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Statement of Concern on Flawed Design of Kosi Mahasetu

Written By Krishna on Wednesday, March 07, 2012 | 11:20 PM

Forty two pillars of Kosi Mahasetu fail to provide it sane basis CWPRS, Pune inflicts fresh wounds in Kosi basin? 

Displaced from Kosi Mahasetu seek justice without success 

The National Highway Authority of India, Union Surface Transport Ministry has constructed a bridge called Kosi Mahasetu over the River Kosi on the NH-57 at Nirmali-- Bhapatiyahi in Supaul district. In the year 2010, even the normal flow of the river adversely affected centuries old 50-60 villages due to flood induced submergence, accumulation of sand and erosion. It has been observed that the crisis due to engineered flood since July 15, 2010 was unprecedented for the area. This caused homelessness, loss of livelihood, permanent displacement and migration.

 It was quite unfortunate that it did not attract the attention of media and the central and state government. Patna High Court bench of Justice T Meena Kumari and Justice Gopal Prasad heard a matter connected with grievances related to Kosi mahasetu. On March 2, 2012 it was disposed off. The order reads: “Present writ petition been filed for a direction upon the respondents to increase the water way of the twin bridge from 1.8 Kilometer to 10-12 Kilometer between the two embankments on the river Koshi connecting Darbhanga to Forbishganj on the National Highway 57. It is stated on behalf of the petitioner that representation in this regard has already been filed before the authority concerned which is still un-answered.

 In the opinion of this Court, it would suffice, if a direction is given to the National Highway Authority of India, through its chairman, G 5 & 6, Sector- 10, Dwarka, New Delhi-110075 (respondent no. 2) to dispose off the aforesaid representation dated 05.10.2012 as contained in Annexure-P-16 to the writ petition filed by the petitioner as expeditiously as possible. This Court orders accordingly. With the above observation this writ application is disposed off.” It was filed as Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No. 968 of 2012 wherein the State of Bihar and others were respondents. 

The key prayers of the petition were as under: 1. Issue Writ of Mandamus or any appropriate Writ, order or direction to respondents to construct the Rail and Road Bridge for the entire 12 km as shown (in the annexure to the petition) to ensure zero level of upstream afflux in the Kosi river after construction, recommendation.
2. Restore and rebuild houses, schools, health centres, post offices and other means of public services damaged due to backwater afflux caused by river appurtenances constructed on NH 57

 3. To pay compensation to the residents of the affected villages for damage to property attributed to afflux in water caused by construction of twin bridges on river Kosi 

 4. To pay compensation to the residents of the affected villages for the loss of crops, damage to farmland, cattle, house and public services, due to backwater afflux during the year 2010 monsoon The matter was heard twice. It was first heard on January 18, 2012. 

The judiciary has not given answers to these prayers as yet. As part of East-West corridor of Golden quadrilateral road project, in Bihar NH-57 traverses from Gopalganganj to Siwan passing through Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Supaul, Araria and crosses Kisanganj to enter Bengal and reach Assam. The NH-57 connects Muzaffarpur to Forbesganj via Darbhanga and Jhanjharpur. It passes through the flood plains of the river Kosi through a length of approximately 11 km cutting across the Western and Eastern Embankments, at village Bhutaha and Bhaptiyahi respectively. The Indian Railways have constructed one parallel Bridge over the River Kosi, 60 m downstream of the NH-57 Bridge, connecting Nirmali to Bhaptiyahi railway station. 

A road bridge of NH 57 and another bridge for railway have been constructed and were recently inaugurated by C P Joshi, the concerned Union Minister and Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar on February 8, 2012. This bridge is 1878 m in length, 20-76 m in width. It has 42 pillars. The length of approach road is 8,757 m. This four lane Kosi Mahasetu is spread over an area of 2 km. It has been observed that the bridge reduces the flowing area of Kosi river from 12-15 km to 1.85 km. It is ignored the historical nature of Kosi and its rated discharge of 8-9 lakh cusec. The bridge has raised the water level in the upstream of the bridge that increases velocity in the downstream. The nature of the crisis which unfolded in July- August 2010 in this Kosi region is different from previous years. 

In 2004, Bihar government’s Gokul Prasad Expert Committee Report on Road and Rail Bridge on the River Kosi had also found fault with the design. It had also recommended model study of the upstream and downstream impact of the proposed waterways by CWPRS before freezing the design options of the proposed bridge. This was not done. The deficiencies in bridge site selection by CWPRS were also pointed out. It indicated that the present site of the NH-57 bridge was not the ideal one from the point of view of the river bed sedimentation. It is noteworthy that about seven km upstream of this River Cross Section suggested as the site of the bridge, the old railway bridge existed on the Nirmali- Bhaptiyahi route. It was washed away in the Kosi floods in 1938. The rate of aggradations of the river would further increase with construction of the river appurtenances like guide bunds, afflux cum protection bunds and bridge piers. 

