the help of a goon when all the efforts to get a premises occupied by the tenant fails. The floods disappeared temporarily but the goon occupied the stage.
The natural floods now got converted to man made floods. Waterlogging, rise of the river beds, malfunctioning of the sluices and breaching of the embankments followed. Later, the villagers also started cutting the embankments. Now, if one wanted to get rid of the embankments, one will have to look for a bigger goon than the existing embankments. This, our governments have already located in the form of the Barahkshetra dam on the Kosi along with twenty nine other dams proposed on our common rivers in Nepal. These dams can, probably, do everything. Then can produce electricity and provide irrigation but whether they will be able to provide flood protection, is very much doubtful. This has been given in the detail in the booklet, 'Floods Despite Dams' and I will not go into the detail here.
Barahkshetra dam was proposed, officially, for the first time in 1947. This is still in the proposal stage and fifty three years have elapsed. When will this dam be built? I had a talk with the minister of water resources at the centre and I asked him the same question as to when this dam would be built? His reply was the routine one that the negotiation with Nepal are on. I told him that engineers take into account various conditions and constraints when they try to solve a problem. Why don't we tell them one more condition that the suitable locations for building a large dam are not available in our country and tell them to find a solution to the flood problem. It will be interesting to listen to their solution then. In that case they also will talk about dealing with the floods locally, removal of all the embankments, disaster management and improving the drainage. It suits the politicians and the engineers to talk about Barahkshetra dam so that they can justify their inaction.
Barahkshetra dam is one such jackpot which every politician and engineer wants to hit and they also expect the same from the flood affected public. The only difference is that the floods do not affect the politicians, engineers or the bureaucrats and even if they do, it only helps them. The losses are suffered by the public and it never asks the politicians that how many more years of negotiation it will have to bear. Does the government have a plan of dealing with the floods till such time negotiations continue and the dam is built?
I suggested to the minister to select any five villages in north Bihar and drain the water out from these villages. Once the water is drained out, the possibility of a Rabi crop will improve and in all probabilities, it will be possible to take up a Kharif crop also in those villages. If the program succeeds, let us try to replicate it. For doing this, we don't have to negotiate with Nepal nor we have to take Bangladesh into confidence. This program we can take up without involving or consulting anyone. If this succeeds, we will not have to make Barahkshetra dam, at least, for controlling the floods.
The annual reports of the Water Resources Department of the Government of Bihar mentions every year that some 9 lakh hectares of land is waterlogged in Bihar and of this, 8 lakh hectares is located only in north Bihar. Having said that much, the report talks about the various drainage schemes that have been provided since 1985 and over which no action has been taken up because the files are shuttling between Planning Commission, Central Water Commission or the ministry of finance etc. These schemes cost billions of rupees and work wise there is not even a scratch on the ground. The engineers of the department keep on preparing the revised estimate and submitting it to some authority to justify the payment of their salaries. That is all.
The government has no time to analyze its own data. Does it ever bother to know what it means if 8 lakhs hectare land is waterlogged in a particular area. This means that 15 per cent of agricultural land in north Bihar is rendered useless for cultivation. If we assume that the same proportion of the population is also hit by waterlogging, that would mean that the livelihood of about 60 lakh people is at stake. As the floods start showing up its face, the relief and rehabilitation department issues the data about the flood damages and the population affected which starts from, say, ten lakhs people. When 60 lakh people are already hit without a single drop of rain fall in the state; what is this figure of ten lakhs then. The counting should start from 60 lakhs as the datum.
This problem cannot be solved by starting trains like Shramjivi Express, Jan Seva or Sram Shakti Express. Nor will it help to add some more unreserved compartments to these trains so that the labour can migrate to Delhi or Punjab. Recently, we have started a train called millennium express from Darbhanga to Amritsar, which has 16 unreserved compartments and two brake vans? Who have we gifted this train to—the farmers of Punjab or the labours of north Bihar? It is a very good thing to have new trains introduced but what is the message that goes outside. The attitude of the locals in Delhi to the Bihari labours is no secret. Why these things don't shake the conscience of the Bihari leaders and engineers.
Whatever was being said in the morning here, there was one thing common and one could feel the undercurrent of it that the people have lost faith in the leaders and engineers as well. This, surely was not the condition some fifty years ago. People had faith in the leaders, engineers and the administrators. That faith is now replaced by apprehensions. Vijay Ji was telling in the morning that 76 per cent of the area of north Bihar is flood affected and some 87 per cent people claim to make their living through agriculture. To me, this is a shocking information. An area where 76 per cent of land suffers floods and 87 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for its living, they can only migrate to look for employment elsewhere. They cannot afford to go on pilgrimage.
There is another problem related to the flood prone areas. According to a report about 11 per cent of the area within the country is permanently prone to floods while in case of a drought, this percentage is 28. Thus, the problems that the flooded areas face is always lost in the din of the drought as the drought covers more area than the floods. Further on, the outsiders feel that the flood problem gets resolved on its own in three months but we know that the problem, in fact, is a round the year problem. This nobody is prepared to accept. Given this background, whenever flood problem of Bihar comes into any discussion, the listeners strive to link the flood problem to prevailing corruption in the state and openly say that why bother about a person who dies everyday.
Let us give some thought to the engineering education in the country. I studied engineering some 30-35 years ago. We used to work on the drawing sheets that used to be clean and smooth. The teachers used to tell us that the lines that you draw on the drawing sheets, there is every likelihood that a bulldozer would tread the same path on the ground somewhere, and we used to be greatly thrilled by that. We used to feel very powerful. What we were not taught is that we should check beforehand that where we order a bulldozer to tread, the communities living in those areas should not be inconvenienced. We were not cautioned to take care of these communities before drawing a line on the drawing board. I am pained to say that this is not taught even now.
Various movements in the construction areas have cautioned the engineers about this human problem. When confronted with opposition to the project, the engineers are heard saying that they did something because the government wanted things to be done that way. Now, this government is a very peculiar thing. You talk to a minister he will say that he will convey the message to the government. such things are said even by the chief ministers or the prime minister, who then is the person whom we can approach with our difficulties and has the authority to solve them. People don't relate to engineers that easily as they do it with the politicians and politicians have the power to do something. If the arrangement does not work, what is the alternative before the people? What is the problem faced by the people has no meaning but what the politicians and the engineers think should be our problem, they provide solutions to those. It is quite likely that the solution has no relation to the problem at all, Now, you keep on writing letters and reminders. If you are capable of organizing people, you may as well stage some Dharanas or demonstrations or take out processions in favour of meeting your demands. All these don't lead to any result because by the time the people could organize themselves, the engineers and the governments make it a prestige issue.
There are participants here in this meeting from the Doab of the Kamala and the Kosi, south of Jhanjharpur. Since 1993, the Kamala embankments are breaching with alarming regularity and the people are also cutting them with same consistence. The countryside, under both the circumstances, gets a new soil and cultivable land emerges from the waterlogged ditches every year. The utility of the embankments comes under scrutiny, in either case. Instead of taking lessons from this annual occurring, the government puts all the blames of breaching or cutting of the embankments on the anti-social elements and washes its hands from the problem. One is not sure what the government calls those who are responsible for the safety and security of the embankments and whose callous indifference to their duties leads to the failure of the embankments. It is their internal problem and they don't want a public discussion on that. And why not those people, whom the government rates as antisocial, find out some lighter vocation for themselves. They can resort to pick-pocketing or shoplifting and more enterprising amongst them can go in for road hold-ups. Why these people risk their own lives in the dark nights of the rainy season to cut the embankments? Has anybody tried to find out? This is not the story of the Kamala alone. It is there with the Mahananda also where the people have cut the right embankment at three places and have not allowed the government to plug the breaches. The Bagmati embankments that breached at seven places in 1993, have not been allowed by the local people to be plugged. Are these all anti-social elements? After all, what is the language that the people should speak that those in authority would understand?
The government says that the solution to all the flood evils lies in Nepal. The money required to construct these dams is available neither with India nor with Nepal. Before globalization of the trade and opening of the economy, it was probable that India and Nepal could take loans from some international financial institutions and construct these dams and work out some arrangement for sharing the costs and the benefits. Institutions like the World Bank or the IMF have, at least for the time being, pulled out from funding such projects. Now, with the opening of the economy, we don't have to take loans as the multinational companies have come on to our door-steps. These MNCs will construct the dams, produce electricity, pay royalty and taxes to Nepal and sell the power to India. Enron is one such company which is trying to take up one of these dams. There was a movement of sorts against this company in Dhabol in Maharashtra last year. This company is now openly selling power at the rate of Rs. 4.95 per unit and the people have to purchase it. Cogentrix wanted a counter guarantee over its investments from the government. This guarantee was given also to them but they refused to work any further. Such companies alone will make the dams now in Nepal and if it doesn't suit their interests, the dams will not be built. Flood Control is not on the agenda of these companies and should one desire to get flood control from these dams, this is the time to ensure all that. These companies mean business and are not charitable institutions. If the construction of the dam starts to day, it will take around fifteen years to build the dam. The MNCs are concerned about the projected cost of the power that will be produced then and are apprehensive of the returns on their capital. If the darns are not a profitable venture for these companies, they will not be built.
