October 26, 2020 SANDRP
Why Floods need to be an Election issue in Bihar. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is campaigning for the state assembly elections after being the Chief Minister for 15 years (except brief 10 month period in 2014-15).
15 years is a long time to make a change in flood management in India’s most flood ravaged state. But the state of flood management in Bihar has possibly worsened. In this period Bihar faced the unprecedented floods in Aug 2008 when Kusaha embankment breached on Kosi River. CM also called the 2016 floods as unprecedented and demanded decommissioning of Farakka dam, but he has become silent on that issue since joining NDA. Like in 2019, even in 2020, the state saw unprecedented floods when the Highest Flood Level was breached at no less than NINE places including in Gandak, Budhigandak, Bagmati, Kosi and Mahananda river basins. What the MoWR organisation GFCC has been doing with the head office in Patna is one of the best kept state secrets! And yet Nitish govt is pushing the same failed embankment technology, loved by the contractors, in Bagmati and Mahananda basins. Surely Nitish has a lot to answer for in these elections on flood management.
May be it is a major issue at a number of places. Like in Kishanganj district along Mahananda river in North East Bihar, as the report here mentions. We hope it is. Since floods and how they are managed affect so fundamentally and in so many different ways so many people, it should be an election issue.
It was during the 15 year period that the unprecedented Kosi floods happened after the Kusaha breach in 2008. But the word unprecedented has been used for several more floods in these 15 years, including by Nitish Kumar. He also raised a number of pertinent issues in this period, including impact of Farakka barrage on Bihar floods, need for its decommissioning, Bihar’s right to get Ganga water from the headwaters in Uttarakhand [currently it gets none except during monsoon]. He is currently silent on these issues, but voters and media do not have to be silent.
When Bihar was stuck by unprecedented floods in 2016, he talked about impact of Farakka located downstream from Bihar, but remained silent about the role of Bansagar Dam in the upstream. Even in 2020 floods, rivers crossed the Highest Flood Level at no less than nine places, including Gandak, Bagmati, Burhigandak, Kosi and Mahananda basins.
As far as management of floods is concerned, including in 2020, the Bihar government’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. In fact it is shocking that on the eve of the elections, Bihar government has quietly pushed the Bagmati embankment project, much against the Bagmati people. Bagmati people are now on Bagawat, says Anil Prakash of Ganga Mukti Andolan. In Mahananda his govt continues to push the same failed embankment technology. Clearly Bihar government has a lot to answer for in these elections as far flood management is concerned.
Bihar Who is talking about the floods? Great to see floods is an election issue in Kishanganj (Mahananda basin) in NE Bihar. According to an August 27 bulletin released by the state Water Resources Department, 83.62 lakh people were affected in 16 districts of the state in the floods, including Kishanganj.
– “Floods have increased in these parts after 2016 (Which barrage is he talking about?) when a barrage on the Teesta River was built. The Farakka barrage in neighbouring West Bengal also contributes, while siltation has reduced the depth of the river, increasing chances of floods,” says Haji Abdus Subhan, the RJD MLA from Baisi seat.
– Sanjay Jha, Bihar Minister for Water Resources, says the total area affected by annual floods in the Seemanchal region is 5.20 lakh hectares. “Every year, heavy rains in Nepal and West Bengal inundate the lowland of Seemanchal. The rainwater flows down through various tributaries like Balson, Chenga, Mechi, Donk, Kankai, Noona, Bakra, Khadam, Kisley, Burhi, Rajai and Lohendra,” says Jha. In 2010, CM Nitish Kumar had inaugurated the Mahananda Basin Project at Paranpur in Katihar district, another region in Seemanchal affected by floods. The river and other rivulets criss-cross the district. Fortification of the Mahananda was the focus of the project, and Jha says this will help contain the floods. “The work of the Mahananda river flood management scheme will be completed in five phases. The first phase work initiated by the CM was started in the year 2010 and completed in 2013. The land acquisition is in progress for the second phase,” Jha says.
– However, Congress MLA Mastan, who argues that floods also help enrich the soil and improve crop yield, says they won’t let the project be implemented in the region. Accusing the government of having “no plan at all”, Mastan adds, “The Mahananda project proposes to build the embankment 1 km from the riverbank. It will uproot at least 50 villages and approximately 1 lakh people.” https://indianexpress.com/elections/bihar-elections-kishanganj-who-is-talking-about-the-floods-6796346/ (20 Oct. 2020)
Engineering attempts to ‘tame the Kosi’ have only added to human misery Even as 3,500 km of levees have been built in Bihar for flood protection, the flood-prone area has quadrupled to 6.8 million hectares. Even though the original plan was to protect 214,000 ha from annual floods, approximately 426,000 ha has been lost to water logging due to the Kosi embankments alone. Says the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, “The real crisis of Northeast Bihar is not floods but drainage.”
In a 2006 paper titled Kosi: A Review of Flood Genesis and Attempts to Solve this Problem, officials of India’s Central Water Commission AK Jha and DP Mathuria stated: “The engineering approach has proved to be far too insufficient in its objectives … and soon the embankments would be ineffective to control the Kosi floods. It would thus be naïve to embark upon finding of this menace through structural measures.” The attempt at “taming the Kosi” was nothing more than playing dangerously with nature and adding to human misery. https://scroll.in/article/976754/river-in-disequilibrium-how-engineering-attempts-to-tame-the-kosi-have-only-added-to-human-misery (26 Oct. 2020)
Embankments: Inapt and futile defence against floods Embankments in Bihar have failed miserably against flood protection. Take a look on these frequently asked questions (FAQs) on why they failed and what are the possible solutions to floods in Bihar? https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/embankments-bihar-inapt-and-futile-defence-against-floods (19 Oct. 2020)