Swollen rivers engulf houses and erode banks wreaking havoc in Bihar

Erosion due to floods in Ganga river (Source: Umesh Kumar Ray)
Erosion due to floods in Ganga river (Source: Umesh Kumar Ray)

Floods coupled with erosion increase the woes of Bihar

In the midst of the increasing havoc of floods in Bihar, people are also fearful of erosion. The rising rivers and the speedy flow of water has caused erosion at several places in the region forcing people inhabiting the place since a long time to migrate to safer places.. 

The fear of floods has also spread to Ranidiyara of Pirpainti in Bhagalpur district. Nearly 700 families are on the verge of being displaced in Tapua of Ranidiyara as erosion from the Ganga river intensifies. Locals have informed that two pucca and two mud houses have so far been submerged into the Ganga river. However, from the last two days (as of 18 August 2020), the river water flow had slowed down somewhat and people breathed a sigh of relief. This was short lived however, as the river flow has intensified again and the water level of the river has increased too that has triggered panic among people. 

According to a bulletin issued by the Water Resources Department on the evening of 16 August, the water level of the Ganga river was at 32.65 meters and 30.98 meters at Bhagalpur and Kahalgaon gauge stations in Bhagalpur, which is very close to the danger mark.

Local resident and social activist Sunil Saurabh tells the India Water Portal, “Seven panchayats in the region, which have a population of nearly one lakh, come under the submerge area of the Ganga river."

The erosion due to the river started a couple of years ago, and according to the locals, it has been occurring continuously since 2011, spreading misery and inflicting numerous hardships on the people in the region. Till now, the river has engulfed the farms of about 80 percent of the families residing in the area. 

Local resident Manohar Mandal tells the India Water Portal,

“Due to erosion, people have reached at the brink of destruction. At night, they stay awake in fear of their houses being swept away by the strong current of the Ganga river. Both the state and central governments have failed to save people in such times."

Government turns a blind eye, does little to tackle erosion

“For many years, we have been asking the government to come up with a plan to stop erosion. This year, to prevent erosion, the government has placed 80,000 sand bags, but those bags have been washed away in the river. The government does not seem to be taking the issue seriously", says Saurabh.

It is said that the Bihar government spent Rs 700 crore on sand. Sunil Saurabh says, "If the government had put a boulder instead of sand bags, the erosion could have stopped, but the government refrained from using boulders. These sand bags get washed away in the river along with the river banks"

Like Pirpainti of Bhagalpur, there is severe erosion due to the Ganga river in Katihar. In the last two months, more than 500 houses in Katihar's Manihari have been damaged due to erosion.

Social worker Victor Jha, who works in Katihar district, informs, "Here erosion occurs only during the flood season because of the heavy and increased  flow of the Ganga . Every year at least 1000 houses in the area are engulfed by the river. Right now, only erosion is the problem, but come September, erosion along with floods will create havoc in people’s lives.”

Bhagalpur, Katihar, Khagaria and Begusarai are the four districts in the state that regularly get affected by erosion due to the Ganga. 

Too little relief for too many!

So far 81.44 lakh people have been affected by the floods. Of these, nearly 20.61 lakh people have been affected by floods in Darbhanga while 18.98 lakh people have been flood-hit in Muzaffarpur. The death toll has increased to 25.

Despite 81.44 lakh people being affected by floods, only 10 relief camps are being operational in only two districts of the state when the flood waters have spread to 16 districts. An official associated with the Disaster Management Department informs "There are nine relief camps in Samastipur district and one relief camp is operational in Khagaria. However, community kitchens are more prevalent in the region. In 16 flood-hit districts, there are 723 community kitchens running in which 5,85,048 people have been fed so far."

An official of Darbhanga district however informs that there is no need to build relief camps at several places as the flood water has receded and people are staying in their homes. For these people, food is being prepared in the community kitchens.

Barauli of Gopalganj is one of the flood affected blocks. The Community Officer of the block, informs that 87 community kitchens are running in the area, but does not respond to our question on relief camps.

MP bears the brunt of locals' anger

Amidst all the claims of providing relief to flood-hit people, several complaints of government aid not reaching to people are being received. 

Recently, BJP MP Janardan Singh Sigriwal had to face the anger of people while he went to take stock of the flood situation. According to locals, the MP along with his supporters visited a relief camp in Siwan, where not only the people demonstrated in front of him, but his supporters and local people clashed.

As per the MP, he visited the relief camp to assess the irregularities in the camp when the village head and his supporters attacked him. These allegations, however, have been dismissed by the village head. The matter has taken a serious turn and the police have had to intervene.

Food grains get damaged raising fears of delay in rations

Hundreds of quintals of foodgrains have been damaged as the flood waters have entered the Food Corporation’s warehouse located in Kesariya, East Champaran. According to an official, around 300 quintals of the grains have been destroyed by the flood waters, but some media reports have estimated that 6000 quintals of grains have been wasted.

The reason for the warehouse flooding has been attributed to the embankment breach of the Gandak. After receiving the news of water entering the warehouse, DM Apex Kapil Ashok visited the warehouse and formed a committee to investigate the matter.

According to local people, the rice stored in this warehouse is the one allocated for the public distribution system which lets people get cheaper ration. Due to the floods ravaging the warehouse, people are worried that their procurement of ration may get delayed.

You can read the article in Hindi here. Authored by Umesh Kumar Ray; Translation to English by Swati Bansal