Stagnating pools and the gandak command

Submitted by Hindi on Tue, 06/06/2017 - 12:43
Abstracted from the forthcoming book ‘Abhishapta gandak’ by the author

.The Gandak is a very important river of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which debouches from the Himalayan range of mountains into the plains near Tribeni in the Bhairawa district of Nepal. On the eastern side of this river, opposite Tribeni, is located the town of Valmiki Nagar in the West Champaran district of Bihar. The river descends from a height of 7620 meters from its origin in Dhaulagiri Hills in Tibet. It travels 265 kilometer further down, below Tribeni, and joins the Ganga near Sonepur. It forms the boundary between India and Nepal for about 18.5 kilometers, below Valmiki Nagar and further beyond, for about 80 kilometers, the river forms the boundary between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Its catchment area at Tribeni is 35,470 Sq. Kilometers and, between Tribeni and Sonepur, the river has an additional catchment of 4188 Sq. Kilometers in Bihar, and only 865 Sq. Kilometers in U. P., bringing the total to 40,523 Sq. Kilometers. This implies that only thirteen percent of the total catchment area of the river is located in India. The average rainfall in the Gandak catchment area ranges from about 2,000 mm in higher reaches to about 1,250 mm. in the lower reaches. After the river descends into the plains, the ground slopes vary from about 15 cms per kilometer, in the terai, to about 10 cms per kilometer near the confluence of the river with the Ganga suggesting that the river flows through a very mild slope.

Flat profile of the land, through which the river flows in plains, coupled with an appreciable quantity of sediments in its waters cause the meandering of this river although this meandering is not comparable to that of the Kosi. A chain of 43 chaurs (land depressions) in the East and West Champaran districts are attributed to the shifting courses of the Gandak. Presence of a good number of tributary rivulets, change in the course of the rivers, and a flat gradient of the ground are some of the factors responsible for a good source of surface water together with a rich supply of the groundwater in the basin.

An ambitious project to irrigate about 11.53 lakh hectares of land in Bihar and 4.45 lakh hectares in Uttar Pradesh was taken up on this river in early sixties and the Gandak which flows in a narrow valley in India has, thus, spread over a large area, through its canals, over the districts of West Champaran, East Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Samastipur, Gopalganj, Siwan and Saran in Bihar and Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Deoria and Padrauna in U. P. It’s command area now spreads upto the Burhi Gandak in the east; the Rohin, the Rapti and the Ghaghra in the west; the Ganga in the south and in the north, the Gandak canals run almost parallel to the Indo-Nepal boundary.

The Gandak Valley occupies an important place in the Indian history. This river was once the boundary between the kingdoms of Kosala and Mithila. These kingdoms are associated with Lord Rama and Sita respectively. Lord Krishna, while travelling from Hastinapur to Rajgrih (Magadh), had crossed the Sarayu (Ghaghra) and the Gandak in one of his expeditions. The area was very thickly wooded in the past. Gorakhpur (seat of the Gorakhnath sect), Deoria (Deva-Aranya), Champaran (Champak Aranya), Saran (Sarang Aranya) and Vaishali (the seat of Lichchavis) is located around the Gandak. Lord Buddha had spent a good part of his life in Vaishali which is also said to be the birth place of Lord Mahavira. The woods and ample water resource in the Gandak basin had made the area prosperous. Heavy rains and me resulting inundation from the rivers used to provide a good base for the monsoon crops and if there was any loss due to heavy floods, the bumper crop in the winter season was enough to wipe out any deficiency in food production. Should an opportunity occur to irrigate the crops, kacha shallow dug wells would suffice the purpose since the spring level was quite high. Life was surely easy in the basin.

After the advent of the British, the indigo planters started setting up their establishments in remote areas. Forests suffered the casualty of such expansion and the so called developed land now needed irrigation. Planters like Peppe and Holdsworth tried to irrigate their holdings of 16,000 and 6,000 Hectares respectively, by constructing canals and small reservoirs in the Gorakhpur district while the Government constructed Saran Canals in Saran and Tiur Canal in Champaran in Bihar and none of these systems worked because the canals were not put to use regularly as the deficient rainfall years were very limited, spring level was quite high and the maintenance and running of the canal was a drain on the resources.