The politicians are a difficult lot to understand. They will take out rallies against the multinational companies in the name of Swadeshi and would advocate for the large dams in the same stretch when it starts raining. One really does not know what happens to their aversion to the MNCs in the rainy season.
Let us talk once again about the engineers. They had opposed the embankments to their might during the British period and they did it because the then government had lost faith in embankments. The engineers had then argued that when a river is embanked the river water will not spill in the protected areas but the rain water which had its natural drainage into the river would also get intercepted by the embankments and cause waterlogging outside the embankments. The flood protected land will be deprived of the fresh soil that used to spread over it because of floods and will lose its fertility in due course. The bed level of the river would start rising because of the confinement of the flood waters within the embankments. The sluice gates built in the body of the embankments would cease to function because of the rising bed levels of the river within the embankments that will jam the gates. Besides, these gates cannot be kept open during the monsoon season because the river water then may as well back-flow into the tributaries and flood the countryside. Hence, sluice gates or no sluice gates, the flood situation will remain the same. When the sluice gates don't function, the water of the tributary will spread into the protected countryside and the situation would demand embanking of the tributary also. If that is built, the rain water will get trapped between the embankments of the main river and the tributary and will not find any drainage. This water can only seep through into the soil or evaporate. Or else, it will have to be pumped out into any of the rivers. Should any of the embankments breach, the people living between them would meet their watery grave. No embankment has been built so far, anywhere in the world, that would not breach and if they breach, the devastation would be much more. The engineers of the British regime had given so many reasons to discard embankments.
After India attained freedom, the government decided to go ahead with the construction of the embankments. The engineers who had been opposing the embankments for such a long time came out with a different logic to defend the embankments. They said that if the same quantity of water is made to pass through a smaller area, its velocity increases. If you have seen a gardener watering the plants with the help of a pipe, you can very well appreciate it. As he closes the mouth of the pipe partially, the velocity of the jet increase and with that increases the eroding capacity of water. Some engineers believe that when a river is jacketed between the embankments, its area available for flow is contracted and hence the velocity of flow increases. The increased velocity of river water erodes the banks and the bed of the river and the river section is increased. This allows more water to pass through and the floods subside. Hence the embankments should be built to reduce the floods.
Thus, the arguments for and against the embankments are available and both are technically very sound. If one wants to build the embankments, there is one set of argument and it these are not to be built, the other set of arguments are available. Engineering does not go by bargaining. Here the things are clear-cut and certain. Technology cannot turn upside down at the prompting of politicians but, the fact is, this has happened. The problem is that the engineers work under politicians and they don't report to people and anybody would take instruction from a person whom he reports to. The public is free only on one day, the day it casts its vote to elect a government. The politician is the boss, before this day and after it also. These politicians and the engineers hold the key for controlling the floods for the society. How to tell our problems to these is the real question.
I will tell something about the Western Kosi Canal. This canal was estimated at Rs. 13.49 Crores in 1962 and the foundation stones of the canal was laid way back in 1965 by Lal Bahadur Shastri, and the country has seen eleven prime ministers after him. One does not know when the canals will be completed. Officially, it's is being said, since 1979, that the canal will be completed in two years to come and the status quo continues. A sum of Rs. 278 crores had been spent on this canal till 1998 and its estimate is now reported to have shot up to Rs. 694 crores. The canal irrigated 27,000 hectares of land last year against the target of 2.62 lakh hectares. The canal drowns the crop in the Rabi season every year because of the callous indifference of the canal officials between the Kamala and the Kosi Doab and this roughly equals the area that is irrigated by this canal;. Nobody, apparently, seems to be responsible of this unfortunate occurring. We will try to have a separate meeting over the Western Kosi Canal sometimes in future. When the foundation stone of the Kamala Syphon was laid in 1992, it was said that its construction will be over by 1995 but its end is not in sight. Until this syphon is completed, the western Kosi Canal will not have any meaning. No one knows as to when this work will be completed.
There are reports that the work on the Bhutahi Balan embankments has now started. The government had been telling in the past that the embankments create more pi-problems than they solve and that it will not participate in this process. It stuck to its words as long as it did not have the money. The moment money was arranged, the embankments became a necessity. The dichotomy lies there, it becomes difficult to understand the water policy of the state. We do not know how to influence such an insensitive set of people. Other than organizing people, I don't see any solution to the problems faced by the people.
I would very much like to answer if someone has any question to ask.
Q. There are many movements going on in the country like the Narmada Bachao Andolan or Bahuguna struggle against the Tehri dam. How is it that the Bihar Floods are not heard of at all?
DKM : You are talking of the national scale and I have a feeling that we are not heard of even at the state level. We have tried to analyse the situation which I would like to share with you.
Firstly, we will have to look into the financial resources of the projects. Let us forget, for the time being, about the Narmada and look into the Subarnarekha Project of South Bihar. Some 26 villages and about 12,00 families were displaced there but the funding source was the World Bank. Now when you stand for these displaced families, you automatically stand against the World Bank and that, surely, is a news. If you are seen as standing against such a big institution, your size increases automatically. Sardar Sarovar has 1,29,000 displaced persons but was funded by the World Bank. There is an edge for the oustees. If the construction of the embankments in Bihar is funded by the World* Bank. tomorrow, you will find the whole world assembly here in north Bihar. We have all been meeting and discussing floods for a pretty long time now but nobody listens to us as you are pitted against the Government of Bihar which nobody takes seriously, outside. Volunteers from Saharsa and Champaran have gone to Subarnarekha project. Don't they see their own floods and waterlogging.
There may be over 20 lakh people trapped within the embankments of Bihar rivers, as on date. There are nearly 8 lakh people spread over 338 villages who are living between the Kosi embankments alone. An equal number must be facing acute waterlogging outside. If we take all the rivers of Bihar under consideration, the number will not be less than 30-40 lakhs. When we talk about the plight of the people trapped within the embankments and those living immediately outside in the area located south of the Ganga in our own state or elsewhere, we are charged of dramatizing things. How is it that 30-40 lakh people are facing such a hardship and no voice is raised, they ask. But the fact is that the voices are not raised and those who could raise voice have already left for Delhi, Punjab or Gujarat because that was easier for them. Our listeners further ask that if so many people are caught in a death trap, what is it that the government is doing to alleviate the sufferings of the people? The fact remains that the government is not doing anything. In case of higher education, for example, all that the parents are doing to educate their children is to send them to the colleges/universities of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Orissa, U. P., West Bengal or Delhi, be it by selling their land or by borrowing. But where is the protest that we are talking about? Those who could raise their voices have already taken an easier course.
Besides, whosoever comes to north Bihar he gets flabbergasted by the greenery of the area and the abundance of water which you don't find elsewhere. He goes over satisfied with the natural resources of the area. What can you do with the person who does not understand the difference between paddy and water hyacinth? We have been trying to show the water that lies underneath the green cover and tell our visitors that agriculture is not possible over such lands. But water gives a very pleasing effect to the eyes and the visitors becomes envious of our water wealth. He congratulates us that we have so much of water that the other state don't have.
The remaining sympathies of the visitors weans away when one talks about the corruption in the state and all the pending matters are set to rest. Is it a small or insignificant piece of information that people cut the Kamala or the Mahananda embankments? But it is reported casually and forgotten very easily. Can you take the event so lightly if it takes place in Maharashtra or Punjab? When you offer a Dharana at any project funded by the World Bank, that would become a national or international news. Our troubles are troubles and your trouble is a calamity? We are not heard because there is a feeling of ignorance for us in all the concerned quarters and those who matter think that where else will the people suffer, if not in north Bihar?
I have personally taken so many people to Ghonghepur, the southern tip of the Western Kosi Embankment and shown them the hell on earth and asked them if they have any remedy for the problem there. They think for while and then tell me that the problem of Ghonghepur is beyond redemption and then leave the place. After going back, these people don't write even a letter of thanks to me for taking them to Ghonghepur and showing thOm the hellish life style of the residents there. They shun contacts for the fear that I may request them to visit Ghonghepur again. Krishna Kumar Kashyap is here with us. Few years ago, he was based at Nadiyami when a team of Tata Energy Research Institute visited him to look into the availability and alternatives of fuel, Kashyap Ji took them around and extended all the help that he could. He also did not get a letter of thanks from them. Rajendra Jha of Saharsa also entertains many visitors who do not keep in touch. What can we do in such cases?
Vijay Kumar: The common understanding of the calamities in different states is also very funny. I don't mean to belittle the suffering of the people anywhere. But the cyclone of Andhra Pradesh (1996) that killed 1685 persons, destroyed slightly over 7 lakh houses, and the damaged crops over an area of 22.47 lakh hectares was declared a national calamity while no one turned up to us when, in the flood of 1987, some 1600 people died in our state, 17 lakh houses were damaged and the crops were damaged over an area of 25 lakh hectares. Somewhere, it lies in everybody's mind that the Biharis persons are the fittest to suffer.
