Barh-Mukti Abhiyan, Patna, June 2003
Bihar is the one of the most flood prone state of India. According to the report of the National Commission on Floods (1980), 16.5 per cent of the total flood affected area of the country is located in Bihar while 22.1 per cent of the flood affected population in India lives in the alluvial plains of this state. That suggests a heavy concentration of flood affected people over a smaller area. According to recent estimates (1987), 56.5 per cent of the floods affected people ill the country belong to Bihar. Of this, about 76 percent population lives in North Bihar which has an area of about. 5.4 million hectares and a total population of 5.23 millions (2001 census) with a population density of about 1,000 persons per Sq. Kms.
North Bihar is interspersed with eight major river basins namely, the Ghaghra, the Gandak, the Burhi Gandak, the Bagmati, the Adhawara group of rivers, the Kamala, the Kosi, and the Mahananda. All these rivers drain their waters into the Ganga which acts as a master drain. But for the Burhi Gandak, and the Mahananda, all other rivers have their Origin in Tibet or Nepal. The Burhi Gandak originates from Chautarwa-chaur in West Champaran and the Mahananda originates near ‘Kurseong, in West Bengal, and most of their catchment area is located in Nepal. All these rivers bring a lot of detritus with their waters as they debauch into the plains from the Himalayas which is still in its nascent stage of formation and is just a loose heap of soil. These rivers erode the soil very easily and transport it to the plains. As' the rivers descend down to the plains, the flow velocity decreases considerably which results in the deposition of the sediments and formation of the delta. The deposited sediments act as an impediment to the river's flood waters and the rivers cut across these deposits: carve a new path for themselves and meander The process of the delta formation continues still and so does the meandering of the rivers and the flooding of the plains. The floods renew the fertility of the soil every year and that must have attracted the early settlers to this area which was known for its abundance of water and assured crops and hence the high population density. The Hindu scriptures are full for praise and veneration of the rivers which are addressed to as the 'mothers of the world'.
This river has a catchment area of about 74,500 Sq. Kms. Of this, around 85 per cent is located in Tibet and Nepal and the remaining portion lies in India. The river has a total length of 468 Kms of which 248 Kms. lies in the Indian territory. The maximum observed peak flow in the river is reported to be 25,880 Cumecs (1968) at Barahkshetra, in Nepal, and the annual average run-off is to the tune of 68,282 million cubic meters. The river carries a silt load of about 9,495 Hect. Meters annually. The average rainfall in the Indian portion of the Kosi catchment area is 1276 mm.
The Kosi debauches into the plains near Chatra in the Saptari district of Nepal and enters Bihar near Bhimnagar in the Supaul district. Notorious for its vagaries, the river joins the Ganga near Kursela in Katihar district of Bihar. The floods of the river Kosi are most devastating as compared to the other rivers of Bihar. There is not an inch of land in the districts of Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Araria, Kishanganj, Purnia and Katihar over which the Kosi has not once flowed. The river has shifted westward in past two hundred and fifty years by 112 Kms. Such has been the erratic course of the river over the ages that the British called it the 'Sorrow of Bihar.'
The Initiatives on Flood Control
The British, after their occupation of India, tried to tame the Damodar, the 'Sorrow of Bengal' as they called it, in the middle of the nineteenth century with the help of embankments and failed miserably in controlling the river. They, then, refrained from taming any of the Himalayan rivers, as their behaviour was equally unpredictable, till they left India in 1947. Despite many proposals put forward from time to time, the British did not touch the Kosi and wanted it to be left to its own devices and their legacy continued till 1953 when it was decided to embank the Kosi after a debate of about hundred years against embanking of the river. Without going into the details of this debate, suffice here to say that when a heavily silt laden river is restrained between the embankments, the silt that accompanies the flood waters and would have spilled over a large area, now gets restricted between the embankments, thus, continuously raising the bed level of the river. This silt has a fertilizing value, too, and the flood protected countryside is deprived of this benefit because of the embankments. The ever rising bed level of the river demands that the embankments, too, should be raised accordingly.