But the British had seen money in canal irrigation after renovating the Yamuna Canal constructed by Feroze Shah Tughalak in the 14th Century. They were also encouraged by the performance of the Ganga Canal. Many of the British engineers had aspirations to be the pioneers in the field of irrigation while the then Government was setting its eyes very firmly on the returns. The programme picked up momentum after the freedom struggle of 1857 which the British had termed as Mutiny. By extending canal irrigation on a massive scale they wanted to establish that their's was the Government which cared for the people and that the resulting situation would be conducive to perpetuate their rule and curb dissent. It was during this period that the Gandak Project first caught the attention of the then rulers in Bihar, in 1854. However, Uttar Pradesh (then North-Western Province) was not very keen on taking up this project for a variety of reasons which included, (1) the engineers in that state had ample opportunities to exhibit their talent in the Yamuna and the Ganga canals and later in the Sharda, Betawa and Ken canals etc. (ii) the climatic condition in Gorakhpur was too unfavourable to them and (iii) the spring level was too high in the proposed command area and the canal irrigation was likely to aggravate water logging. These were some of the reasons why the Gandak Project did not find favour in U. P. But in Bihar, which was a part of Bengal till 1991, was not treated at all as an irrigation province by the British, some canal enthusiasts kept on raising the question of irrigation from the Gandak. That was the reason for Lieut. Dickens to become Col. Dickens in convincing the government about the utility of Sone Canals. Bihar invited an engineer named Jeffery from U. P. in 1854, for the first time, to explore the possibilities of irrigation from the Gandak but nothing fruitful emerged from this exercise. The collector of Gorakhpur, Bird, in 1859, proposed a canal from the Gandak but that idea was never pursued seriously.

In 1871-72, the Lieutenant Governer (L. G.) summarily rejected the proposal for an inundation canal from the Gandak in Champaran citing the example of tampering with the Damodar in Burdwan district saying that the proposed canal would add to waterlogging and spread malaria, the farmers would use the canal water only in scarcities which were not very common in Champaran those days, the canal was unlikely to meet it’s expenses and the interest over the capital might not return. The proposal for the same canal was put up before the L. G. for approval, once again, during the famine of 1873-74 and he did not concede the demand but the work on the relatively smaller Saran Canal and the Tiur Canal started soon. As apprehended, these canals could not sustain themselves and were a liability to the state from the year of their commissioning. A stage came when the indigo planters and the local Zamindars were prepared to pay for the expenses of these canals in advance but the P. W. D. could not ensure irrigation from these canals and backed out. Many proposals were put forward to do away with these canals in later years, in the beginning of this century.

The famine of 1896, however, saw the beginning of the work on the Champaran or the Tribeni Canal under relief operations. This canal was completed in 1913 while partial irrigation had started in 1909 but the canal could neither pay for it’s expenses nor it could ever achieve the targetted irrigation figures. It was confronted with another problem. The canal alignment was from west to east and the land slopes were from north to south. A small rain in the hills was enough to breach the canal at many places rendering it unfit for irrigation and the maintenance of such a canal was very difficult and it remains the same till date. Thus, when irrigation was needed most, this canal was unable to irrigate and in normal rain years, the farmers would not take water from the canal.

