Embankments related compensation to drain Indian exchequer : Need to review the flood control policy of the Government

Government of Nepal has asked the Government of India to compensate its citizens badly affected by embankments and other flood control measures taken on river Gandak. Will this not lead to a flood of demands for compensation by the victims of similar problems in other river basins like the Bagmati, the Kamala and the Kosi?

Breach of embankments always cause massive damage in the flooded areasIt is over fifty years that an agreement was signed between India and Nepal (1959) to implement what was hitherto called the cheapest irrigation project of India that would benefit Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India and parts of Nepal. Some 11.52 hectares of agricultural land in the districts of Gopalganj, Siwan, Saran, West and East Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Samastipur was to be irrigated by this project in Bihar. Another 3 lakh hectares of land was to be irrigated in Uttar Pradesh in the districts of Gorakhpur, Maharaj Ganj, Deoria and Padarauna and Nepal’s 5000 hectares land too was to be irrigated through Nepal Western Canal. Besides, a Hydro-power station to generate 15 Megawatts of power was to be installed in the Gandak Main Western Canal near Suryapura in Nepal. The benefits were huge and the cost was only Rs. 31.94 cores. The cost of irrigation by this project was only Rs. 310/- per hectare (Rs. 125 per acre).

It is reported that UP was not interested in this project initially and had been cool to any proposal from Bihar. Its logic was that the spring level there was already high and irrigation through surface canal would make the water logging situation worse. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, first President of India, had shown interest in this project and an agreement was signed first between UP and Bihar in 1957 about the cost and benefit sharing through the efforts of Dr. Zakir Hussain, then Governor of Bihar and Hafiz Mohd. Ibrahim, Union Minister of Food and Civil Supplies. Later, the agreement between India and Nepal was signed in 1959 because part of the Main Western Gandak Canal was to pass through Nepal and the barrage to regulate the flow of water into the canals had to be partly located there.

It is not desired to review the performance of the Gandak Project here but, of late, there is some problem brewing in Nepal regarding the functioning of the project. The said barrage of the Gandak Project was constructed in 1968. The eastern end of the barrage is located at Valmikinagar in West Champaran in India and the western end of the same is located in Tribeni in Nepal.

Nepal Western Canal, meant exclusively for irrigating areas in Nepal, runs in the east to west direction while the ground slope is in south and north-west to south-easterly direction. This canal, naturally, acts as an obstruction to the flow of rain water leading to water logging condition there. Seepage through the canal adds to the problem. Similar is the situation with the Gandak Main Western Canal (Saran Canal) that originates slightly south on the Nepal Western Canal whose first 19 kilometers pass through Nepal, the next 112 kilometers through Uttar Pradesh (UP) and the last 69 kilometers through Bihar.

These canals have played havoc with the farmers of Nawalparasi district in Nepal as negligence in the maintenance of the canals and embankments there, clogging of siphons that are meant for draining rain water across the canals, malfunctioning of the drain that connects the silt ejector and the river, erosion of spurs and consequent erosion of land has created problems for the farmers in Nepal.

As if that were not enough, there was a breach in the right afflux of the Gandak near Tribeni Ghat and all the water thus released washed away crops and land in the said area. This breach occurred nearly 1.5 kilometers upstream of the Valmiki Nagar Barrage at a discharge of about 6,00,000 cusecs while the embankments along the river were spaced to safely route a discharge of 850,000 cusecs. This event put a question mark before the utility of the embankments as a measure to control floods. For all practical purposes this was a trailer of Kusaha on the Kosi in 2008. The flood water smashed the Nepal Western
Canal and also the Gandak Main Western Canal resulting in submergence of areas in far flung districts of Maharaj Ganj and Gorakhpur in UP also.

Maintenance of these canals and embankments of the Gandak Project is the responsibility of Government of India which it executes it through the Water Resources Departments of UP and Bihar. The farmers in Nepal resented the non-maintenance and related problems and organized themselves under the banner of Gandak Nadi Niyantran Sangharsh Samiti and started not only building pressure for proper maintenance of the structures but they went a step ahead and demanded compensation for the loss of their crops and land since the completion of the Gandak Project. The files kept on moving in Nepal and when nothing happened, they sat for a Dharna within the canal on the 23rd May 2008. Sitting for Dharna within the canal meant that no water could be released into the canal from the headwork. This was the time when the farmers of UP need water for their Sugar Cane fields. Resentment started brewing there also as the pressure was also on releasing water from the canal. This set the Government of Nepal (GoN) into action and they started negotiating with the agitators sitting in the canal in Ranipur village of Nawalparasi district.