Ram Swarth Chowdhary : It is often said that if the rivers with surplus water are linked to those with deficient flow, the problems of flood and irrigation would be solved. DKM : There were two such proposals made some 25-30 years ago. One was the garland canal of Dastur, under which a canal was proposed within the country at an elevation of 350 meters. This canal was supposed to have been linked to the rivers with surplus water which in turn, could be linked to the rivers with deficient supplies. This plan was prepared by a pilot officer and engineers had doubts over the viability of such a project. This plan shot into prominence because Indira Gandhi had shown interest in it.
The other proposal was of a national grid of rivers that was prepared by Dr. K. L. Rao. This plan envisaged construction of a barrage near Patna and divert some 3,000 cumecs water of the Ganga from here and most of it flowing towards south after crossing the Vindhyas. Dr. Rao was himself an engineer and when he had proposed this grid, he was the minister of irrigation at the center. This plan also is impractical but just because Dr. Rao was the minister of irrigation and was an engineer too, no engineer or the leader had the courage to discard the plan. The plan was consigned to cold bag because the estimated cost of such a project was put at Rs. 24,000 crores in early seventies. The country was not in a position to spend such a huge sum then and it is not in a position to spend it even now. The ghost of the national grid plan still haunts the leaders and the public whenever there is a major flood in the Gangetic basin or a drought in the south. Sometimes this ghost rides engineers also.
Otherwise also, if a flow of about 3,000 cumecs, whether it is taken from or added to the flow in the Gangetic basin during the rainy season is not of much consequence. Dr. Rao was a very ambitious engineer and he had a great role to play in the sanctioning of the Kosi embankments in 1950s. It was only after this that most of the north Bihar rivers were embanked. Today if we are criticizing the embankments, some blame of it also goes to Dr. Rao. The national grid was also a similar scheme for which we neither had the resources nor the capacity. The political will power was also lacking and it would not have been very easy to handle the net work of the canals. We, in Bihar, can say this with greater confidence because our canals have never been in good shape.
There is an autobiography of Dr. K. L. Rao titled, The Cusecs Candidate'. He has written in this book that once he was on a visit to the Bhakra Project, in 1964, in the capacity of the minister for irrigation. He was invited by the oustees of the Bhakra Project to visit their settlements. He accepted the invitation and visited the village. He was shocked to see the appalling living conditions in the village as he knew that the villages are usually widespread and without any congestion. But this settlement was compact and congested. The houses were just a single room shed and other amenities were all missing. Dr. Rao asked the villagers if he could do something for the village? The villagers then requested him to provide electricity in the village. Yes ! Dr. Rao was talking about the same Bhakra Dam Project which provides electricity to a vast area and all the praises are showered on this project when dams are discussed in the country but the people displaced by the project were asking for electricity from the minister. Dr. Rao assured the villagers that this was a small matter and he will arrange it for them. When he came back, he asked the Chief of the Bhakra Beas Board to extend power line to the village and to his utter surprise the Chief told Dr. Rao that there was no provision in the budget for such extension and this could not be done. Despite the orders of the minister, the power connection could not be given to the villagers. Dr. Rao has described this incident with anguish but Dr. Rao did not remember the Kosi Project then where he was instrumental in pushing over 2 lakh population (1951 census) spread over 338 villages, between the Kosi embankments, in permanent darkness.
Q. There has been a vast change in the river profile in north Bihar following the earthquake of 1934. After the earthquake, the Kosi has shifted towards west and the other rivers like the Kamala and the Adhwara have moved towards east. After independence, the rivers of this area were embanked and that has led to the aggravation of the flood and waterlogging problem. What is the alternative left before us? Will it not be proper that the embankments are removed and the rivers are given a free passage. A beginning can be made by removing the embankments from Hayaghat. If the flood water is drained out, the agriculture will improve, education will back on rails, employment position will ease and an overall development of the area will find some footing.
Vijay Kumar—This is a very broad question and we must discuss it freely and in detail tomorrow. Let us listen to Prof. Prasad and we will break for the day.
Dr. Yogendra Prasad—I have just taken the charge of the Water Resource Development Centre at the Patna University last October and I have no hesitation in saying that we are all responsible for the flood situation that has been created for us today. We must repent for the sin that we have committed. I have been teaching engineering for past 37 years and will retire next year in the month of December. Although, I have never participated directly in the process of preparing syllabus for the technical education but I am in full agreement with the ideas that have been placed here regarding the technical education. Our technical education encourages us to look towards Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, New York or Washington but it never induces one to look towards our own villages or the society. That is the reason why we have not been able to reach to the roots of the problems faced by us if something serious is not done in time. The situation will deteriorate further in future.
We once believed the British engineers and then expressed our faith in our own engineers but there was no let up in the sufferings of the people. I have heard the echo of that mistrust here. I have also been associated with another institution of the Government of Bihar The Educational Research and Training Board and I have some insight into the primary education also. But the question is where do we go from here? We have with us the problem of floods, loss of agriculture, and that of unemployment. We know, we had thirty thousand varieties of paddy and we are now left with few hundred only. How did that happen? It is a matter of common concern to us.
While we are discussing here about the problem of floods, agriculture or the livelihood; the political parties and the governments formed by them are busy thinking about the issues which would benefit at best one per cent population of the country. They talk about information, communication or entertainment. India is now going to become a superpower. India is now entering the cyber age. But what happens to our villages? Malaria will be on the rise, there will not be potable drinking water, there will be diarrhea, the people will not be able to come out from their houses for four months and the people will be forced to migrate and so on. Now we will make Bihar out of Delhi. Otherwise also, the number of Biharis have swollen so much in Delhi that we are now in a position to influence the election results. Despite that, we are not in a position to explain our position to the leaders.
This is possible only when we improve our strength. No outsider will come to our rescue. We should try to strengthen our organisation and force the governments to listen to our views. We should make our own plans and get them executed. This will be possible by the participation at the local level and then only it can become sustainable.
6th April 2000
Ansar Ahmad (Student Water Management-Darbhanga)— The flood is a natural problem which has its bad impact on us but at the same time it is also beneficial to us. The fertility of the land is rejuvenated due to floods but villages after villages get submerged in floodwaters, crops are lost and communication is badly hit, pollution increases and the dreaded diseases spread. To prevent all this dams should be built on the rives. The polluted water should be tested before use and lot many diseases can be controlled, thus. The magnitude of floods has increased these days and there is a decline in the moderation of floods that the tanks did earlier. This has forced the water to move towards settlements and fields. We must take up programmes to drain the water out.
Rajesh Kumar Jha (Jamshedpur) - Our friends from Chhapra told us something about the waterlogging in their area. The agriculture has been affected adversely in those areas is well understood but there may be a crisis for the safe drinking water in future because the waterlogging causes the dissolved salts in groundwater to rise to the surface. The plants absorb ground water through their roots and the transpiration process of the plants continues all the time. While the water travels to the atmosphere, the salts remain over the ground.
Eucalyptus trees can help easing the waterlogging conditions in such areas. Its wood also is very useful. The state of Haryana has tried to solve its waterlogging problem by resorting to the use of such vegetation and it can be tried here also.
Satendra Prasad (Saran)-I have come from the land of 36 Chaurs. Waterlogging is acquiring devastating proportions in our area. Waterlogging was the problem in past even but the fields used to get cleared before the sowing season of the Rabi crop. The situation has aggravated because of the construction of the embankments on the Ganga and the Ghaghra and blockade of the drainage line by the Gandak Canals. The waterlogging in our area is so acute that no NGO or even a group of them can do anything and hence we expect that the government should do it on a priority basis. There is another problem that we face. When water spreads over a field, the owner of the field loses the right to fish over that land and this leads to unnecessary social tensions. Our area has produced so many chief ministers but nobody worked for the benefit of our area and we are now convinced that without struggle nothing will happen. We have formed a Jal Jamav Virodhi Sangharsh Morcha and have come here to seek cooperation from you in our endeavour.
Arun Kumar Singh (Naugachhia-Bhagalpur)- We are sick of the floods in Naugachia:This is located between the Kosi and the Ganga. Some twenty years ago, the floods used to visit us at an interval of two to three years but now it has become an annual event. All the speakers here have decried the embankments but that is what we need precisely. Ever since these embankments have started breaching, our situation has become worse. We grow banana and after the floods of 1987, it gets inundated due to the breaches in the embankments. The embankments should be raised and strengthened so that they don't breach as the breaches add to waterlogging and a series of diseases. Our situation is entirely different and if you hold such a meeting there in Naugachhia, you will get an opportunity to understand our plight.
Kishore (Katihar)- I have come from the Mahananda basin in the district of Katihar. The Mahananda was embanked in 1970 and the breaches in the embankments started taking place since 1974. On the 13th of August 1987 we had cut the embankment on the Ganga near Manihari and that led to the drainage of floodwater. The curious thing was that the embankment was cut under the supervision of Shri Yuvraj, our former M. P., who himself had struggled a lot to get the Mahananda embankments constructed.
