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One Month After Kosi Deluge

Written By Gopal Krishna on Wednesday, September 17, 2008 | 11:26 AM

Drainage Crisis of North Bihar & Nepal Remains Unattended

All talk about seeking review of Kosi agreement that created the rationale for embankments and dams on the Kosi river seems like empty rhetoric. No political party both within the state and at the center can be absolved of acts of omission and commission that has brought perennial misery Kosi region.

The transformation of flood dependent agrarian regimes into flood vulnerable landscapes was primarily driven by the need to secure private property in land, which was a key concern of the colonial powers. It “soon disrupted natural flow regimes and ended up aggravating flood lines and thereby opening up the deltas to enhanced flood vulnerability. Constructed a network of roads, railway lines, and bridges, which by running in the east- west direction ended up interrupting natural drainage lines that mostly dropped from north to south. These structures, in time, not unexpectedly, began to unsettle a complex and fragile arrangement for drainage.” (Rohan D'Souza, 2008) Thus, North Bihar has been deprived of the most fertile land in the world. The Royal Commission of Agriculture had blamed lack of adequate drainage for it. A Fact Finding Mission that visited Kosi region in March 2008 corroborates that the situation has worsened over several decades.

The drainage congestion crisis is not about perennial waterlogging alone, it’s an invitation for an unimaginable proportion of public health crisis. Things have to such a pass that everyone including women, children and old age people have to take recourse to boats even to answer nature’s call on a daily basis. Governments in New Delhi, Kathmandu and Patna have refused to provide remedy for this heartrending situation. The Kosi agreement that has created this mess was signed in 1954 and amended in 1966 is caught in a time warp. The agreement is a declaration of both the countries to conquer nature and tame Kosi river despite evident failure. The eighth breach in the structural solution that happened on August 18 is unlikely to be repaired before March 2009.

Instead of solving this glaring crisis, an an act of manifest insincerity Kosi High dam is being proposed in a highly geologically unstable and earth quake prone area - a recipe for a catastrophe. Besides the inherent dangers, there is also a growing evidence of dam-induced seismicity that is being completely overlooked.

The rulers will have people believe that completing the projects (although a dam will take about 20 years for completion) especially a dam) tame the Kosi and solve the flood problem. It is being suggested to the Nepal Prime Minister that the Saptakosi high dam project besides Sunkosi diversion scheme and the Kamla dam project at a combined estimated cost of Rs. 38,000 crore would address the crisis in Bihar and Nepal. These claims need to be summarily rejected. It is noteworthy that the proposed dam is supposed to be for multiple purposes (irrigation, power-generation, flood-control, etc), and there is an in built conflict of according priority in-built into such a project.

The Kosi High Dam proposal measures against what the National Flood Commission, 1980, had noted, "The flood problem being more acute in the basins of rivers originating from the Himalayas, the reservoirs for flood moderation have to be sited in the Himalayan region, where there are complex problems to be dealt with in putting up large dams due to geological, seismic and topographical constraints. Because of narrow valleys, capacities of reservoirs on Himalayan rivers are not very large. Also, the rivers carry very large silt charge. The factors limit the economic life of the reservoirs, which, in turn, affects the economic feasibility of the project."

The idea of 269-metre Kosi dam was first mooted in 1937 and has been projected to have a lifespan of no more than 37 years, owing to about 90 million cubic meters of silt being carried by the river each year. Thanks to faster-than-expected silting of the reservoir of the proposed dam, neither will it produce the promised power nor provide intended irrigation benefits. The learned public representative must know that the existing East Bank Kosi canal is heavily silted and delivers just 7 per cent of its irrigation potential.

In the context of the proposed dam, it must be remembered that it is the same area where earthquake-measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale hit Nepal/Bihar in 1934. The real crisis of North Bihar is not floods but drainage, which the UPA's Common Minimum Programme acknowledged. But did you hear anyone talk about responding to the drainage crisis, which has rightly been diagnosed as the real problem.

Kosi belongs to the ecosystem and all of society. The river must be allowed to perform its role in maintaining a natural evolutionary balance and continuing with its land building work.
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