Gokhul Prasad committee had advised that alternate sites should also be studied by the CWPRS for this Bridge but this was not done. The selection of the present site, with high rate of sedimentation, would affect the structural integrity of the Kosi flood protection embankments. Further, it was contrary to the design objectives of long service life and structural integrity of the bridge. As a consequence, a large number of people have been displaced and people face similar threats in future.

A study team of Dr T N Jha, M B Verma, Ramchandra Khan, Narayanji Chaudhary and several social workers had visited the affected area during July-August 2010 amidst flood. In this region, Kosi flow spreads in about 7 km between Jhajha village in east and Sanpataha village in west. At this place Kosi used to flow between eastern and western embankments with a spread of 14-15 km. It emerged that if mere 2 lakh cusec-3.5 lakh cusec discharge has led to displacement and destruction of numerous villages, one only imagine the calamity that will occur at higher rates of discharge from Kosi. Due to the construction of the bridge these villages got situated amidst the main flow of Kosi river, consequently their farming land has become sand dunes or have become part of the river. This has created a livelihood crisis. Government’s criminal callousness is such that no one turned up for months to ascertain the extent of disaster. 

Earlier, in times of flood villagers used to leave their villages temporarily for an elevated place and on reduction of flood level they used to come back to these villages. This has altered their culture of living with the floods. Villagers protest against the flawed engineering design of the Kosi Mahasetu has been suppressed by the government by issuing notices under clause 107 of the Civil Procedure Code to several people. The residents of Kosi basin have faced such governmental violence at least since 1955-56 when their movement against eastern and western embankment that displaced 1.92 lakhs people in 1955 to start with and their number has increased to 9.88 lakhs (according to 2001 Census), was defeated by state’s machinations. 

For last 55-56 years, people of this region have faced multiple displacements. Displacement due to flawed engineering design of Kosi Mahasetu is part of the same script. They will suffer the the same fate once again if the proposed Dagmara Hydro-power station comes up for construction in future.

Later on April 28, 2011, an independent study by a team led by M B Verma, a scientist had concluded that the design discharge of 790, 000 cusecs of the river Kosi for return interval for 100-year is an under estimate and needs to be re-examined. The observed discharge in the river in 1954 was 850,000 cusecs and in 1968 the same was recorded at 913,000 cusecs. It found that the gross waterway of 1853 meters for the bridge is inadequate even at the design discharge. It also needed to be reviewed. It found that the predictions of backwater effect over a distance 8 km and afflux of 1.35 m was based on the physical model tests and mathematical analysis conducted at Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS), Pune were not realistic. CWPRS was appointed for technical advice. It must be remembered that the Pune laboratory had suggested in 1955 that after the construction of the embankments on the Kosi, there would be a rise of only four inches in the flood level within the Kosi embankments. It had assured people that there was no need for getting unnecessarily alarmed. 

Will someone at CWPRS be held accountable for yet another blunder ever? Dr D K Mishra, former member, Planning Commission’s Working Group on Flood Control & Water Logging and author, Trapped! Between Devil & Deep Waters: The Story of Bihar's Kosi River underlines that the advice of CWPRS led to construction of embankments in Kosi basin among other factors. In 1952, Bihar had 160 km of embankments (on the Gandak) and a flood prone area of 25 lakh hectare. At present Bihar has more than 3,620 km of embankments and a flood prone area of 68.8 lakh hectare (assessed in 1994) — an increase of more than 2.5 times. 

In recent years it may have increased more. Agencies like CWPRS must explain if this is what is meant by efficient flood control that finds mention even in Draft National Water Policy 2012. In Kosi Mahasetu, CWPRS has inflicted fresh wounds with impunity. A public meeting of the displaced villagers held at B N College, Bhaptiyahi on August 17, 2010 passed a resolution with 25 demands. It included demand for permanent solution for Kosi crisis, a scientific basis for the length of the re-construction of Kosi bridge and adequate compensation for the displaced families. A memorandum based on the resolution was submitted to central and Bihar government but received no relief. In this matter of Kosi Mahasetu a Writ Petition (Civil) 477 of 2011 was heard by the Supreme Court bench of Justice Deepak Verma and K S Radhakrishnan on November 21, 2011. 

Citing the issue of jurisdiction the court referred the matter to be Patna High Court. Now that the High Court has not provided justice, the fact is that the displaced people have not got any legal remedy so far. Although belated demand for justice by victims of misplaced engineering interventions remains relevant for sure. Shouldn’t this matter be referred to a Commission like Justice Rajesh Balia headed Kosi Inquiry Commission? The Terms of Reference of the Commission ought to have been expanded to fix liability for the deliberately flawed design of Kosi Mahasetu. Commission’s report revealed the non-cooperative approach of the concerned departments. 
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