Secondly, the natural drainage into the river is blocked because of the embankments and the rain water, which would have flowed into the river, on its own, stagnates outside the embankments causing water logging in the protected area. This is further aggravated by seepage through the embankments. In case of a tributary joining the main river, the embankments block its passage and the tributary will either back flow into the protected area or will have to flow parallel to the main river, outside the embankments. The main river then may be flanked by two rivers, on either side of the embankments. This will spell the need for a sluice gate at the confluence of the two rivers. When constructed, such sluice gates cannot be opened during the peak rainy season for the fear that the water in the main river may spill back into the tributary. Hence sluice-gate or no sluice—gate, the flood situation in the countryside is not going to change. Also, the sluice-gates are known to get jammed in the sand deposited due to the ever rising bed of the embanked river.
When the sluice-gates cease to function, the flood affected people demand that the tributaries are also embanked. Should that be done, the rainwater gets trapped between the embankments of the main river and the tributary and inundates new areas hitherto unknown to flooding.
The only course left to get rid of this locked water is to pump it out into the main river or the tributary. To cap it all, no embankment can ever be guaranteed against breaching and should a breach take place, those living between the water-locked area will meet their watery grave. Thus, it is a vicious' circle and once walked into the trap, it becomes impossible to come out. For these reasons, many engineers do not treat embankments as an effective tool to handle floods. Unfortunately, it takes time to get a feel of the discrepancy of the technology and by the time this is revealed to the affected population, it is too late.
A vast section of engineers, however, believes that when a river is embanked, the area available for the passage-of water is reduced and the velocity of the river flow is increased. The increased velocity of water erodes the river banks and dredges its bottom and the cross-sectional area of the river is increased allowing more passage of water and, thereby, reducing the floods. In technical circles, the debate, whether the embankments add to the flood or reduce it, is yet to be settled. But just as both the arguments, for and against the embankments, are thoroughly convincing, engineers use them to justify or discard a scheme depending on the prevailing social and political compulsions and their views being a technical matter cannot be challenged by the lay persons.
When the politicians decide' that the embankments should not be built, the engineers push the former argument and when the politicians want the embankments to be built, the latter arguments are put forward. If the time is to be bought and the project is to be deferred indefinitely, insufficiency of the data comes to the rescue of the engineers who can explain any and every situation that they are faced with. In the early and the middle parts of the nineteenth century, the British repaired and, extended the existing embankments to protect the flooded areas and, thus, enhanced their revenue. When they found that maintaining the embankments was one of the most 'harassing duties' and that the cost of relief and rehabilitation was mounting, they stopped building and repairing the embankments. Their engineers used the earlier set of the arguments to justify the stand of their government. That explains why the British engineers were against the embankments and the Indian engineers preferred them because the political bosses wanted flood protection and did not mind construction of embankments for the purpose. Many engineers, who had opposed the construction of embankments during their tenure in the office during the British regime, changed their stance when the Kosi was proposed to be embanked as India attained freedom.
The Kosi was embanked during 1955-60 and that paved the way for embanking all other major rivers listed above in North Bihar and the result is anybody's guess. Bihar had only 160 Kms. of the embankment length in 1952, before the promulgation of the country's first flood control policy, and the flood prone area of the state was only 2.5 million hectares then. It has now 3,430 Kms. long embankments along its rivers, in 2002, and the flood prone area of the state stands at 6.88 million hectares and to achieve this fete, Rs. 1.327 billions were spent in the state till date. The embankment length in Bihar had reached 3465 kilometers in 1992 but some 11 kilometers of this was washed away in 2000-01 followed by another 24 kilometers in 2001-02. Obviously, the investments in the flood control sector in the state are doing more harm than good. However, it is not proper to put all the blame for this debacle on to the embankments along the Bihar rivers alone. There are other factors, too. Reckless construction of roads and, to an extent, railway lines, without any regard to drainage has also contributed to it. The construction of village roads under various employment generation programmes, without any regard to the drainage aspect of it, has also contributed significantly towards drainage congestion leading to enhanced floods and prolonged water logging. The canals of the Kosi and the Gandak projects have also done their bit in aggravating the situation by cutting the drainage lines, and through seepage. The land profile in North Bihar is almost flat and has-a ground slope of only 11 Cms per kilometer in lower reaches, along the Ganga and any obstruction to the rainwater flow is enough to create waterlogging. The frequent breaches in the river embankments add insult to the injury. The prestigious Kosi embankments, too, have breached many times and their notable failures were seen in 1963, 1968, 1971, 1980, 1984, 1987 and 1991. The breach of 1984 was most serious of these accidents-which had wiped out eleven villages, inundated some 1986 and had rendered half a million people homeless. In the floods of 1987, there were 104 breaches on the river embankments of Bihar and the march continues.