We were trapped for months in the floods of 1998. The same thing was repeated in 1999. We can now cultivate only the hot weather paddy and the input cost of it is so much that not everybody can afford to grow it. This is very costly and the migration is at its peak. Migration is now not seen as a bad thing because if a farmer grows paddy, in say 50 Bighas of land, his input and output balances. He also is not in a position to save anything. The labourers who migrate outside, at least, save something.
We are lying in a corner of north Bihar and are at the receiving end of all the water that passes through the state. Whatever good or bad happens here, we are there to face the consequence of it. We are, also facing the consequence of the Farakka Barrage because not much of water is passing through this barrage these days. Tremendous sedimentation is taking place near the Farakka Barrage and the Ganga is becoming shallower and shallower. The Mahananda is unable to discharge its water into the Ganga and the floods are getting permanent. We are now compelled to join the crusade against the Farakka Barrage and leave the fight against the embankments, for the time being.
Our struggle against the embankments is quite old. As I told you earlier that these embankments are breaching since the day they were built but a decisive turn took place in 1991, when the embankments were cut by the irate villagers along with the breaching on their own. But the government used to get the embankments plugged. In 1996, The Mahananda embankment was cut at three places in the Kadwa block of the Katihar District and it goes to the credit of the local population that it did not allow the embankments to be plugged. We shall not allow the government to plug it in future either.
The embankments have pitted the people against each other. Those who are residing on the countryside of the embankment are technically a protected lot but they only face the risk and the aftermath of the breach in the embankment. There are people living on the riverside of the embankment, too. If the embankment remains intact, those on the riverside become in secured and try 'to cut the embankment and that spells a doom on to the people on the countryside. In 1996, we resolved all the differences of riverside and the countryside and cut the embankments at three places. Now, if the Mahananda rises, its water passes off slowly. All these points are located on the right embankment of the Mahananda and people are thinking to cut the left bank embankment also so that the flood water is spread evenly. We have to see what the people decide. We are waiting for the left embankment to breach on its own so that we do not have to make any efforts. In that case all that we will have to do is to stall the plugging.
Kamal Kumar Jha (Darbhanga)- Our society belongs to two distinct groups. There are believers and non-believers. If we take nature as another source of power then we are bound to get a bashing if we work against the nature. Famines, floods and killer pollution—these are all the results of tampering with the nature. I have seen the floods of 1987 and I agree with your assessment of the situation. Because of geographical reasons, north Bihar has been an area of floods. The flood area, however, is on the rise. The river beds are rising slowly because of sedimentation and the river spills more often than before and so the floods are also increasing. If the kind of attention that is being given to the embankments and expenses incurred on their maintenance is diverted towards cleaning of the rivers, the results might have been better. This could have generated more employment. At the moment, the water stays even up to six months in certain areas.
Our Water Resources Department gets active only when the floods have hit us. There is no action before the floods. There is no check on deforestation. Dr. Thakur is s minister of water resources at the center and we should try to discuss things with him. May be, he is of some help.
Chandra Mohan Mishra (Darbhanga)- I come from the Adhwara group basin and my village is in the Hayaghat region. We suffer floods for six months a year and the crops are ruined on a permanent basis. People want to get rid of the embankments and the government wants to retain them. We must view the flood question in totality. The embankments have not yielded the desired result and the river beds are on the rise. Instead of getting panicky at the time of floods, we should now try to prepare ourselves to face the floods. And then we should put pressure on the government to give us a permanent solution.
Karnaiesh Jha (An Nagar-Darbhanqa)— I have seen the good old days and with the grace of Mother Kamala I am seeing the present days also. Traditional floods are treated to be better than drought. We might be producing coarse variety of rice in past but the yield was certainly much more. All that has finished. Now if the water enters our villages, it stays there for four months and it does not give anything in return: People used to repair the embankments collectively earlier but that collectivity also is lost now. Somebody has robbed us of all our good things--these are the leaders, engineers and the contractors. If you involve others in solving your problems, this is what it will result in.
Embankments have no utility in Mithila. Take them to the places where these are useful. The ML.As and MPs cannot solve our problems and we will have to do something on our own.
Mithileshwar Jha (Madhubani)- There was a very big meeting in Jamshedpur in the month of January this year. The flood of Mithila was discussed there also. Hence to say that nothing is happening at the awareness level will be misleading. The people are getting more and more conscious and the officials are also trying to read the writing on the walls in the changed circumstances. There is not much dearth of funds also. There is now a possibility of working on small rivers, streams, nullahs or Chain with the help of the Panchayat level funds. Only thing is, one has to remain alert. Part of the Panchayat funds are earmarked for irrigation and drainage. Hence, at those levels, funds are accessible.
We have discussed here the utility of the embankments. There are many small and big rivers in the Sonbarsa and Parihar blocks of the Sitamarhi district. I have seen that the crop yield is tremendous in the areas where the rivers are not embanked. Once, a central team was to visit the area to see flood damages and this was the place where a very good crop was standing and the collector was worried as to what he was going to show to the team. My contention is, just don't build embankments for building sake. Remove them where this is not needed or is creating problems. If one knows what is best at the local level then is easier to take decisions.
Binod Kumar (Jhanjharpur)- We are working over the flood issue since 1987. That time, we were just beginning to analyse things. Then we came in contact with Mishraji. We tried to put the flood analysis before the leaders and the engineers then but they used to call us mentally deranged and never took us seriously. Once all the villagers assembled near lsarain Chaur, in 1995, and cut the left embankment of the Kamala. There was big turmoil and the police also swung into action and, slowly, the matter was laid to rest. After the floods, we observed that huge quantity of soil was deposited near Nirmala village in a strip of 5 kilometer in width and eight kilometer in length along the embankment. The area where waterlogging used to remain year long, emerged out of water. That year in 1995, the farmers of Nirmala sold green gram worth Rs. 1,30,000 after keeping it for their own consumption.
After that, the government plugs the Kamala embankments every year and we demolish them. Actually, what all problem is there, it is because of the Kamala embankments. Floods used to be there in our area since time immemorial but its level never used to exceed 2 feet. After 2-3 days even that used to disappear. The embankments have added to the depth and duration of the floods. We try to nullify it by cutting the embankments.
The solution to the flood problem does not lie in raising and strengthening of the embankment. This will increase the problem. Desilting of the river is impractical, it will benefit the leaders, contractors and the engineers alone. The people in our places say that the embankments are like a bow. Stronger the bow, greater is the killing power of the arrow that comes out of it. Remove the embankments and we will take care of ourselves.
Ram Lakhan Jha (Madhubani)- Given the background of the polluted social atmosphere, I must congratulate you for thinking aloud for the good of the people and holding this meeting. The so called scientific development of today is the killer development. This is not the development of creativity. Modern science has thrown gloves at the nature by tampering the rivers but it has neither the capacity nor the willpower to respond to the bounce of the nature. The engineers tried to tame the rivers in order to control floods. The floods returned back with vengeance in form of manmade calamity. Just use of technology can reduce the miseries of the people but technical scheming cannot achieve this objective. We had taken out a rally following the floods of 1987 demanding prevention of floods or the demolition of the embankments. We did a conference also that was inaugurated by Bhavanand Jha, a retired chief engineer. That was the time when the engineers accepted that the embankments were the root cause of the floods. This part of the debate is sorted out long back.
Now, what is happening with the Western Kosi Canal? I dare say that this canal is not irrigating our fields and it will never be able to do that in future also. This canal breaches every year with the impact of the rainwater. What will happen when a full supply depth of water will pass through it? We are also worried that should a breach occur in the Kosi embankments upstream of the Birpur barrage, the Kosi might occupy the western Kosi canal channel.
You should be passing a resolution in this meeting and ask the government to tell the stated objectives of the Western Kosi Canal and the present day status of it. What is the extent of the targets met and what will be the future of the canal.
Along with the question of the floods, the question of justification of the Kosi canal should be raised. If that happens, we will all join you and fight to our might.
Surya Narayan Thakur (Madhubani)- When you go to purchase a medicine from a shop, you always find the date of expiry marked on it. I remember that when the embankments were built, the government had put an expiry date of 25 years. Twenty years have passed after this expiry date was over. What else this medicine will do other than killing the patient. We bury the expired medicines in ground but what should we be doing with these embankments. Where do we get the Ravana or the Kumbhakarna to do the job for us. The embankment that was built in our area was 16 feet high. Half of it has got filled because of the rise in the river bed and the remaining half has drilled holes in it by rats and foxes. There are Chaurs that have attained the size of thousands of bighas and we don't have anything to do. When we don't pay the land revenue, the government threatens us that it will issue certification. We are not worried by certification but take the body warrant a bit seriously. The government has converted our fields to Chaur. Take your land back and leave us alone.We are getting the proposals of raising or strengthening of the embankments and dredging of the river. This job the government is doing without our asking. If we also demand the same, what is the difference of thinking between them and us? There was a proposal to construct a tank in our village and it was said that all our problems would be solved subsequent to the construction of this tank. Then there was a complain that many children are dying by drowning in the tank and this should be backfilled. This also was done and the files were closed in the month of March. For heaven's sake, don't give such proposals here otherwise the people in government will feel very happy.