It was in 1907-1909 that the irrigation Department of U. P. prepared a project report for a canal from the Gandak in the U. P. portion and Molony, the Collector of Gorakhpur, then once again rejected the proposal on the apprehension of waterlogging. When the first popular Government took charge in U. P. in 1937, it refrained from proposing a canal from the Gandak although many other irrigation projects were proposed by them but the Gandak files remained active in Bihar. By this time, the reason for waterlooging and the effervescence on the earth surface had been discovered. It was understood that when the rising ground water comes into the suction zone of the roots of the plant, the oxygen supply to the plants gets cut and the plant growth is hampered. The roots suck water from the subsoil and its transpiration takes place through the leaves. When the water table is high enough, the roots suck the dissolved salts also along with the water. Transpiration of salts does not take place and they are left back at the earth surface in form of Reh which continuously diminishes the fertility of the soil which becomes a wasteland in due course. It is not necessary for the water to be seen on the ground surface to establish waterlogging. The rising of the water table to the root zone of the plants is enough to cause the damage and the existence of effervescence is a sure test of waterlogging conditions. The case where water is trapped on the ground, it is known as waterlocking, an extreme case of waterlogging.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, when he was the minister of agriculture in the interim government at the Centre, in 1946, proposed to the government of Bihar and U. P. to look into the possibilities of irrigation from the Gandak through canals, Bihar responded favourably to the proposal but U.P. remained firm that the canal irrigation will not be useful in the Gorakhpur area and will aggravate waterlogging but it did furnish technical data to Bihar engineers and allowed them to make necessary surveys in the territory since the 'Western Canal', if ever built, would have to pass through U. P. 1948 and 1949 were the years of severe drought in the Gorakhpur and Deoria districts in U. P. and the demand of irrigation picked up there. The irrigation politics took a different turn in U. P. this time. The people from these districts were demanding irrigation through customary means of wells and tube-wells but some of the influential local leaders started pressing for a large irrigation work on the lines of the proposed Kosi Project in Bihar which was then estimated at Rs. 177 crores. Irrigation now got relegated to the background and the large irrigation scheme took the central stage. This was the time when large projects were being called as the ‘temples of modern India'. The U. P. Government now entered a phase of indecision and after prolong negotiation an agreement was signed, in 1957, between the states of U.P. and Bihar over the sharing of costs of the project. Despite this agreement the U.P. Government was not very enthusiastic about the Gandak Project as the ghost of waterlogging was always haunting them. A stage had come when Bihar, being sick of the unresponsive behaviour of U. P., decided to go it alone by constructing a barrage at Siswan with its own resource and on its own soil without any involvement of U. P. at all. It was in 1964 when the construction of the project could finally be inaugurated by Pt. Nehru and this was, probably the last major scheme that he had initiated.

The Gandak canals are now spread over a large area in U. P. and Bihar. Although incomplete, the canals irrigate a sizable area in both the states but seepage through the canals, frequent breaches in them and disruption of the drainage line, has helped raising the already high water table in the area and has aggravated waterlogging as apprehended earlier. These canals are over 3,244 kilometer long in U. P. alone extending over the districts of Maharajganj, Gorakhpur, Deoria and Padarauna. In Bihar the Canal length is well over double than that of U. P.

It will not be wise to put all the blame of deteriorating water logging situation of to the Gandak canals alone in this area. There were other contributing factors too. Prior to the `Mutiny' of 1857, there was only one road in the Saran district in Bihar which used to link Chhapra to Motihari together with some skeletal connections between Muzaffarpur and Motihari and Hajipur while Gorakhpur was connected to Azamgarh and Fyzabad by a Kankar dressed road. In the name of roads only these links existed then. Following the 'Mutiny' the British were constrained to press army or police to quell any rebellion at a very short notice and to achieve this objective a good network of roads and railways became a necessity. The roads were also needed to transport the finished goods of the Indigo planters together with transshipment of saltpeter. There used to be frequent get-together parties of these planters and reasonably good roads were needed for the plying of the buggies of the Sahibs.

Slowly, these roads became an impediment to the passage of surface water. The extension of railway worked as a double edged sword. Apart from repression, it also helped the rulers in extricating the forest wealth of the land. Forests were wiped out to meet the demand of sleepers and fuel for the railways. It had taken a long time to substitute wood with coal in railway but by that time the damage was already done. Deforestation enhanced soil erosion and the flood started showing its face as the waterway through the roads and the railway lines was never adequate. The breaches in roads became frequent and the railway lines served more as a blockade to the surface water flow. A lot of debate had taken place about the unscientific construction of railway lines between Sonepur and Lucknow in the last century. In 1895, the railway had to pay a compensation of Rs. 60,000/ to the farmers whose crops had been destroyed due to back waters of Banswar Chak bridge in the Saran district in the floods of 1937, Pt. Govind Ballabh Pant, too, had blamed the Gorakhpur-Gonda rail line for the severe floods in that region.

