Perennial flooding: Project Bagmati seeks to stop

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Sitamarhi (Bihar), June 23 (ANI): In catchment areas of Bagmati river in north Bihar, there is an air of foreboding, as this region is 'flood prone'.

For the people living here, floods are a harsh reality and a relentless regularity.

Every few years, water gushes into their homes and fields destroying crop, livestock and rendering them helpless, homeless for months. It often snatches away their livelihoods, largely based on agriculture from them.

Also, there are often human casualties; swept away by the flood waters or those who continue to suffer having lost their loved ones.

Or those, who survive remain bereft of basic facilities of food, sanitation, health or livelihoods. he Bagmati runs through this region and it is already swelling. This covers some blocks in the districts of Madhubani, Darbhanga, Sitamarhi, Shivhar and Muzzafarpur.

Around May 4, the waters suddenly overflowed, taking along with it the makeshift bamboo bridges and dislocating traffic.

It caught the people unawares. They were left bracing themselves for the inevitable flooding later. In a flash, it destroyed crops of watermelon, cucumber and vegetables in Pipradhi, Bakhar, Baraahi Jagdish, Dosatiyan villages in Shivhar district.

Water has entered dozens of villages in Aurai Block in Muzaffarpur district devastating the standing groundnut crop.

There is another danger that those living near rivers are acutely conscious of. The embankments straddling both sides of the river, constructed over time by successive governments to ostensibly 'rein in' the swollen rivers and to protect the people from its forceful waters, are actually a weak link.

Actually any local resident here can tell how the embankments inevitably break regularly which indicate its flawed design and construction. The question then becomes who suffers when it happens and is bound to happen.

Mithilesh Devi of Rampur Kanth village, Sutty Block, Sitamarhi fears that the embankment breaking this year could kill 500-700 people. elief and rehabilitation measures by the government fall sorely short of the need on the ground.

About 134 families at Rampur Kanth had to move to higher ground when the Bagmati flooded after the embankment broke in July, 2007. They are still living on the high ground inspite of an assurance from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that all help would be extended.

About 16 acres of land was allotted to rehabilitate these families but this was only till the next flooding happened which rendered the allotted land useless.

Every time the floods retreat, it leaves behind mounds of sand, which turns the fertile ground to waste. On paper, however, these people had been rehabilitated, so the government covered its back on this one. The villagers, however, were back to where they started from possibly worse since in the government records, they were 'beneficiaries'.

This kind of unresponsive treatment does not seem to be an aberration but a norm.

In Baraahi Jagdish and Khaira Pahadi, Putniya block Shivhar district the situation is the same. Embankments destroyed in previous years' flood have not been repaired properly.

Arun Kumar, a villager from Rampur Kanth, says: "It is a weak repairing job, the ceiling where repairing works were done, was very weak. One wave of the river will destroy this structure."

The angst of the people living under the shadow of floods in the region came to light during a 75-km 'Padyatra' or walkathon organized from April 2-7 that brought together flood experts, social activists and NGOs.

The group covered seven Blocks of two districts, Sitamarhi and Shivhar and listened to thousands of stories from the people constantly living in fear and despair.

People of Kataujha, Adauri and Basbitta have lost faith in the government. As a result, government officials and Bagmati Project engineers had to face their wrath.

The government constantly increases the height of the embankments while assuring the people that this time it will hold, hollow promises for those who have faced the flood fury and seen how embankments crumble.

It is imperative that a cost-benefit analysis be done for the years of mindless construction that has taken place in the name of flood protection measures and irrigation plans under "Project Bagmati".

Experts like Dinesh Mishra have brought this issue up time and again. Going by the responses on the ground, it is probably equally important to examine the look at the damage done.

One of the villagers during Padyatra, said: "In last 40 years, neither an inch was irrigated, nor have security measures been taken to save people from the flood caused by this Project. Ninety five villages have been completely destroyed in the name of rehabilitation, which has left hundreds of people without a roof. Rehabilitated people are drowning every year. Hundreds of people are left in the middle of two mounds of this river to die."

The ones who face floods' fury, they find their fields rendered into sand and find their homes and cattle destroyed, it is a different reality.

According to Charkha Features, in a sense, it sucks out their life force and leaves them at the mercy of not only the natural calamity but of unresponsive State machinery.

The failed promises of Bagmati Project and the sheer eyewash that rehabilitation has come to be, is most disconcerting.

The government has no alibi on this one. It needs to answer the people of the flood-prone areas of north Bihar, whose lives are on the line year after year, why their issues are consistently not being addressed and why their lives are being viewed so cheap. By Nagendra (ANI)

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