We have seen the fate of the embankments and we are yet to see the impact of the building of high dam in the Himalayas. What will happen if something goes wrong with that? When a person changes his mind, something always goes wrong and when the direction changes, it results in a lot of turmoil. So, please don't change the direction. How should we get rid of this expired medicine, let us concentrate on that.
The institutions which are engaged in relief, they also should start thinking afresh. Let us strike at the root cause of the evil. Treating the symptoms alone is not going to take us long way. This problem now should be raised at the national and international level both. At the national level, we should try to take our elected representatives into confidence. I am now ageing. Should you decide to sacrifice someone, I am available. Kindly take the lead. If you will spend sometime standing, I will stand for an hour more.
Mahabir Prasad Mahato (Pachahi-Madhubani)-It is a long time that we are holding such meetings. The kind of awareness that has been generated following the cutting of the Nirmala embankment, is now self evident. I have been engaged in social work prior to independence and stand by you always. I had expected that Mishraji will announce some program this time but, it seems, that is not going to happen.
Dr. Gangadhar Jha (Darbhanga)- Flood is the permanent problem of our Mithila and floods cannot be separated from here. We want a political solution to this problem. The others can neither understand the problems faced by us nor can give any solution to them. In the month of January this year, an International Maithili Conference was held at Jamshedpur wherein a separate Mithila state was demanded by the participants. I repeat the same demand here. For this, I propose that we should organize ourselves at the regional level and form a political party. We should try to bring out a daily newspaper or, at least, a weekly magazine and through that we should try to highlight the flood problem of the area.
Er. Anand Vardhan (Patna)- The kind of ideas that are coming since yesterday indicate that the incidence of floods is on the rise despite the measures of flood control. This is established not only at the level of the society but the data available with the government also confirm it. The first thing is that no embankment has been completed along any river, so far the way it should have been. Then the embankments have breached at many places and those breaches are not plugged. The conditions that have been created at Hayaghat can probably be improved by constructing raised platforms. Widening of the rail bridge and opening of the mouths of the rivers like Shanti Dhar, the Ghoghraha Dhar and the Pachfutta Dhar may also help in relieving the drainage congestion. Ring Bunds can be constructed around the villages at the local level. These measures are better than tampering with the river. We should also make all the preparations before the occurrence of the floods.
Vijay Kumar : I just want you to have a close look at the map of the Ganga basin. We have shown hem all the rivers of north Bihar, from the Ghagra to the Mahananda. Where the Bihar boundary ends and West Bengal starts, almost at that point, we have constructed the Farakka Barrage on the Ganga. Down this barrage, the Ganga bifurcates into two parts, the east flowing portion is known as the Padma and it flows into Bangladesh and the one flowing to south, is called the Bhagirathi which acquires the name of the Hooghly after it receives the waters from the Jalangi. The Hooghly breaks into many streams before it joins the Bay of Bengal near Ganga Sagar.
Lot many ideas have come about the rivers of north Bihar and I will not go into those details anymore and will concentrate over the Ganga. At the point of confluence of this river with the sea, we have the usual tides and sand from the sea tries to build pressure onto the river and enter it. This pressure from the sea used to be resisted by the flow of the Ganga along with that of the Damodar and the Rupnarayan. Thus, there was some sort of equilibrium between the waters of the river and the sea and everything was normal.
We established Damodar Valley Corporation and constructed four dams at Maithon, Panchet, Tilaiya and Konar together with the barrage at Durgapur. The dam on the Mayurakshi was also constructed. Water was intercepted and the floods started showing their ugly face because of the obstruction to the flow of water. The free flow of the river water was stopped. Earlier, the river water, with its full velocity, used to virtually dredge the river and reach the sea. After the construction of the dams, the flood waters lost their eroding capacity and the Calcutta port was endangered. Although, the Farakka Barrage was proposed long back, its construction became essential after the construction of the dams of the DVC. More water was needed to flush the bed of the Hooghly and, thus, save the Calcutta Port. This could be brought only through a diversion channel from the Ganga by constructing a barrage on it.
There was no rail bridge on the Ganga between Benaras and Calcutta. Bidhan Chandra Roy wanted a bridge on the river but the president wanted it to be located somewhere in Bihar and Mokama became the choice for the bridge. This was the time when Bidhan Babu raised the Farakka issue for if a barrage is constructed on the river, a bridge will be its obvious corollary. The barrage, thus, came into being.
Rivers have a definite role to play. It is their job to collect the waters from their catchment and deliver it to the next bigger river or to the sea. The portion of the Ganga River basin that we are referring to here has an annual rainfall ranging from 1500mm to 2000mm and a part of this is drained to the sea through the rivers. This is their duty assigned by the nature. The Himalayas are virtually a loose heap of earth. The river water brings this earth along its flow and spreads over the fields. This is another duty of the river. It enhances the fertility of the soil. As we go on constructing dams or embankments, the normal functioning of the rivers is hampered. The Farakka waters are now pushing backwards.
There are differences in opinion about the discharging capacity of the Farakka Barrage. Many engineers, and Kapil Bhattacharya was one of them, were not convinced of the utility of the barrage the way it was designed and constructed. Their apprehensions came true. Tremendous amount of silt got deposited in front of the barrage gates and the Ganga started getting shallower and shallower and its water started pushing backwards. Its first adverse impact was noticed in the Mahananda. The Mahananda is now unable to discharge its waters into the Ganga and its floods are now felt over a longer period. The erosion of the river banks have become more severe. Look at the Ganga at Patna. What the river is reduced to? We have also blocked the flow of the rivers by constructing embankments along them.
The distance between Barauni to Purnea is 203 kilometers and as you travel along the NH-31, there are only two bridges worth their names. over it, on the Burhi Gandak at Khagaria and on the Kosi near Kursela. How is it possible to drain such a vast area with such a high rainfall by these two bridges? Then the question of the rising bed levels of the rivers remains unanswered.
I had been to Nepal once, almost up to the Chinese border. Before going there, I had a feeling that because of deforestation or the faulty agricultural practices in Nepal, the silt load in the rivers descending down the plains is high. I told my views to my Nepali friends who contended that at best 10 per cent of the silt load can be attributed to this phenomenon. The rest 90 per cent of the silt load in the rivers is due to the geological activity and the subsequent landslides in the mountains. A small earthquake triggers landslides and, in the next monsoon, all the earth would come into the river. The road construction in the mountains also contributes significantly to the silt load. I have seen notice boards at various places in Nepal, cautioning people of the dangers of landslides ahead. Similar was the situation in the bed of the Bhot Kosi where I had seen huge deposits of earth ready to be transported by the river to our area. The same problem of silt is there in Farakka also. The sixth retired line in the Malda district over the Ganga is now threatened and we don't know how to protect it. The Ganga is trying to join the Pagla there and it may even bypass Farakka.
I also got an opportunity to visit the proposed site of the Barahkshetra dam. The land along the river courses is very fertile there and the villagers there, were very sensitive to the idea of allowing any dam to be-built there and would not debase themselves for the benefit of others. Dams are a very sensitive issue in Nepal and the political party like EMALE has split vertically over the dams. just by telling people that the dam is going to be built in Nepal and that would solve all our problems, is not going to help. In our country, however, all the political parties, from extreme left to extreme right find the solution to the problems for floods in these darns. They all look for the solution at other places. Why not solve your problem of floods without these dams. They all look for the solution at other places. Why not solve your problems yourself and on your land?
It will always better to look for a solution to the flood problem on our land and by our own resources.
Dr. Yogendra Prasad (Patna)—Those who face the floods, understand their problems best and they alone can come out with the best solution. There are three main characters involved around whom the solution revolves—the government, the affected people and the voluntary and struggling organisations. The solution will come out when these three cooperate. When you think of a solution, please also think about the role of these three institutions. The people should be involved specially in the programs. We must look at the problem in totality, as Vijay Ji was also telling just now. You are doing a great service by taking up public awareness programs and acting as catalyst for explaining the social, political and technical intricacies.
The government should have a role of policy making and coordinating body. Shri Vardhan was telling that ring bunds could be made around the villages to afford protection at the local level. It is quite likely that you may have some field experience of the ring bunds and you may accept or reject the proposal based on your experiences. You should also assume the role of explaining these things to the politicians because it is they who take the decisions.
I also have a plan of mine to bring politicians, social workers, engineers, geologists and activists like you to a common forum in a workshop. If all such people could share a platform, it will facilitate the process of preparation of plans at the local level.
Dinesh Kumar Mishra (Jamshedpur)—Many friends have some questions to ask and I will try to answer these questions according to my information and knowledge.
The first question is that the Kamala embankments breach every year on the eastern side but the western embankment is relatively safe. What could be the reason?
A close look at the different streams of the Kamala suggests that the river has had a tendency to move from west to east. The five maps that are available put the Kamala in the streams of the Bachhraja Dhar, the Jiwachh Dhar, the Sakri Dhar, the Pat Ghat Kamala and finally the Kamala -Balan. All these streams have successively moved from west to east. The Kamala joined the Balan in 1954 and the combined stream was called the Kamala - Balan and this stream was subsequently embanked. The tendency of the Kamala to move eastwards is, probably, still continuing and that may be the reason that the eastern embankment of the Kamala is more vulnerable to breaches. The topographical changes in the land profile following the earthquake in 1934, may have aggravated the process of shifting of the Kamala towards east. I am saying all this as a conjecture because I have no authentic information. Authentic information may be available with the water resources department of the state and we don't have any access there. They don't tell us anything and if we ask them for any information then they ask such questions that no self-respecting man can stand to them.