Quantitatively, for example, Champaran in Bihar had virtually no roads in 1800 A. D. but the road length rose to 700 kilometers in 1876, 1600 kilometers in 1886, 2091 kilometers in 1906 and 3770 kilometers in 1938. Massive road construction has taken place since independence in this district. Similarly, Gorakhpur, including Deoria and Basti had only 80 kilometers of metalled road in 1870 which stood at 2,900 kilometers in 1976. The kachcha roads are in addition to this and the extension continues. The roads constructed under Jawahar Rozgar Yojna (JRY) have led the flood waters, which used to engulf the village, to every door step. Unfortunately, all the savings in construction of the railways and roads is done on the culverts and bridges. Such constructions cannot be avoided but the unscientific construction was also never resisted. Presently this area has a good and developed network of roads and railways but the cost of this extension is paid in terms of prolonged stagnation of water and waterlogging.

There is another and equally important reason for the enhance floods and waterlogging in this area. During the pre-British period, the villagers had their own traditional and time tested means of dealing with the floods and the rivers. When the British held the grip on India's administration, they felt that by embanking the rivers and providing flood protection followed by irrigation in the flood protected areas, they can enhance their earnings. They made a maiden effort on the Damodar in Bengal before the 'Mutiny' of 1857 and failed miserably. Very soon they realised that when a river is embanked it’s bed level will start rising because of sedimentation, the spill water which contains a good amount of fertilizing slit would not reach the fields, the rain water getting drained freely into the river would now stagnate outside the embankments, the triburtary of the river would get blocked and a sluice gate would be needed to regulate the flow, the sluice gates themselves would be hard to operate during the rainy season as the water from the main river might backflow into the tributary causing floods in the areas unknown to flooding. The sluice gates may also get jammed in sand. That would create the demand for embanking the tributary also. The embanked tributary would create another set of problem that the water between the embankment of the tributary and the embankment of the main river would get locked. To drain this water out, either the embankments will have to be cut or the pumping will have to be resorted to. Such pumps can be seen in the Ramgarh Tal area of Gorakhpur these days. Seepage from the embankments is an essential feature to the embanking technology and the embankments will have to be raised keeping in the tune with the rising bed level of the river and there is a practical limit to which the embankments can be raised and none can guarantee the safety of these highly fraglle structures. Higher the embankments, riskier will be tie conditions for the people taking shelter behind them. Having learnt these lessons, the British never tried to tamper with the rivers ca the Ganga and the Brahmaputra basin till they la India in 1947.

It was for these reasons that when the people in Manjhi, in the Saran district, demanded embankments along the Ghaghra after the severe floods of 1890, the Government deputed two of it’s senior engineers, Buckley and Olding, to study the problem and suggest means to combat floods. These engineers appreciated the plight of people but rejected the demand for the embankments as according to them the situation was likely to be much worse of following the construction of the embankments. They maintained that if an embankment is constructed on the Bihar portion of the river, the flood waters would be pushed to Bahia in U.P. Hence they recommended that the embankments should not be built, in the first place, and the government should never indulge itself in such a construction. If the people desired, they could do so at their own cost and risk. Similar argument was put forward by G.C. Palmer, Superintending Engineer, U.P in 1898, by Bradshaw Smith Superintending Engineer of U.P in the Patna Flood Conference in 1937 and A. P. Watal in 1939 against the embankments on the Ghaghra. After the independence, during the flood control boom in the late fifties the Rohin, the Rapti and the Ghaghara was embanked in U.P. The Gandak, which was hitherto free in U.P. was embanked between Chhitauni to Nichalaul. All these works were carried out in a fashion and spirit as if the earlier engineers had no knowledge of floods and were ignorant of dealing with them. The Bihar portion of the Gandak was embanked just before the British took control over India, in 1756, by the efforts of one Dhausi Ram, who the deputy of Nawab Mir Kasim of Bengal. The British only maintained this embankment, though unwillingly. These embankments were strengthened after the independence. The Ganga and the Ghaghra were also embanked during that period. Breaches in the embankment have become more of a rule than exception these days. Whether it is Pipra-Piparsi embankment and the Champaran embankment in Bihar or the Ahirauladan-Pipra embankment in U.P., all have become equally vulnerable. Until a few years ago the Pipra -Piprasi embankment in Bihar used to breach as a matter of routine every year but the situation has got relaxed there as the river is building up pressure on the Ahirauladan Pipra embankment in U.P. Breaches in Champaran embankment near Damodarpur. Laukaria does not raise eyebrows anymore. One remembers, at this juncture, the breach in the Molony bund near Nandua village in Gorakhpur - district (29 July 1955) which was probed by none other than Raj Bhadur A.N. Khosla, an eminent engineer. He had held responsible the technical staff for this lapse and the full text of his report was published in the news papers. Enquiries aside, the Water Resource Department of Bihar refuses to accept these days that a breach has actually taken place and tries to pass the buck on to the 'anti social elements' or to the institution like the District Boards etc. In some of its reports, it also suggests that the Gandak embankments are providing near total protection from the floods.

