Delhi: In Bihar, two and a half days of floods
have been turned into a two-and-a-half-month-long affair so that
the politics over relief continues, says one of India's leading
Solutions to tackle the recurring "man-made" floods lie in a
dialogue between the residents of flood-prone plains, the
technical fraternity and the government, says Dinesh Kumar Mishra.
"They have turned two and a half days of floods into a two and a
half months' floods so that the politics over relief continues.
Flood is a man-made menace," Mishra, who was in the city to
address a seminar "Dying Rivers, Living Rivers" at the India
International Centre, told IANS.
A structural engineer from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kharagpur,
Mishra has written volumes probing the origin of the Kosi, Bagmati,
Mahananda and Bodhi Balan rivers and man-made floods in them
caused by breaches in embankments.
Currently writing a book about the origin and flow of the Gandak,
Mishra's work on the Kosi, "Trapped! Between the Devil & Deep
Waters: The Story on Bihar's Kosi River", remains his seminal
Citing examples from Bihar, which has eight major Himalayan rivers
and is ravaged by floods every year, Mishra said that studies
reveal that people living in the lowlands of Bihar, on an average,
suffer for 20 days in a year.
"For the rest of the year, they have a nice, flood-free life.
Women do not have to walk for miles with pitchers on their heads
for drinking water. There is enough ground water in their
courtyard. But no one takes note of that."
"If water or floods were the problem, then people could not have
lived for centuries in harmony with rivers. But, instead of living
with rivers on equal terms, people are now empowering the rivers
(in the name of taming it) with the more destructive embankments
and big dams," Mishra said.
Any dam or embankments on the rivers should be designed to meet
indigenous needs, he said.
"In Bihar, residents classify floods into five categories. 'Barh'
- in which water spills on the embankment, 'Boah', - when the
rivers swamps large areas, 'Humma' - when water half submerges the
cattle, 'saah'- when the flood water churns in ripples; and 'pralay'
"People of the state are used to 'barh' and 'boah'; while the
other three are rare," he said.
Probing the dynamics of flood relief politics, he said that
earlier, the king used to disburse relief during inundation to
"save his own skin".
"Later, the bureaucrats swindled money for relief. Aid has now
been a tool to win elections," he said.
Tracing Bihar's historical relationship with the Kosi, he said
those living in the lowlands deify the river by calling it "maiya
In 2008, it however became a terror. A breach in the Kosi
embankment in Nepal in 2009 inundated large tracts in adjoining
Bihar, affecting more than three million people in 16 districts.
"For centuries, the residents have worshipped the rivers. But the
outsiders who came there (especially the British) could not adjust
to the nature of the Kosi and the Damodar. Hence they became
rivers of sorrow because the colonisers and the subsequent
government could not collect revenue from it," Mishra said.
"Till 1952, the British rulers and their successors had been
creating embankments for commercial purposes so that the river did
not come to the villages. That created a need for irrigation and
opportunity for revenue. They collected revenue for flood
protection too," he said.
An estimate by the Bihar government says the eight rivers of the
state have breached their embankments 371 times since 1987.
The benefits of embankment are very limited, Mishra argued.
"The mud (and later concrete) embankments put the rivers between
two walls, prevented them from spilling sediments on its banks and
disturbed the water balance with confinement. Tributaries could
not join the main rivers. They either flowed parallel to the main
river and flowed back to the countryside dissipating into a
network of channels demanding construction of sluice gates to
control the backflow," he said.
The premise is that the sluice gates will remain open during rainy
season, but then they don't function and this traps the
Offering solutions, Mishra said the natural drainage of the river
should not be disturbed as far as possible. "Rivers are known to
flow for benefits; they should not be allowed to stagnate," he
Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)