The second question is that can we produce electricity from the dam proposed on the Kamala at Chisapani. What impact this dam will have on the sedimentation downstream?
I would like to say once again that there have been studies on the quantity of sediments coming in the rivers but again the information is classified. We only have some idea about the sediment coming in the Kosi. The levels of the river bed were measured in 1962 and 1974 and based on this information the rate of the rise in the bed level of the river was assessed. It was found in this study that the river bed was deepening in a length of 3 kilometer down the Birpur barrage. This is understandable because the water released from the barrage, erodes the bed to some distance and the river bed is deepened there. Then on, the sediment deposition starts in the river bed. Between Mahishi and Koparia, the river bed was found to be rising at an annual rate of 12.03 centimeter (roughly 5 inch). If we assume the average spacing between the embankments as 10 kilometer, then between Mahishi and Koparia alone, some 5.6 million trucks-load of sediment is being deposited every year. If we try to assess the entire amount of the sediments in the Kosi, then it must be measuring 15 million trucks or so. This is the situation when the Kosi is embanked and its water is free to join the Ganga and a sizable quantity of sediments passes through that route to the sea.
It is something like this that if two persons hold my hands from either side and ask me to walk, I may walk although my speed would be reduced. But if a heavily built person obstructs me from the front and asks me to walk, I may not be able to move. It will not be possible for me to push such a person or even bye-pass him. Embankments and the dams behave something similar to this. A high dam will trap more silt than the embankment. The life of a dum is assessed depending on the amount of the silt that it impounds and when the reservoir is filled with the sediments, it is said that the life of the dam is over. A dam on the Bagmati was built in the last decade at Kulekhani, in Nepal and its life span was assessed at 100 years. In the floods of 1993, tremendous amount of silt came with the flow and the reservoir was greatly filled. It is said that the life of the dam is reduced to just 30 years. Should a flood like that of 1993 repeat in the region, it may just be possible that the reservoir is filled completely. Hence the risk of incoming silt and its adverse effect on the dam will always be there. Thus, now when we say that the floods come and they spread fresh soil over the fields and a bumper crop follows then we must remember that following the construction of the dam, this silt would be trapped inside the reservoir itself. Then the fertility of the land would decline and this is a historical fact. Wherever dams have been built, the fertility of the land has gone down.
This thing has a technical component also. You approach an engineer and tell him that the embankments are not being effective, could you please do something? He might as well tell you that the embankments were not the solution to the problem of floods in this region. The real solution lies in the construction of the dam in the hills and he will build the dam. The society has entrusted him that job only. It is not his job to enter into a debate with someone or listen to the woes of the public. Ask him what he is going to do if the dam is filled with silt. He would say that the dam is bound to get filled some day and when it is filled, we will see. The same thing was said in case of the embankments also that the day the embankments will not work, we will see. Unfortunately, that day has come but nobody is available from amongst the leaders, engineers or the contractors to reply to our questions.
If you ask the leaders today as to how this happened then they try to kill two birds with one stone. They say that constructing embankments is a sin and they did not commit this sin. The fact is, that the government has no money to commit this sin. They also say that when the embankments were constructed, some other party was ruling the state implying that it is the other party which is responsible for the ills of today and not they. If you ask the engineers the same question then they will say that this is a well known fact that the embankments are not the permanent solution to the problem of floods. The Kosi Technical Committee had already said, way back in 1974, that if the Barahkshetra darn is not built, the engineers should not be held responsible for floods, they say. This is the situation of those whom we had once trusted.
There is some relief at the moment about the proposed dams in Nepal. These dams, if built at all, will be constructed by the multinational companies. These companies are in business and don't enter into any loser's deal. If our respective governments have had the capacity to build these dams, they could have built them long back. Even otherwise, in our official setup, it is nobody's responsibility if any project does not give the desired result. By the time we will be in a position to ask some questions, the whole team would be changed. Are we not told today that those who built the embankments thought everything but not about the incoming silt. After the dams are built in Nepal, some fifty years from now, the same thing is going to happen again. They will tell then that those who built the dam did everything but they did not take afforestation seriously so that the silt load could have been reduced. Then they will carry on afforestation for thirty years and make merry.
The floods are not going to disappear even after the construction of the dams. The British have kept the records of the shifting of the Kosi since 1723 to 1947. In 1723, the forests were intact from the Terai to the foot hills and beyond. The British axe had not fallen over these forests then but the river was known to have changed its course. If one raises these questions then the politicians will pose blank and there is a likelihood of the engineers responding by saying that the Himalayas are a loose heap of soil and this is a highly seismic area. The vegetation cannot hold the soil and that is the reason why the rivers carry a lot of silt and change their course. Now, the question is that by constructing the dam will you be able to prevent the earthquakes? And will the earthquakes spare the dam? They do not have answer to these questions nor they want to think about these useless things. They, like the Arjuna, see only the eye of the bird, the Barahkshetra dam; to hit. They neither have the dearth of excuses nor they will ever lack works to do.
The third question is of Shri Kameshwar Kamati about the utility of the ring bunds. I would like to add that in this method, the river is left free but the villages or the towns are encircled by a bund so that the floodwater is kept away from the settlements. Nirmali and Mahadeomath are the two towns that were ring bunded in Bihar. This construction was completed in the fifties of the twentieth century along with the construction of the Kosi embankments. The settlements that are protected by ring bunds often come within the current of the river flow and the process of the land building by the river takes place outside the ring bunds. Since the river is free to wander now and its flow is not constrained as was the case with the embankments, the silt gets deposited outside the ring. Its rate of deposition is comparatively less but it does not stop altogether. With the passage of time, when enough silt was deposited outside the ring, the demand for raising the ring bunds comes from the people. If the bund is raised, the settlement within the ring proportionately goes down and its vulnerability to the floodwaters of the river rises. It, by some accident, the ring bund breaches, the people will not find time to react to the situation and will face the deluge. There is a very interesting comment by Capt. G. F. Hall, former chief engineer of Bihar (1937), about the ring bunds. He said that the ring bunds are good as long as they stand firm but once they give way, they become the cause of death of those for whose protection they had been constructed.
Apart from that, the rainwater which falls within the ring, does not allow the people within the ring to live in peace. This water cannot be taken out without pumping. When the ring bunds were constructed around Nirmali, three pump houses were constructed here at three different locations to house the pumps of 49 horse power capacity each. There is no trace of one pump house, the second one has just its platform left and only the third one still operates. Boats ply in Nirmali in monsoon months. The anti-flood sluice that was used to drain the water out, could not be closed in 1981 and the flood water had entered the town through these gates.
In Assam, ring bunds are constructed around Dibrugarh in the form of letter 'C'. Here also the situation is virtually the same as in Nirmali and the rainwater has got to be pumped out annually. Army has to be called out regularly in order to save the town.
There are ring bunds constructed around the towns of Azamgarh and Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh. The flood water that entered the town of Azamgarh, in 1976, stayed there till a fortnight.
Today we don't have the persons amongst us who had built the ring bunds around Nirmali and those who are now responsible for the protection against floods are standing in the posture of '...what can we do?”
The fourth question is about how to utilize the floodwater in a better way. Yes, we do have surplus water in the rainy season. Have you heard about the Watershed Management Program (WMP)? Its first principle is to arrest the raindrop that falls on the ground at the same place. The rainwater should be used locally first and then only it should be allowed to proceed further. Those who profess this at the top of their voice, they only talk of leading the flood water to somewhere else—give this water to the deficient areas. That is the paradox. Why should that be done? Supposing we have surplus water in some season, would that mean we should send it to, say, Chhotanagpur because that is a deficit area whether it is practical or not. Or, if there is some extra water in the Ganga, should that be sent to the Cauvery which was the dream of Dr. K. L. Rao? And who will decide whether we have utilized the water that fell on our land and whether it is surplus for us?
The reports of the irrigation department of Uttar Pradesh suggest that some 37 per cent of their run-off goes waist. But at the same time, they also caution the readers that no one should conclude that it is the surplus water of the state.
There is a big drama going on in the name of watershed management in our country. This entire program is based on the assumption that the trapped drop of rainwater will seep through in the ground and retain the moisture of the land and part of it will seep to reach the streams and then to the river or the sea. This happens most of the times but to say that this alone happens would be wrong. The local conditions may be different and nobody can say with confidence that a particular thing would happen everywhere. Should you raise such inconvenient questions that go against the stream, you will be advised by all concerned to withhold your ideas but nobody knows what will be the impact of these actions over a period of time.