Nothing's can be far from truth. Effects of thoughtless and unscientific development to meet the demands of transportation, irrigation and flood control, coupled with the ambitions of the politicians and subservient attitude of the engineers started manifesting itself slowly. Gopalganj, Manjha, Barauli and Baikunthpur blocks of the Gopalgnj district; Mashrakh, 'Taraiya, Amnour., Parsa, Maker, Dariyapur, Sonepur, Manjhi, Rivelganj and Jalalgarh blocks of the saran district; Guthani, Darauli, Andar, Raghunathpur and Siswan blocks in the Siwan district; Bagha I, Bagha II, Jogapatti, Bairiya, Nautan, Madhubani and Bhitaha, Piprasi and Thakaraha blocks of the West Champaran district; Paharpur, Areraj and Kesaria blocks of the East Champaran district; Sahibganj, Paroo, Kurhani and Saraiya blocks of the Muzaffarpur district; Vaishali, Lalganj, Hajipur, Sahdei Buzurg, Biddupur and Mahnar blocks of the Vaishali district bear the brunt of floods and prolonged waterlogging on a continued basis. Almost similar condition exists in the canal fed areas of Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Deoria and Padrauna in U. P. Along the embankment of the Ghaghra, settlements of the flood displaced people have come up from Manjha to Darauli in Bihar. People on the opposite side of the Ghaghra, in the Balha district of U. P., suffer the same fate. Permanent settlements have come up on and along the embankment there. Even marriage Pandals and Mandaps are erected over the embankments. Flood waters of the Rohin, the Rapti, the Ghagra and the Ami have their own stories to narrate in U. P. while the Jharahi, the Daha and the Mahi in Bihar, keep the officials on their toes during the monsoon. It is courtesy the embankments on the Gandak that the Mahi and the Baya do not empty their waters into the Gandak anymore and have become direct tributaries of the Ganga.

There is network of roads, rail-lines, embankments and irrigation canals in this area. Except for transport, what useful purpose is surved by these structures is a point for study but what is certain is that the waterlogging situation has become acute. This has, however, not happened overnight or over a span of few years. Nor that it was not known to the planners that their thoughtless intervention would create problems in future. Waterlogging, as a consequence of canal irrigation was being felt since 1830, in the nineteenth century, in the Yamuna canal area not only by the affected people but even by the Governor Generals who used to hurl curses on their administration for not clearing the waterlogging and thus creating disparities between the irrigated areas and the waterlogged areas. They maintained that the benefits of irrigation were not complete unless waterlogging was cleared, This, however, was a lip service. Robert Green Kennedy, an engineer working in Irrigation Department in Punjab, established in 1873 that only 28 percent of the water released into a canal from the head-works reaches the fields and the remaining 72 percent is lost in transit. Most of this transit water seeps underground and raises the water table and renders the fields unfit for cultivation. He very boldly asserted that when the Government takes the credit for extending irrigation facilities to the fields and charges canal rates for the same, it must also take the responsibility of waterlogging and arrange for the corrective measures. Kennedy was promptly transferred to Afghanistan, to the battlefields, to check the rebellion. He came back in 1891 to Punjab and started working on waterlogging from canals, which he had left eighteen years ago, and remained an eyesore for the administration till he retired in 1907. The British used to take good care of their engineers and often decorate them. Kennedy, after his retirement, left for the U. K. quietly almost unheard and unsung.

