Eklavya Kumar of the Megh Pyne Abhiyan discuss flood situation in Bihar at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi

As the Government officials and agencies discuss the flood situation in Bihar, experts and organizations working in flood affected north Bihar area blame the Government’s flood control policies for the state’s nightmare. Dipu Shaw reports…

Dr. Dinesh Mishra, fellow at People’s Science Institute (PSI) recently released his book on floods in Bihar titled “Trapped Between the Devil and the Deep waters”. The “devil” of course refers to the corrupt Government officials who “gain from the almost regular Bihar floods”.

This time the Kosi River nicknamed as the “sorrow of Bihar” has devastated the state as never before. More than two million people in 14 districts of Bihar have been affected by the Kosi floods. The central government has sanctioned Rs 1000 crore for rescue and relief operations declaring it a national calamity. The National Disaster Management Authority has also been pressed into action in the state. It was reported by the Government that most of the marooned persons have been rescued and shifted to safer locations. Reports from the flood ravaged area, however, point to the contrary.

Kavindra Kumar Pandey of the Megh Pyne Abhiyan, which works with the flood-affected in north Bihar, was recently in the flood ravaged area. He contends “There is rampant looting and molestation by anti social groups. The relief camps and food material is also insufficient”.

Even the flood management policy of the government has received some serious criticism.

“It is a totally man made flood”, says Himanshu Thakar, Delhi coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People. “The Kosi has breached for the eighth time, no doubt that the floods could have been avoided”.

Dr N.C. Saxena, former Secretary of the Planning Commission of India is critical of the Government, both at the center as well as in the state of Bihar. He points out how there is no provision of a third party monitoring of the state expenditure. “When World Banks provide money, teams from Washington can come to monitor and survey the expenditure and its use, but for the government’s money, no one can know where it goes”, he says. “It is not the lack of funds that is affecting relief operations in Bihar. It is its improper application.”

Experts observe that it does not pay to tamper with the flow of a river that carries a heavy sediment load. And River Kosi carries a lot of silt with it. Dr. Mishra gives the example of the Hwang Ho River which has 18 embankments on it. “After breaching for the ninth time, the river did not return to its original course. Then, they built embankments on the new course”, he mentions. “When a heavily silt laden river is embanked, the sediment gets trapped within the embankments lifting the bed level and necessitating the raising of the embankments. There is a practical limit to which the embankments can be raised and maintained.”

The PSI fellow who is considered an expert on Bihar floods also suspects many more deaths in the Kosi floods than officially reported. “The dead bodies must be covered under the heavy silt and many would be carried away by the river. No one will come to know about them as the bodies will not be found”, he says.

Dr. Mishra recommends a combined effort to tame floods in Bihar. “The layman who lives on the riverbed, the engineer who works with contours and maps in his office and the politician who takes decision need to come together to save Bihar from the devastation”, he suggests.