I once traveled to Rajasthan with Dr. G. D. Agrawal, after the floods of 1996 there. We went to the basins of the Sahibi in Bharatpur and the Ruparel in Alwar. Some 27 channels are taken out of the Sahibi for the purpose of irrigation and a fairly good area is irrigated by that. The Sahibi ceases to exist in the Kamma block of Bharatpur district because of these canals. The river is virtually murdered. Dr. Agrawal was once seeing the map of the area sitting on the ground with the drawing spread before him. I was standing there in front of him. He asked me to tell the direction in which the river was flowing without bending. I could only see the lines and their width from that height and could not read the writings on the map. I told him whatever I could observe. Then he asked me to sit down and look at the map. The direction of the river appeared to be reversed when I saw the map sitting on the ground because now I could read the map and watch the directions also. What I felt were the tributaries of the river, were the canals taken out from it and the point that appeared as the source of the river was, in fact, the place where the river lost its existence.
Hence, when we talk about the use of water, we must bear in mind two things, (a) never ever lose the claim over the water that is legitimately ours, and (b) think in totality and just don't get carried away by slogans. There was an engineer named Peter Salberg who used to say that the product of the resources of the governments and the skills of the engineers is dangerous, at times. I will give you an example. Supposing I suggest to a person with huge wealth that I can make a building that will rest over a fountain. If he has the taste for such a venture and the requisite resources to spare, all that I have to do is to balance the weight of the building with the water pressure coming out through the jet of the fountain and it is a technically justifiable design. The building will rest over the jet of water. I will earn a big name along with that of the sponsors. Sometimes and someday in future, if anything goes wrong with the balancing forces, the building will come down crumbling. Excuses and explanations will found out that day. We should do only those things that are simple in nature and are sustainable and more so if our resources are limited.
The fifth question is that we had a very good system of tank irrigation in south India, especially in Tamil Nadu, which was managed very well by the local people through local resources? Yes, that is true and it is not only true for Tamil Nadu, it is also true for Rajasthan where we have had a community irrigation that was far more dependable than what we have today.
Without going that far, let us check it up in our own backyard. There was a village called Partapur near Jhanjharpur. This village, located on the bank of the Balan, was a very prosperous village some fifty years ago. There used be Sabhagachhi is a place of regional assembly where parents of brides-grooms, pundits and registrars assemble annually to settle marriages. This used to be a very important event here. This village is deserted now. In its hey days, the village had four tanks in it, one big and three relatively smaller. The bigger tank was located at the highest level and was linked with the Balan through a drain. The other three tanks were linked to this tank. When the rivers used to be in spate, the villagers used to open the drain and fill the upper tank first. Then the other tanks also used to be filled and the drain closed. Only the upper layer water of the Balan used to enter the drain and hence the coarse sand could not enter the drain and only the water with rich fertilizing silt could find its way into the tanks. The water in the tank was used for taking the Rabi crop. The wells in the village never used to go dry because of these tanks. Makhana and fishes were in abundance. Since the river was free, the flood levels would never rise over beyond 3-4 feet. On the Sankranti day of the month of Vaishakh (roughly April), all the villagers used to assemble to clean the tanks as a ritual. There was no Chisapani dam or the Kamala Canals there but there was no dearth of food grains and the life was smooth for the villagers. They had evolved their own systems and had full control over them.
The Kosi area was no different either. There were problems during the rainy season but they were bearable. The Kosi used to flow in 16 different streams, from Lachha Dhar in the east to Lagunia Dhar in the west and its flood levels never rose to killer depths. If there is a devastating flood in any area, then also there used to be good crops in the adjoining areas. There were paddy varieties that would grow in water depths up to 20-25 feet which were sowed and harvested with the help of boats. The people never watched the floods with curiosity or with a feeling of resignation in them. They had developed unmatched skills in binding these rivers in the Rabi season and diverting the river waters to their fields.
Here in Darbhanga, there used be an engineer called R. S. King. The British government had allocated Rs. 74,0001 - for carrying out relief operations in Madhubani following the drought of 1896. Instead of withdrawing money for distributing relief, King took only Rs. 10,000/- from this budget, repaired all the pynes in the area and cultivated 45,000 acres of Rabi crop. Otherwise also, this area is not known for famines arid never the prices of grains shot up here.
The sixth question is cannot we manage the floods instead of controlling them? That will solve most of our problems.
I must say, the phrase of flood management is very misleading. In 1954, when the first flood policy was announced in the Lok Sabha, Nanda had used the word flood control. The construction of the Kosi embankments started in 1955 and while these were proceeded with, there was a very bad flood in 1956. Then Nanda announced that it will not be possible to control the floods fully and the floods will have to be lived with and managed. Thus the Kosi embankment, from Bhardah to Marouna was constructed for controlling the floods and from Marouna to Bhanthi, it were built in the name of managing the floods. What I mean to say is, whether we call it flood management or flood control, we are doing the same thing. Now a days they are coining another phrase 'to live with floods'. This is a very good thing because there is no other way out. But then why does the government say that there is no alternative to the Barahkshetra dam and that is the real and final solution. Do you understand the meaning and implication of what you say? I was given the name of Dinesh Kumar Mishra by my parents. They could have as well called me Ganga Ram but will that change my character? I would remain just the same. Floods are managed by the people who have lived without any embankment, any Barahkshetra dam or any engineer for thousand of years and without any external support. We are surviving even when the ferocity of the floods has been changed from that of a cat to a tiger. Did any engineer come to ask you as to how did you face the floods of 1968, 1978 or the 1987 and more recently that of 1998. Now tell me who knows more to live with the floods. The problem is, they will come to teach us again, something that they do not know at all.
I will request you not to be misled by the names and brands and analyse things before you make an opinion. One Anna Hazare changed the complexion of the irrigation scene in the country. He is not an engineer but was an ordinary soldier in the army. May be, there is some Anna Hazare of the flood area sitting amongst us.
Despite all this, there is need for a debate over the issue of floods.
Dr. Sharda Nand Choudhary (Darbhanga) - Floods come when the rivers spill their banks. The Himalayas, covered with snow, are located north of this place where we are sitting at the moment. The winds that blow in north westerly direction, hit these mountains leading to rainfall. The Ganga basin is located down these mountains in the shape of a shell. We are based at the north of the Ganga. The rivers descending down the plains join the Ganga but the topography of the land retards the process and the floods are seen.
The poverty in north Bihar is mainly due to this flood which is a natural calamity. It is not very easy to lead this water to the sea in such a way that it causes no damage. It is also not very easy now to adjust with this water. We cannot adjust with water when it rises to submergence level. We can then resort to certain measures which will ease the situation. One of the choices could be to join all the rivers, from the Gandak to the Mahananda, along the Nepal border. All the rivers don't get flooded simultaneously and hence, by linking them together, the flow in them could be adjusted.
Sedimentation in the bed of the rivers is causing their level to rise. These rivers could be desilted and the problem could be solved to an extent. We don't lack the manpower and desilting would create employment. The excavated earth could be used for making bricks.
There are only three bridges for draining of the north Bihar on the Gandak near Hajipur, on the Burhi Gandak near Khagaria and on the Kosi near Kursela. If the waterway through these bridges could be increased, the drainage position will surely improve.
We don't have flash floods in our area. It is not like Morvi where the dam had breached and thousands of people perished. Our floods are natural and linking the rivers would, surely, be useful.
Prof. Vidya Nath Jha (Darbhanga)— I am not competent to talk over the problem of floods but I shall surely be talking about the tapping of our water and vegetative resources. We have very good variety of deep water paddy which can be taken up in the areas of deep waterlogging. Their yield is very encouraging. Researches are going on in the other countries regarding these varieties. It was reported yesterday that our country has had 30,000 different varieties of paddy to suit every condition of availability of water. Their number has come down to few hundreds now. At the moment, we claim that we are self sufficient in food production but the population growth is also continuing. The kind of production that was possible in Punjab or Haryana, has now been achieved.
We have seen the Green Revolution and have used the high yielding varieties of seeds. If the production has to rise now, what are the things that could be done now. The scientists now say that the seeds that we had abandoned, which could produce grains even in adverse conditions, should be brought back. As an extension, work regarding these seeds should be done in the flood areas. There are ample opportunities of growing Makhana in North Bihar, and that too in the Mithila region of it. This potential has to be tapped. Waterlogging is serious in Haryana but the soil there is not suited for the crop as we have it here. Our Makhana is far more superior to the Makhana of anywhere else.
Makhana, and the products possible from it, are yet to be researched. It is a very light stuff and it occupies lot of space and its transportation becomes very costly. This problem can be solved if it could be transformed to other products. Singhara also grows very well in water and has got a good market. The lotus, its fruits and the flowers, has a good market.
Water hyacinth is a big problem in our area. This is not an indigenous vegetation of our country. It is said that some English lady brought it to our country and it spread all over. Attempts were made to make paper out of it but failed. Then it found some use in the biogas plants and compost pits. But its real use is yet to be found out. Similarly, there is an aquatic weed called Ipomea, which contains 60 per cent protein. Tablets can be made out of it after processing it and marketed. Karmi is another aquatic weed whose production can be increased by giving different fertilizers. Experiments have been made in countries like China to enhance its production.
