Kosi darshan: A deeper look at the lives of those pinned on the river

"If it had not breached at Kusaha, it would have anyway breached at this point," points a villager towards the probable location on the eastern bank in village Rajabaas near Prakashpur in Sunsari district of Nepal, located 14 km upstream of Kusaha where the Eastern Afflux embankment of the Kosi had breached on the August 18, 2008. The river has indeed come close to the embankment at the site and with the spurs that protect the embankment in no good condition, a potential danger lurks.

The setting is seemingly perfect for another breach! The state has just woken up, collecting stones for the protection work in case the river decides to gnaw the embankment. Should that happen, what course the river would adopt before it joins that Ganga is not known just as it was not known the course last year following the breach at Kusaha?

So, that's what the Water Resources Department leaves it during this year to be reaped (faced) by the Disaster (mis)management department of the state. Since there is no dialogue between the two, the vicious cycle gets perpetuated year after year. That is the inference of a team of 15 professionals and social workers that visited the area hit by last year's devastating floods of the Kosi during March 21-27, 2009. The team noted that the repair works at Kusaha are far from complete although the engineers at site claim that they will complete the work to their 'entire satisfaction' by April 20, 2009, eight months after the last year's disaster, before fresh water reaches the site following snow-melt in upper catchment. This claim will have to be verified in days to come. Everyone hopes that they are not caught on the wrong foot again!

The Kosi flood disaster of 2008 was spread over 5 districts, 35 blocks, 993 villages affecting 33.29 lakh people and spread over an area of 3.68 lakh hectares in India alone which resulted in loss of nearly 600 persons and destruction of 2.37 lakh houses. But for the colour of the sand, a vast area of the Kosi basin now resembles Jaisalmer (Rajasthan) and may need the help of the experts of Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), Jodhpur for revival of agriculture in the region. That is only one half the story. The other half about which no concern is shown by anybody (Government and NGOs included) comprises of nearly 1.5 million people spread over 414 villages trapped between the two embankments of the Kosi which is the route of the normal river flow in a normal year.

"We literally have our houses on our shoulders and despite using weed or wood fired chulha for cooking, no cobwebs are seen on our thatched roofs. We have to shift our houses much before spiders start developing the webs", says a resident of village Nirmali, trapped between the two embankments of the Kosi in Supaul district. Their problem is perennial just as the flow of the river. The team visited the Bhutahi Balan and the Kamla Balan basins and finally landed up in the Bagmati where mammoth embankments are being built or repaired. These are being raised and strengthened to provide a greater degree of protection to the people living outside them.

But from Dheng to Runni Saidpur there is hardly any reach of the embankment that has not faced the wrath of the river and the breaches and yet the people and the Government believe that these structures would protect them from floods. That silt contained in the river waters is equally responsible for the devastation that is caused by rising bed level of the rivers and subsequent failure of the embankments can be seen in the villages of Raksia and Ibrahimpur of Runnisaidpur block of Sitamarhi district. A 27 feet high mosque in Raksia is submerged in sand and only top 5 feet is visible above the ground while a temple of Lord Shiva has to be dug out every year from the sand to offer puja in the latter. Will the engineers and the politicians ever recognize the secular behaviour of our rivers?

The team was shocked by the joke that is played in the name of the development in Kaala Pani area of Runnisaidpur. Nearly 75 squire kilometers of land has been submerged because the embankments on the Bagmati blocked the entry of the Manusmara into it and as if that were not sufficient, the unprocessed effluents from a sugar mill were dumped into the Manusmara to make the submergence black and stinking. No agriculture is possible with such 'waters' and there has been no crops in the area for the past ten years now. The farmers of Kaala Pani remain engaged in agriculture, but in Punjab and Haryana.

Post By: iwp