From embankments to high dams in Nepal
The high dam on the Kosi was first proposed in 1937 when the official line of thinking was opposed to embankments and was tilted heavily in favour of improving the drainage and removing all the impediments in the flow path on rain water. The British were not very enthusiastic about any cooperation from Nepal and, it seems, did not pursue the matter and the proposal was revived only in 1945 when the Government of Bihar proposed embanking of the Kosi to the central government which rejected the scheme. Before leaving the country, the colonial rulers had successfully planted the seeds of the proposed high dam on the Kosi at Barahkshetra in Nepal as the central government had plainly rejected the embankment scheme. A formal announcement about damming the Kosi at Barahkshetra, in Nepal, was made at Nirmali (district Supaul) on the 6th April, 1947 by CH. Bhabha, then member of planning at centre. The plan was changed subsequently in favouir of embankments on the Kosi but the ghost of the Barahkkhetra dam haunts the planners ever since. Whenever them is a heavy flood in Bihar, no time is lost in proclaiming that the solution to the flood problems of Bihar lies in the High Dam on the Kosi. This ritual in observed even. When the floods occur in basins other than that of the Kosi. Writing of letters in newspapers, demanding the dam, assuring the flood victims of speedy implementation of the Barahkshetra Dam scheme, sending high power delegations to Nepal, meetings in Kathmandu and New Delhi etc. is what occupies the headlines during August to November every year and then as the rivers subside, the debate, too, takes the back-seat only to be revived in next August. This is happening since 1956, when the construction of the Kosi embankments was half way through and massive flooding took place during that season. People are repeatedly told that the Kosi embankments are only a temporary solution to the problem faced by them and that the real solution lies in the said dam in Nepal.
The Barahkshetra Dam
The Barahkshetra Dam as proposed in 1947, was supposed to irrigate 1.2 million hectares of land, produce 3300 MW of hydroelectric power, and free the Kosi area from floods at an estimated cost of rupees one billion. The cost estimate grew to Rs. 1,770 million in 1952 when the scheme was shelved and the embankments on the Kosi were sanctioned in 1953. The scheme was revived seriously, once again, after the floods of 1971.
The geologists, however, had their doubts with the structural safety of the dam, vis a vis, earthquakes and this is, apparently, not resolved yet. A statement to this effect was given by Anugrah Narain Singh on the 22nd September 1954, in Bihar Vidhan Sabha that the Government was concerned about the safety and security of the people living downstream and it was in this background that the embankments were being built.
Some proposals were prepared about this proposed dam from time to time, and according to the Second Irrigation Commission of Bihar (1994), the cost of the dam had gone up to Rs. 40,740 million in 1986. Going by the statements of the politicians and the engineers appearing in the press, the dam will now cost around Rs. 35 to 40 thousand crore. The question is, where are we going to get so much money from? Obviously, many international financial institutions are encouraging the government to go ahead with the plans. In case of the Barahkshetra dam, it is the Global Infrastructure Fund of Japan which is doing this job. With liberalization and opening up of the market, the multinationals have treaded in the business and are likely to construct these dams. In the present circumstances, these MNCs will built the dam, pay taxes to Nepal and sell power to India, the price of which is yet to be settled. And that India will purchase the power that will be produced, has not yet been agreed upon. There are apprehensions that the production cost of the power will be too high for the Indian consumer to bear. It is for this reason that the MNCs are ensuring counter guarantee from the concerned governments. These MNCs have no interest in flood control, which is a welfare measure, and MNCs are known for not having interest in people's welfare.