Let us also have a look about the fish production. We have not yet modernised our fish production. We have vast natural resources and ample opportunities to grow fishes. Scientists believe that it is possible to grow fishes ranging from 30-150 kilograms per hectare. The kind of natural capacities we have, we can easily go up to 1500 kilograms per hectare per year. We can also grow turtles and snails along with fishes. We had a very big industry of making buttons of shells at Mehsi in East Champaran. The industry is not dead but it is finding it difficult to survive competition from the modern products but they are putting up a tough fight. Then there is husk and straw of various plants and grains. This could be used as bio-fertilizer.
Thus, there are lot of undiscovered sources related to water and vegetative kingdom which are waiting to be tapped.
Dinesh Kumar Mishra (Jamshedpur)—I have some questions more directed to me and it seems proper that we can discuss these now.
The first question relates to the desilting of the rivers. I had said yesterday that our rivers contain a huge amount of silt load in their flow. The earth estimated to settle between Mahishi and Koparia every year amounts to 56 lakh trucks-load. To maintain the river bed at today's level, this much of earth will have to be dug annually and the digging period will be limited to mid-December to mid-February as that is the only dry period available as far as earth digging is concerned. This would mean that some thirty seven thousand trucks-load of earth will have to be dug everyday and disposed to some suitable location. If these trucks are placed in a line, they will stretch to 265 kilometers which is the distance between Patna, the state capital of Bihar, to Mahishi. But the earth cannot be dumped in Patna, it will have to be taken somewhere else, may be to the Bay of Bengal. To take 37,000 trucks everyday to the Bay of Bengal and bring them back from there, we would be needing a very wide road, to start with.
When the deepening and widening of the river will be taken up, all the existing bridges will have to be extended. Desilting a tributary will have no meaning unless the master drain, the Ganga, is desilted. As long as the Farakka Barrage exists, the desilting of the Ganga will have no meaning because its concrete base will determine the level of the Ganga.
Let us assume that the Farakka Barrage is not there. The Ganga bifurcates into two streams below Farakka, the Padma that flows eastwards into Bangladesh arid the Bhagirathi that travels southwards, acquiring the name Hooghly, and finally joins the sea. Calcutta is located on the east Ialz.71ri; of the Hooghly. We cannot desilt Padma for political reasons but we can dig the Bhagirathi. If that is done, all the Ganga water will start flowing through the Bhagirathi/Hooghly channel and this Bangladesh will never allow to happen.
Supposing, we are able to excavate the Bhagirathi; Hooghly channel, its confluence with the sea is in a state of equilibrium and it will not take much time to restore the status quo. Desilting of the river is possible only in case the silt contents in the flow are very small or the stream itself is very small. In case of north Bihar rivers, desilting is simply ruled out.
The second question is of linking the rivers with the help of canals. Linking the rivers is confronted with the problem of displacement and rehabilitation of huge population because of the construction of the link canal. As far as my information goes, an attempt was made in 1882 in Orissa to link the Mahanadi and Brahman i through Birupa and the project had to be subsequently abandoned and no attempts were made later.
A similar proposal is there to link the Brahmaputra and the Ganga to augment the flow at Farakka. Bangladesh very strongly objects to the construction of this 324 kilometer long and 800 meter wide proposed canal linking the Brahmaputra at Jagighopa in Assam to the Ganga at Farakka in West Bengal. This canal is likely to displace some ten lakh people. Similar is the situation about the canal linking Sankosh to the Ganga. Our friends, who have come here from Sitamarhi, must have seen that attempts were made to divert part of the Bagmati waters, at Belwa, through the Belwa dhar between 1978 to 1989 and to rejoin the main river at Kalanjar Ghat. Every year the regulator at the Belwa dhar used to get washed away and the efforts were dropped. Suoh works are not very easy with limited resources.
The third question is a proposal to make the land of north Bihar plain and that is expected to solve the flood problem. This is a strange proposal and, I feel, is impractical. But this reminds me that when the embankment over the Burhi Gandak was being built in Samastipur, in 1956, its construction started on one bank and when the floods came that year, the floodwater was pushed on the other end. Obviously, the floods were unprecedented in those areas that year. There was a flood conference held in Samastipur to take the stock of the flood situation. A participant in the conference proposed to build a mountain like structure along the eastern coast of the country so that the Gangetic plains form the rain shadow area. All the rainfall would then take place in the sea and the north Bihar will be spared of the rains and floods that devastate it. Now, can we call this a solution to the problems faced by us.
When faced with the sunshine, the human beings discovered the umbrella and that is still continuing being used because of its sustainability. He could also have thought of covering the sun and it was also a method of dealing with the sunshine, but is it practical? The last question is about the impact of earthquakes on the proposed dams in Nepal and it is also mentioned that the dam building technique is now far more advanced than what it was 50 years ago. In that case what is wrong in building the dams there?
This is true that there have been advancements in the technology. But the issue of earthquakes is not resolved, it is still doubtful. In 1954, when the Kosi embankments were given a final shape, a question was asked in the Bihar assembly (22nd. September) as to why, instead of Barahkshetra dam, Kosi embankments are being built. The government replied through a statement of Anugraha Narayan Sinha that it was concerned about the safety and security of the people living downstream since the Himalayas are located in a highly seismic zone. Hence the dam would not be built there. Later the geologists also confirmed this apprehension. It is still anticipated that there is always a possibility of the repetition of the Muzaffarpur like earthquake (8.4 on the Richter Scale) in future and hence the proposed dams will always attract a debate.
Lot of controversy was observed in case of the Tehri dam. This dam might be under construction but the differences of the scientists are not resolved yet. Prof. T. Shivaji Rao, who was one of the members of the review committee of the dam safety was not happy with the design of the dam and wanted it to be reviewed. The dissenters also wanted that the cost of disaster preparedness and management, in case of the failure of the dam, should also become a part of the dam cost. If these things were included in the cost of the dam, the benefit cost ratio would reverse. But the government is government, the dissension of the scientists and engineers notwithstanding, it can always build the dams. As the situation stands today, the flood situation that is created for us now, the society faces it with its own resources, own strengths and own capabilities. The doles that are given to it from outside does not compare at all with the needs. Did the society know the price that it will have to pay in future when these embankments were being constructed? The engineers and the politicians are left with no role, at the moment, other than fooling the public in the name of the Barahkshetra dam. This, in fact, they have been doing for the past fifty years. Does our society know the point where the politicians and the engineers would desert it and it will have to face the consequences singly and on its own. Is the society geared up to this reality and if so, does it know the price of it?
Dr. Amarendra Prasad (Patna)
I was exposed to floods for the first time in Haveli Kharagpur in 1962. When the dam collapsed there, the whole area was inundated. The mud wall of our house collapsed. Fortunately, all of us were there in the kitchen having our dinner. In 1971, we moved to Darbhanga and started seeing a different kind of flood. I find a marked difference in floods of those days and that of now. I saw the floods of the Mahananda in 1987 and got an opportunity to study its impact on the poor. I came into contact with Barh Mukti Abhiyan in 1998 and our relationship is continuing.
There was a time when the floods were welcomed by the people but that does not happen anymore. When we think of anything to alleviate our sufferings vis a vis floods, we must not forget that the rivers have been the foundation of the growth of our civilization and we have grown along the bank of the rivers. With time, there was interference with the working of the rivers and they retaliated with vengeance.
Yesterday we had talked about some literature of Mithila like the Maila Anchal, Kosi Pranganer Chithi etc. One must read the writings of Dharma Pal, Mahatma Gandhi's Hind Swaraj, Ruskin's Unto His Last, Collection of Raghawan and Gandhiji's letters published in Harijan (224TM , July 19446) to appreciate the agony that underlies the literature. It helps to develop a broad outlook about education, health, environment and economic policy.
Unprecedented plagiarism has taken place from our literature. This has happened in the field of education, medicine and music and the patents have been taken up abroad. We will have to protect our own wealth of knowledge. We will have to think afresh over the entire situation. We had thought of Suraaj (good governance). Did we get it?
Our social scientists, scientists, economists, and political scientists should come forward and guide us. Let them collect all the information and analyze them to find solutions. We must protect and add to the knowledge and that is the way to progress.
Last Session : Resolutions
Following resolutions were passed after a long discussion in the resolution session.
1. About 29 lakh hectares of land in Bihar is reported to be protected against floods. It is demanded from the government to publish these maps at the earliest for the benefit of the citizens.
2. Other than assurances, whatever information is available about the proposed dams in Nepal should be made public.
3. The 8,00,000 hectares of land, which is waterlogged in north Bihar, should be cleared of water logging as soon as possible.
4. A copy of the proceeding of the workshop should be sent to National Human Rights Commission and all other organizations working on human rights.
5. All those who are interested in the flood issue should try for publishing a quarterly bulletin. Barh Mukti Abhiyan should take initiative in this direction.
Vijay Kumar (Joint Convenor-Barh Mukti Abhiyan)
बाढ़ मुक्ति अभियान दरभंगा गोष्ठी की कार्यवाही की रपट 5-6 अप्रैल 2000
(इस पुस्तक के अन्य अध्यायों को पढ़ने के लिये कृपया आलेख के लिंक पर क्लिक करें।)