The farmers in Nepal organized themselves under the banner of Gandak Nadi Niyantran Sangharsh Samiti and demanded compensation for the loss of their crops and land since the completion of the Gandak Project.On the 16th June 2008, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of GoN wide its letter no: SA/63-639 informed the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu that the officials of GoN have talked to the workers of the Sangharsh Samiti and requested Government of India (GoI) to complete the jobs related to flood control and water logging and ensure running of the Main Gandak Western Canal at its rated capacity. Indian Embassy was also requested “to look into the possibility of compensatory measures against the damage caused by land erosion and due to losses of crops as raised during the meetings of the Joint Committee on the Koshi and Gandak Projects.”

A meeting of the workers of Nadi Sangharsh Samiti and the officials of UP Government followed on the 22nd June 2008 that led to a sort of general agreement on the 21 point demands of the Samiti. The fourteenth demand of the Samiti was, “… (According to the Gandak Agreement of 1959) Because of the construction of the Gandak Project there has been a change in the direction of flow of the Singaha and Raipura nallah and severe water logging conditions have emerged in the villages of Paklihawa, Narsahi, Rupaulia, Pratap Pur, Somani,
Khairatawa, Guthi Suryapura, Bedauli and Bhujahawa. Permanent arrangements for draining this water will have to be done and the loss of crops since the construction of the Gandak Project will have to be compensated.” It was resolved in this meeting that, “…The Samiti demanded that the compensation for the land erosion and submergence should be paid by the Government of Bihar (GoB). Government of UP will make a request to the GoB for this compensation.”

This was followed by another meeting of the officials of UP and Bihar governments, Government of Nepal and the representatives of Gandak Nadi Niyantran Sangharsh Samiti to discuss the demands of the Samiti and chalk out further course of action. It was resolved in this meeting that, “…the proposal for compensation will be presented in the next meeting of the Joint Committee on the Koshi and Gandak Projects (JCKGP). A joint experts group of Nepal and India will study the water logging problem and further action will be taken on the findings of that report.”

The JCKGP met in Patna on May 23, 2009 and discussed the demand of the Sangharsh Samiti and “The Indian side stated that as far the technical issues are concerned, these have been taken up and are being implemented. The Indian side felt that the Socio-economic issues are beyond the mandate of this committee. Nepalese side may take up these issues at appropriate forum.”

In the meanwhile the Ministry of Irrigation, GoN got the concerned villages surveyed and has come out with a report that thirteen villages namely Jamuniya, Paklihawa, Kudia, Bhujahawa, Tholo Khairatawa, Guthi Suryapura, Bedauli, Guthi Parsauni, Narsahi, Tribeni Susta, Rupaulia, Pratappur and Somani have suffered the losses to the extent damage of crops worth Nepali Rupees 2,646,086,692.26, damage to land worth Rs. 189,445,935.00 and damage to property worth Rs.109,560,456.00 totaling to Nepali Rs. 2,936,093,083.26 (Indian Rs. 184 crores approx).

Referring to the agreements made at the sub-committee meeting of the JCKGP on the 20 October 2008 and the meeting of JCKGP at Patna on the 2-3 May 2009, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal, wide its letter no: SA-I/63-57/1146 Dated 14 June 2010 requested the Government of India through the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu “to make the arrangement for providing the compensation as agreed earlier.” This whole matter has appeared in black and white and is recorded in the proceedings of various committee meetings and some decision will have to be taken by GoN now.

The other side of the problem starts from here. If the GoI has to pay this compensation in the Gandak Project for the victims of land erosion, water logging, loss of crops etc in Nepal, will it not set a precedence for the victims of similar problems in other river basins like the Bagmati, the Kamala and the Kosi there? And, will it be wrong for the victims of similar problems in UP and Bihar to demand the same when their Nepali counterparts get their share? The flood control policies of the states and the country, of which building embankments is an integral part, will squeeze this country of its resources because the government will not only have to arrange money for constructing embankments but for paying compensation too. Is it not the right moment to review the flood control policy of the Government before entering the blind ally where only compensation will have to be paid as a remedial measure for controlling floods and water logging?