Floods despite dams
It is important to discuss some other related issues also. The catchment area of the Kosi near the site number 13 near Barahkshetra in Nepal, where the dam is proposed to be built, is 59,550 Sq. Kms. There is an increase in the catchment area of the Kosi from site number 13 to Bhimnagar Barrage by 2266 Sq. Km. and the catchment area of the river lying below this point is 11,410 Sq. Kms. Thus a catchment area of nearly 13676 Sq. Kms. will lie below the proposed Barahkshetra dam. The catchment area of the Bagmati is only slightly less than this and it is equivalent to the catchment area of twice that of the Kamala. That is to say, a mass of water equivalent to one Bagmati or two rivers of the size that of the Kamala would flow below the Barahkshetra dam site whether the dam is built or not. One who has seen these rivers in spate can well imagine the amount of water that flows in these rivers. Today, this is exactly the mass of water that is blocked outside the eastern and western embankments of the Kosi and causes severe waterlogging there.
On the western embankment side of the Kosi, the' Barahkshetra dam will have no impact on the flow of the rivers like Ghordah, Panchi, Dhokra, Kharak, Bihul, Bhutahi Balan, Gehuma and Supain and there is not going to be any let up in the flood situation west of western Kosi embankment even after the construction of the Barahkshetra dam as the origin and outfall of these rivers are located outside the proposed dam. For the same reason, on the eastern side of the eastern embankment, the Fariani Dhar, Harsankhi Dhar, Goraho Dhar, Dhemura Dhar, Tilawe Dhar, Hareli Dhar, Basanwara Dhar, Sursar Dhar, Sapni Dhar, Beldaur Dhar, Chausa dhar, Lachchaha Dhar and Gai Dhar will not be affected by the said Barahkshetra Dam. There is going to be no change in the situation in the areas that are allegedly protected from the flood of the Kosi, subsequent to the construction of embankments, even after the Barahkshetra dam is built. This is the only refrain of engineers and politicians for past 55 years that the embankments will be effective only when the dam is built at Barahkshetra. This will not be possible for those living outside the embankments, as we have seen, and it will never be possible for those living in 338 villages' within the embankments. It is said that once, the dam is built, the entire sand and the silt will be trapped inside the reservoir; the water released from it will be absolutely silt free; the river will become stable and the embankments will be kept in a fine condition. For one thing, the water released from the dam will never be silt free nor would it be possible to block the entire flow of the river during the rainy season. The river will continue to meander within the embankments and erosion of the banks will also not stop. And if the river water is left free to flow during the rains and the reservoir is filled only at the end of the season in order to maintain its longevity, the situation within the embankments will remain what it is today. And a danger will persist, even if the reservoir is filled, when the rains are over. In case there is a heavy.'downpour in October, as it happened in 1968 or in 1978, the gates of dam will have to be opened and flash-floods will have to be faced. Normally, no dam will be able to stop the incidence of floods after the month of September. The floods of West Bengal (1978) despite the dams of DVC in the month of October, and more recently, in 1999, the floods in the Narmada basin in Bhopal and Hoshangabad, despite the existence of the Barna, Bargi and the Tawa dams are some of the examples. A vast section of people feel that these floods were caused due to excessive release of flood waters from these dams. West Bengal floods were repeated in 2000 and the DVC dams remained a mute spectator. Releases from Hirakud reservoir on the Mahanadi (2001) had devastated vast coastal area of Orissa and mere existence of dams is no guarantee for the safety against floods. The officials always have a set reply that the flood would have been worse had the dams not existed. Those living between the embankments will face all the more danger in such a situation. And, ironically, it will be the very same people who will be encouraged most to raise their voices for the construction of the dam at Barahkshetra. It is just to remind that there are some 338 villages with a population of about 800,000 located within the Kosi embankments and they will be the first victims of any release from the dam.
Only explanations and excuses
So far as the flood problem goes, there is going to be no change in it whether the Barahkshetra dam is built or not. But the flood control continues to be its only plank of publicity. If we have a look at the 1986 estimate of the dam, the mist of confusion is dispelled. Out of an estimated outlay of Rs. 4,074 Crores, Rs. 2,677 Crores have been earmarked or power generation and Rs. 1,347 Crores for irrigation. Only the rest of Rs. 50 Crores have been allocated for watershed development and soil conservation. This is the only component of work to reduce the silt load and amounts to only. 1.3 per cent of the total cost. This will be used as an excuse by the future generation engineers in case of non-functioning of the dam vis a vis flood control that their predecessors did not take up afforestation, watershed management and silt control seriously. The kind of flood control one expects from these dams will be achieved only through regulation of the dam and there appears to be little provision for the development of the watershed.
