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Will there be another Kosi disaster?

By Abdul Nisar

Darbhanga (Bihar), Nov.29 (ANI): The River Kosi in north Bihar has always been defiant and unpredictable. Having its origin in neighbouring Nepal, its downstream flow is through the flat plains of Supaul, Saharsa, Madhubani, and Madhepura in Bihar.

This river has been known to be ferocious; for causing unpredictable damage to all that come in its way or lies in its path.

The mammoth Kosi project work undertaken by the Central Government several decades ago was geared towards flood control and resulted in the construction of the eastern and western embankments on either bank of the river.

This had a human fall-out, which the policy and implementation authorities seem to have forgotten to put a premium on.

About 380 villages including Sampataha, Baltharwa, Kataiya, Bhaptiyahi, Siyani, Kalyanpur and Laukaha, having a population of nearly 9.88 lacs as per 2001 census spread over the districts of Supaul, Madhubani, Darbhanga and Saharsa lay between the two embankments.

The Kosi project literally rendered them helpless in the face of the inevitable flooding which would protect the villages outside the embankment. Still, as far as the structural design went, the planners had maintained a minimum distance between the two embankments to ensure adequate space for the river flow and flood plain area for the swollen river to overflow.

At places like in Nirmali, the distance was envisaged upto 15 kilometres apart but due to shortcomings in the implementation, was often compromised.

What is importantly required to be understood is that that the way the river flows, gauges its force at particular spots, and allows it the space to spread out. This would pre-empt flood-like situations along its course, mainly upstream, and ensure their passage to drain out in the plains.

The very nature of the river is such that embankments are breached time and again, depending on the river's ferocity. However, it may be noted that the dilemma of the people trapped between the embankments and living with the threat of recurrent floods, remains basically unresolved.

In 2008, when the Kushaha dam was breached, the destruction across north Bihar was on an unprecedented scale. What disappoints is that the root cause has not been addressed. Today, it threatens the region with its fury.

It maybe noted that the tale of Kosi floods stems from policy actions rather than nature's fury or its patterns. It can be stated that it's the neglect of policy-level understanding of these patterns and persisting callousness towards the people living in the river basin,

which have turned the problem chronic.

Today, the recipe of disaster is once again in the making. In the areas downstream of the Bhimnagar Barrage at Lachhminiya village, Supaul district, two parallel bridges are being constructed. In 2008, this area fell in the route of flood waters.

To keep the length of the bridges to specifications, afflux 'bunds' or, protection embankments have been constructed. This is skirting the original embankments.

This means the area for the river flow is reduced. A three-meter high and 43 km bund Sikarhatta- Majhari -Parsouni protection embankment now runs adjoining the main embankement that the Kosi Project had put in place.

It means that the pressure of the water rushing downstream has limited space to run off. This has all come to head at Nirmali, a small village on the course of Kosi in Supaul district.

With the downstream flow blocked, the water in reverse flow gushes back. It is now creating havoc in the villages, situated upstream of the under construction bridge. This is a threat to the communities and agricultural land there. The people, living within the afflux bund, the new 'protective' structure, are the most vulnerable. They have

begun to migrate carrying their meagre belongings to the higher places on the original embankment.

Around 20,000 families in 24 villages, spread over three-village council of Dighiya, Barainiya and Dholi in Bhaptiyahi Block fall in this danger zone. Villages say that they didn't have to vacate their homes even in the 1968 floods, one of the worst in public memory.

This time too it seems no different. The bridge construction is in a region about 38 downstream of the Bhimnagar Barrage. On both end of the Bridge, the new afflux 'bunds' cut into the normal spread of the river, narrowing it down but also increasing the pressure on the main embankments which run longer than the afflux 'bunds'.

According to Charkha Features, the distance between either banks of the river, now restricted by these bunds needs to be opened up. The priority should be to allow a normal flow of the river which will not cause a backlash of the river waters upstream thus jeopardizing the lives of thousands. This would naturally mean that the bridge beengthened.

Unless addressed, a Kosi disaster, perhaps of a lesser scale, could result. However, the problem is not about the scale but about the cavalier approach to the plight of the Kosi inhabitants.

One tends to ask time and again, why are the lives of the people in Kosi Basin being jeopardized and subjected to an avoidable disaster?

An Expert Committee, constituted by Bihar government, Water Resources Department in July, 2004 had observed: "There are over 300 villages lying between the eastern and western Kosi embankments, where a sizable population live and carry out agricultural activities. Even during the lean season (non-flood period), the backwater zone may keep

cultivable lands and villagers submerged. As such, there is urgent need of addressing this serious problem adequately."

It is expected that in the second inning of the Nitish-Kumar led Bihar Government will take cognizance of such reports, recognize the impending dangers on the ground and undertake remedial measures at the earliest. Only then can the people of its river basin be protected from the Kosi's impetuous fury. Only then can we avoid repetition of Kushaha. By M.B Verma (ANI)

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