Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 129, 29 July 2020

Flood multiples the Sorrows of Bihar; Government has not learnt from the lessons of the past
Alok Gupta

In the news
Eleven of the 38 districts of Bihar, consisting of 680 Panchayats of 87 Blocks are under the massive spell of flood amidst deluge, affecting lives of over 16 lakhs people. Darbhanga is the worst affected followed by Muzaffarpur and East Champaran where lives of 5.36 lakhs, two lakhs and 2.72 lakhs people have been affected by floods respectively. 

As of now, ten people have lost their lives, though the figure stands disputed as some reports say 130 people have died so far. Over 1.4 lakhs people have been evacuated to safer places. Bagmati, Burhi Gandak, Kamlabalan, Lalbakeya, Adhwara, Khiro, Mahananda and Ghaghra have crossed the danger level. Ganga too, has been swelling every day. 

West Champaran situated on the Indo-Nepal border is facing the worst ever wrath of Gandak river which originates in Nepal and has affected 1.43 lakhs of people. Gopalganj is affected on account of the breaching at several places in Saran embankment owing to pressure of river Gandak.

Communications through rail and road have been affected as railway bridges, and NH-28 got inundated. Communication is affected by nearly 505 small and long roads in the affected areas. State institutional infrastructure like police stations and hospitals, also are affected in many flooded districts.

More than 22 teams of NDRF and SDRF including Indian Air Force, have been pressed in the rescue mission. Nearly 500 community kitchens are working to feed over two lakhs affected people. Food packets are also being air-dropped to those stranded in floodwaters. 

Issues at large
Nearly 85 per cent of the total land of Bihar is under cultivation. Flood has been a frequent phenomenon in Bihar and has for long causing almost half of India's average annual flood loss of life and livelihood. The frequency of flood, however, has increased since 1979 for the following reasons.

First, Bihar serves as the lowlands for the Himalayan rivers as most of it is plain. River Kosi continues to be the 'Sorrow of Bihar' even today. This year due to the extreme rainfall, Nepal was forced to open all 56 sluice gates of the Kosi barrage flooding Bihar. Gandak surged as Nepal opened the Balmikinagar barrage amidst incessant rain. Further, nearly 3000 kilometres of embankments constructed by State government have faced breaches in the wake of floods stating its quality and blinkered visions of engineers who could not visualize the changing nature of rivers, while working on embankments.

Second, deforestation and conversion of pastoral lands in Nepal. This is another major factor behind flood in the region. Further, climate change may be another cause that the flood inundated in July this year instead of August under normal circumstances.  

Third, the lack of government initiative. People have been occupying the flood plains under the official's nose, with no action against them. Further, the 2008 flood was severest in the recent past that submerged nearly half of the State, yet the Government still failed to learn lessons and seek solutions permanently.

In perspective
Flood is both a boon and a bane. Hence, what is required is management rather than mitigation. The present bane could be transformed into bane provided Government becomes pro-active about it permanently. Bane is the loss of life and livelihood in thousands of crores every year. Permanent embankments and reservoir with futuristic vision could be constructed to channelize the rainfall. Existing embankments need to be strengthened by filling-up the gaps. Proper and timely repair should be taken with adequate measures for management throughout the year. Massive-scale dredging of rivers could also be a step towards managing flood.   

Flood is a boon; it may contribute to recharging of the fast depleting groundwater in most areas and also help to improve the quality of groundwater. It will also recharge the surface water bodies like ponds and ahar-pynes (traditional floodwater harvesting system in South Bihar); it may lead to bumper Kharif crops in Bihar, especially paddy. Rice bowls of Bihar like Kaimur and Rohtas stands to gain from this year's timely and more than adequate rainfall. Districts like Darbhanga stands to gain as it was facing drought-like situation last year, with dried wells owing to incessant pumping for irrigation.  

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