Now, it is said that the embankments would function best in combination with be Barahakshetra dam, the engineers would put forth the argument after 50 or 100 years from hence, that but for the works of afforestation and watershed development, the dam would have functioned well and they will press for it. But the river used to change its' course even when the forests were not disturbed. They will say then that just because the hills are geologically unstable, the rivers are carrying high amount of sediments. There is no role of forests in preventing earthquakes and landslides. Will the earthquakes that make the Himalayan range unstable, spare the dam? The fact is that the building lobby will neither run short of excuses nor there will be any dearth of jobs for them. When all the excuse fail, 'global warming' will come to the resure of the engineers. The plans to interconnect rivers is the most recent link in this chain of finding excuses. This leaves no doubt about the real objective of the project. Flood control will be the plank of publicity for the dam whereas the real aim will be the power generation. Now, what is the harm in owning this up? Why raise one more hope of flood control in the minds of the people?
The irrigation mirage
Let us now look at the claim regarding irrigation. The proposed dam in supposed to irrigate 12.17 lakh hectares of land in India and Nepal. A similar claim was made while designing the present Kosi Project in 1953. It was said at that time that 7.12 lakh hectares of land would be irrigated through this project. Later, in 1975, the Kosi Irrigation Committee (Ram Narayan Mandal Committee) averred that this estimate is totally wrong and not more than 3.74 lakh hectares of farmland can be irrigated by this project, in any case. The maximum irrigation that these canals achieved was 2.13 lakh hectares in 1983-84 and the canal has irrigated a maximum of one lakh sixty five thousand hectares in the crop seasons of recent years. Similarly, the western Kosi canal was supposed to irrigate 2.61 lakh hectares of land, according to the original plans, which was estimated to cost Rs. 13.49 Crores when the project was mooted in 1962. The canal, the foundation stone of which was laid by none other than Late. Jag Jiwan Ram in 1957 and followed by many leaders later had created an irrigation potential of just 15,120: 17,421 and 18,943 lakh hectares in the Kharif season of 1996, 1997 and 1998 respectively but the actual irrigated area was only 6,270 hectares, 9310 hectare and 9,300 hectares only. In 1999, the Bhutahi Balan breached this canal near Jhanj-Patti and since then the irrigation from the-canal is in shambles. But creating irrigation potential alone is not enough, the fields should actually be irrigated. The project has spent over Rs. 462 crores till 2002 and it's estimated cost has now shot up to 830 crores (1999) which is more than 61 times of the original estimate. The Government of Bihar believes that it will complete the canal by 2004 but the pace of Work at the canal is nowhere near this target. It will not be out of place to mention that an amount more than ten times of the original estimate was spent on the eastern main Kosi canals and these are still tube completed. Now, will it be any strange if the cost of the Barahkshetra dam shoots up to Rs. 3,50,000 Crores from Rs. 35,000 Crores. The present annual plan outlay of Bihar stands Rs. 3000 Crores. The Barahkshetra dam alone would eat up the entire allocation of twelve years and more than two five year plans of the state. Global Infrastructure Fund of Japan has proposals for thirteen such dams on the Kosi alone in Nepal. If these dams are built by giving a free hand to the financial institutions, a debt trap will follow. If these MNCs, directly intervene in construction and own the projects, the rest in anybody's guess. We just have had a glimpse of this with Enron in Maharashtra and with persuasion of Cogentrix in Karnataka.
The Power Game
As suggested earlier, the Barahkshetra dam will generate 3300 MW of hydroelectric power. At the time of partition into Bihar and Jharkhand, the combined Bihar state had a capacity to generate around 1950 MW of power and the actual generation rarely crossed 350 MW. The transmission capacity of the state was just below 1,000 MW. Why not utilize the existing capacity to the full before building a new dam or installing a new plant. And who will assure that the production at the Barahkshetra dam will not get stuck at 500 MW.