In 1876, an indigo planter of Aligarh, Robert, contested a case against the Government that the productivity of his fields had gone down drastically following the continued application of canal water and that Reh had appeared in his fields. Since nothing was known, till then, about the causes of the appearance of Reh, the Government appointed a committee to look into the matter in 1876 but it ended in a guessing game and nothing substantial could emerge. This was followed by a visit of a soil scientist, named Voelcker, from the U. K. in 1880's to India. Voelcker travelled extensively in the canal areas of the country and became an admirer of the traditional irrigation systems of India and commented mostly on the infrastructure support for the Indian agriculture. Waterlogging was also commented upon but no meaningful action programmes emerged. Moloney, the collector of Gorakhpur, while deposing before the First Irrigation Commission (1901-1903), underplayed waterlogging and maintained that while he was the collector of Aligarh he saw no waterlogging there. The Royal Commission on Agriculture (1928) did appreciate the problem of waterlogging but no action programme emerged. The status remained as such till the British left this country in 1947.The tradition set by them still continues. They appreciated the problem but did nothing. In independent India, so many research institutions were established, enquiry commissions were constituted, and committees were installed to look into the problem of waterlogging. Regulating the quantity of canal water, water rationing, conjuctive use of water, lining of canals with materials ranging from polythene to concrete, together with suggestion to promote pisciculture in the waterlogged areas and improving canal administration etc. were all discussed and experimented but nothing has clicked so far. There is no report which does not curse the unscientific extension of roads, railway lines, canals and embankments. Then, as the last excuse, farmers are blamed that they apply abnormally extra water to their fields from the canals. Never it is appreciated that the same farmer does not apply even a drop of extra water when he uses the buckets from the wells or even a diesel pump. It is never said that farmers apply extra water to their fields because they are not sure of the availability of the canal water the next moment. Futile attempts have been made in Bihar, since 1935, to drain the water out the chaurs. This exercise continues ever since without any noticeable success anywhere. Is that the fault of the farmers? On the experiments that were done in Gorakhpur and Deoria by installing huge tube wells to lower the water table in the Gandak Command in the 1980s, and the programme subsequently abandoned solely due to departmental inefficiency was the responsibility of the farmers? The problem lies in the fact that clearing of waterlogging has a very low propaganda value and hence. It never gets the attention it deserves.

The whole problem has a complex social dimension. It is one thing to lay canals and arrange for irrigation, link two towns by constructing roads, extending railways or constructing embankments along the rivers to provide flood protection as all these works are bracketted in the constructive and productive category. By doing so the politicians, engineers and even the contractors earn a social recognition and applaud and often terms like Bhagirath and/or Vishwakarma are used to describe such luminaries. The success stories of such schemes travel very fast to the advantage of the main actors. But since it is not in our tradition to look back and evaluate our works, we seldom care for the after effects of what has already been done. Clearing waterlogging is a thankless and unproductive work which brings no glory to the promoter and does not strengthen one’s grip over the power. Financially it is a looser's game. Since the route to attain and perpetuate once hold on the power goes through the works listed above, no one apparently bothers about the non-productive route. The British only irrigated and never cared about waterlogging. Almost for the similar reason our politicians and planners are also indifferent to the problem. It never serves their purpose. During the British regime, almost all the top men, from Lord Strachey to Lord Waveil, talked about waterlogging and did nothing. The Gandak Command area which has a rare distinction of producing nine Chief Ministers (eight in Bihar and one in U. P.) could not attract the imagination of Ass rulers to the problem of waterlogging for obvious reasons.The Irrigation Department of U. P. does not consider its Gandak Command waterlogged while the Water Resources Department of Bihar is drafting proposal after proposal to clear the waterlogging but, apparently, nothing is being done no the ground.

The original project cost of the U. P. portion of the canal was estimated at Rs. 15.47 crores (1959) and was aimed at irrigating 4.45 lakh hectares of land. After spending more than ten times the original estimate the U. P. canal irrigates around half the target that the project had set for itself. The Bihar portion of the Gandak Canals was estimated at Rs. 40.54 crores (in 1957) the construction of which was supposed to have been completed by 1970. By 1995 over Rs. 428 crores were spent on this incomplete project. According to the official figures the Gandak Canals are, on an average, irrigating around 3.5 lakh hectares of land while there is waterlogging in around 7.5 lakh hectares of land in the Gandak Command area in Bihar and to clear this waterlogging a scheme estimated at Rs. 445 crores is awaiting sanction. Under a different programme, another scheme estimated at Rs. 221 crores is also awaiting clearance. Some ad hoc works are being carried out but no work has been undertaken in an organised manner so far.