Waterlogging or Waterlocking
Some 1,82,000 hectares of land, east of the eastern Kosi embankment is waterlogged. On the western side; 94,000 hectares of land below 44.19 M contour line and 34,400 hectares above it is waterlogged. Another 1,10,000 hectares land is trapped between the two embankments. Thus about 4,20,400 hectares of land is facing floods/ waterlogging in the Kosi command area. Plans for draining the waterlogged land are made from time to time but when it comes to implementation, the departments draw blank. When the 1953 scheme of the Kosi Project was taken up for construction, it was said that the Kosi embankments will protect 2,12,000 hectares of land against floods but instead of doing that the project has drownee twice as much.
At least 30 schemes of damming the rivers and 60 schemes for producing hydroelectric power from the run of the river are on the anvil in Nepal. Of these 30 dams, height of 7 dams will be between 50 to 100 meters, 12 dams will have heights between 100 to 200 meters and eleven dams will have heights more than 200 meters. The power that could be produced from these dams will be 1,45,000 GWH which will suffice the needs of 700 million families of South Asian type. This work will consume 500 million tons of steel, 100 million cubic meters of concrete and 1000 million cubic meters of riprap. These structures will trap 700 million tons of silt annually and the life of the dams will be over in a period of 30 to 75 years. These dams will submerge 2200 Sq. Kms. land in Nepal which amounts to 1.5 per cent of Nepal's area and includes 20 per cent of the irrigated land there and encompasses forest/homestead lands etc. With the construction of these dams some 600,000 people will be displaced which constitute 3 per cent of the population of Nepal, whether Nepal will agree to such a proposition is a million dollar question.
The experiences of the Arun-III, dam constructed over one of the tributaries of the Kosi, do not give any encouraging signals. This 68 meters high and 115 meters long dam on one of the tributaries of the Kosi, the run was expected to produce 201 MW of power, in the first phase, at an estimated cost of US 1082 million dollars and was supposed to get financial assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Germany, France and Sweden etc. While the construction of the Arun-III started in 1992, a debate ensued between the intellectuals/activists in Nepal towards the justification of the project. They felt that the scheme would not benefit Nepal and the donor countries are bent upon defending their business interests and pushing Nepal into a debt trap. They also felt that Nepal would not get her share, even in employment for the labour and that the hydro-power produced 'will be, so costly that it will be beyond the purchasing power of the Nepalese consumer. They apprehended that the cost of power produced will be as much as an American consumer pays for it in his country and twice as much for its Indian counterpart. And if the cost were that high, the Indian's will not purchase the power which was the primary purpose behind the construction of the dam.
Where do we stand now?
The overall scene with the proposed dams in Nepal is quite confusing. As far as its implications in India are concerned, there is no information available here about these proposed dams and one has to depend on the literature emanating out of Nepal about them. What we get here is the Nepalese version of the interpretation of the proposals and the debate which should take place here is, actually, missing. There are concern about the structural safety of these proposed dams as, for example, the Barahakshetra dam alone is going to Store water that is enough to spread a sheet of 30 Cms. depth over entire North Bihar. Displacement, though it does not concern India, is going to be a tricky issue in the backdrop of Sardar Sarovar, Subarnarekha or Tehri dams. Financial viability of these projects and their gestation period is also a problem. We are also worried about the performance of our own large irrigation and flood control schemes of Bihar and only hope that their shadow is not cast over the proposed structures in Nepal. Besides, despite best efforts, the construction is unlikely to be completed within less than 12-15 years and do not seem we to have any contingency plan ready for this interim period. In the absence of such plans, one will have to rely solely on the flood moderation that will be available only after the construction of the Barahakshetra dam. The Secretary of the Department of Water Resources, Government of Bihar, in a meeting in the Water Resources Development Centre at Patna, on the 2nd March 2002, had stated that the possibility of this dam being constructed in coming 50-60 years is very remote. If there is any grain of truth in this statement, the situation is going to be very serious in future.
Beside, the ‘World Commission of Dam’ Report, published in November 2002, has given a set of guidelines to be followed in future projects of dam construction to ensure equity, efficiency, accountability, participatory approach in decision, making process and sustainability. Central Water Commission of the Government of India has squarely rejected this report but many financial institution have accepted the recommendations of this report. Nepal has accepted these recommendations and in that case, any proposal to construct a dam in Nepal will undergo thorough scrutiny and this will create problems for those who treat the dam building process in- Nepal a cake walk.
The basic reason behind the flood is the sediment load of the rivers and the proposed dam is going to do precious little in reducing that problem. The engineers know how to route water but they are yet to develop technology that will route sediments at cheaper costs. Ask any villager and he will tell how floods used to come, water used to spread all over along with the silt and there was a moderation of sorts as the flood water used to be spread over a large area. If the floods were unprecedented, Kharif crop would be lost but a bumper Rabi crop would follow and the building by the rivers would continue as usual developmental processes have complicated the flood scare Now, instead of draining the rainwater from their catchments the rivers are spreading it into the same.
Can we give a whole new look to the problems faced by us. Instead of depending on the proposed large dams should we not think of dealing with the floods locally and delink the flood problem from the proposed dams, once for ever, because such dams have never controlled the floods in past, nor will they be able to do it in future. So far, only a lip service has been paid to the concept of 'living with the floods'. Can we shed the arrogance of controlling everything that comes our way and, instead, live in peace with it. Can we think of 'flood tolerant houses' instead of 'flood resistant houses' and can't we think of 'flood tolerant cropping pattern' instead of 'flood resistant crops'. If these questions can be answered in affirmative, our attitude towards floods will change and the large dams will come in for a scrutiny by the common people.
Many exemplary experiments have been made in the country in the drought prone areas but the flood prone areas are still waiting for 'massiha' to come. The only constraint is that in drought prone areas, a village can be dealt with in isolation whereas in the flood prone areas it has to be a regional or cluster approach. This is a bit costly proposition but attempts in this direction will pay dividends in future.
Similarly, can we do something with the irrigation or, at least, review the performance of what has been done during the plan period. The area that is being irrigated by the eastern main canal of the Kosi project is less than the area which the people were irrigating through their own traditional sources in the command area of the canal. Does that not suggest that the investment in the irrigation sector in this part of the country has not only gone to waste but it has also rendered a sizable amount of land, a swamp. As a matter of fact, the areas where the groundwater table is already high, canals should not have been built in the first place. Is it not the time for us to think of the revival of the traditional system of irrigation over which the society exercises a better control and one does not run the risk of dilapidated canal, sand casting on the fields and the irrigation personnel going on a strike for the fulfilment of their demands when the irrigation demand is at its peak.
If it only, the energy for which the dams are a necessity, then there is a need to review the energy needs, the performance of all the existing power plants and all the possible means of producing and saving energy and then to ascertain whether the dams of the sizes that are gaining currency are the only choice left. We have seen two major foundation laying ceremonies of power plants in Bihar in past few years. Foundation stones for the Barh Thermal Power Station (Capacity 2,000 MW) and the Pusauli (500 MW) were laid during this period. These power plants will produce 2,500 MW of power and the state's power requirements in 2025 are reported to be only 2750 MW. If these plants start functioning and we improve our existing production capacity, we do not need the dam at Barahkshetra. Most of the large dams are built to produce power, using the planks of irrigation or flood control for the poor. It is the poor who are deprived of the power, if one looks at the priorities in the distribution of power between the urban and rural population.
A nationwide debate is the need of the hour in case of the dams proposed in Nepal. It should encompass the aspects of the environment, dependability, structural safety, costs, gestation period, displacement-although it does not concern us directly but may turn out to be of grave concern later, cost price of the power to the Indian consumer, etc. together with the role of the financial institutions, multi-national companies and other actors who are pushing these proposals. It will also be essential to review the performance of the present Kosi Project in the backdrop of its stated objectives. People should have reasons to believe the planners before a new and such a costly a venture is taken up.
बाढ़ तो फिर भी आयेगी
(इस पुस्तक के अन्य अध्यायों को पढ़ने के लिये कृपया आलेख के लिंक पर क्लिक करें।)