One of the important engagements of the Water Resources Department of Bihar is to revise these estimates and present them to various agencies. In its annual report (1999-2000 pp. 18), there is some detail given about the waterlogging in the state. It says, '... some 9.0 lakh hectares of land is waterlogged in Bihar. Of this, 8.0 lakh hectares is located in north Bihar and the remaining 1.00 lakh hectares is located in Mokama Tal.

As a result of works done so far, some 1.5 lakh hectares of land is freed from waterlogging. A special task force was constituted to tackle the waterlogging problem of north Bihar according to the directions of the planning commission. Some 11 and 13 schemes have been chosen for this purpose within the Gandak and the Kosi Command areas respectively, based on priority. These schemes are estimated to cost Rs. 318.08 crores (1998 estimate) and 1.50 lakh hectares of land has already been retrieved so for. But, in the absence of resources, the work for clearing the waterlogging was suspended for past so many years.

Almost for ten years, no funds were allocated from the State Plans for the clearance of waterlogging. An allocation worth Rs. 5.0 crores was made in the year 1999-2000 but since the works were suspended for a long time, it was felt that fresh surveys will have to be done. Such survey and the construction work, if any, is possible only when the Chaurs become dry. It takes a long time after the rainy season to get the area dried up. Thus, only a short period is available for any construction work. Despite this fact, work was started on the waterlogging clearance work in 1999-2000 and one scheme has been completed. It costs Rs. 1,01,808 lakhs and 886 hectares of land has been freed from waterlogging.

The question is, if only Rs. 1,01,808 lakhs is spent after a gap of over ten years, how many centuries will it take to allocate and spend Rs. 318.08 crores and that too if the prices maintained at 1998 level?

It is unlikely that these works would bear any fruit because all the drains dug to clear the waterlogging must lead to the river and the river bed is elevated due to embanking and the countryside, in most cases, is lower than the river side. Unless the embankments are demolished, not even a crop of stragnating water outside the embankments can get drained into the river. Unfortunately, this fact does not find a mention in the drainage reports. When the engineers are asked as to how so much of area has come under waterlogging and whether it is due to the projects, they retort back that tale project is in no way responsible for the waterlogging which existed even during the pre-project times. They have, however, no answer when asked why then the canals were constructed in such a heavily waterlogged area?

As far as a common man is concerned waterlogging is neither a technical matter nor it is going to help him, anyway, by linking the problem with the politics. To him it is a clear cut question of survival and the resulting situation is a consequence of the aggression on his land, forest and water resources by the ambitions of the politicians, incompetence of the engineers, vested interests and an aggressive propaganda of the modern form of development of which he himself is a victim.

Waterlogging not only reduces the area available for cultivation, it turns small and marginal farmers to landless labour and forces to leave their homes and hearths to look for employment elsewhere. It also Makes labour of those who could produce reasonable amount of grains for their consumption. It turns fields into lakes and produces fishes, snails and crabs in lieu of paddy and wheat. The jeeps, buses, tongas or cycles are replaced by boats and it breeds dreaded diseases like kala-azar and Japanese Encephalytes. Young women are forced to lead almost a widowed life in the absence of their husbands who are forced to migrate to distant places and the children are denied the love, care and the discipline that they are entitled to from their father. It pushes them to the carpet industry of U. P. or to the road side hotels as table boys. Waterlogging ruins the local production processes completely and the family is forced into a never ending wait for the money orders. There is no readymade answer to this problem but a beginning will have to be mace from somewhere in the direction of seeking a solution. This is only possible through the mutual cooperation of the concerned people and impressing upon the Government to appreciate the problem in it’s right perspective. Unless this is done it is unlikely that the corrective measures would ever be taken up.


गंडक क्षेत्र और जल-जमाव का घाव

(इस पुस्तक के अन्य अध्यायों को पढ़ने के लिये कृपया आलेख के लिंक पर क्लिक करें।)


गंडक क्षेत्र और जल-जमाव का घाव


Stagnating pools and the gandak command


Abstracted from the forthcoming book ‘Abhishapta gandak’ by the author