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Drainage Crisis of Kosi

Abstract: Kosi is an international river and all interventions must show utmost sensitivity that does not bring a bad name to
our country. The onus is the central government to avoid a situation, which makes North Bihar a case study for mismanagement
of rivers. It has emerged from the field study undertaken by a Fact Finding Team that a list of "what not to do in Kosi basin"
must be prepared before relying on the suggestions of retired or serving officials. Why Kosi has been flowing at a level higher
than its adjoining mainland is a statement on the poverty of common sense. The reduced cross-section of the river due to
embankments was expected to facilitate the dredging of its bed. Instead, the Kosi offloaded silt into the river and raised the
level of its bed. That the Kosi is among one of the highest silt-laden rivers in the country makes matters worse. Had the river
been free to meander, it would have deposited fertile silt, collected from the slopes of Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga,
across the plains of north Bihar. But that was not to be, as most of the silt carried over the years lies trapped between river
banks, reducing the stream flow on the one hand and making the embankments vulnerable to breach on the other. People of
Kosi basin are victims of development and the arrogance of governmental knowledge that are used to scare common people
into silence and submission by their declarations such as "I Know the facts". All proponents of “solution” must be made to solve
the drainage crisis and adopt Ganga basin approach before undertaking any further intervention.

Introduction
Kosi is one of the major tributaries of Ganga synonymous with the history, culture of not only Mithila but whole of the Indian
sub-continent. One cannot think of the Indian sub-continent without thinking about Ramayana (Sita) and Mahabharata (Karna).
Ramayana and Mahabharata cannot be even imagined in the absence of Mithila. The structural solutions have already distorted
the landscape of the Kosi-Mithila region, structural solutions like Kosi High Dam would turn out to be a monument of foolishness
for generations to come. Like the villains of embankment proposal, all the kosi high dam proponents must be identified and
dealt with by something like a Kosi Parliament.

Nearly 33.55 lakh people in five districts of north Bihar were affected by the devastation caused by the Kosi deluge due to the
breach in the embankment at Kusaha in Nepal on August 18.

After Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Bihar too is initiating the misplaced project of linking rivers even as it is
being predicted that "Ganga would soon become a seasonal river-flooded in monsoons and dry in the summers." Out of the 30
links in the controversial National Interlinking of Rivers project that includes 14 links in the Himalayan component, 6 river-link
canals are directly related to Bihar. It is noteworthy that quite like Tamil Nadu, Bihar too is proposing its linking of rivers
projects as independent of the national project. Unmindful of the global ecological changes and river basin approach Uttar
Pradesh has already launched Ganga Expressway Project in 2007 to construct a 1047 km access controlled eight-laned
expressway running along the Ganga river to provide connectivity and as a flood control measure although the catastrophe
brought about by such measures is quite evident.

Continuing the same trend, Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Bihar's Water Resources Development Minister informed the Bihar Legislative
Council on 4, December, 2008 that inter-linking of rivers could rid the state of perennial problems of flood and drought.
Replying to a special debate on drought like situation prevailing in many districts of south Bihar, Yadav said "unless and until
rivers are inter-linked the twin problems can not be solved." Yadav said the inter-linking of Bihar rivers would cost more than
Rs 4,000 crore. Stating that 26 percent area of the state are drought-hit, Yadav informed the Vidhan Parishad that the state did
not have any reservoir which was crucial for irrigation. It was either in Nepal or in Uttar Pradesh. Replying to a debate on
perennial problem of flood in the state he referred to the devastation caused by the Kosi deluge and the probe by judicial
commission underway.

The Centre has constituted a high level committee, consisting of three representatives of the Centre, two from Nepal and five
from Bihar government, for the repair and maintenance of the embankment.

In the aftermath of Kosi deluge, such ecologically disastrous engineering projects have been dismissed as a "solution". Most
recently, even 'development' advocates like Suman K Bery, Director General of New Delhi-based National Council of Applied
Economic Research advised the governments to forgo its mega public private partnership projects and concentrate on
strengthening the existing infrastructures in the light of the crash of US and the European markets as a response to the
upheavals in the world economy.

Sterile Discourses
At a talk and a day long Panel Discussion in Patna on "Kusaha Breach and Thereafter", heated exchanges between pro-"Kosi high
dam" engineers and proponents of "living with floods" ended with an apparent conclusion that high dams & embankments are
less of an engineering interventions and more of a political intervention. On 17 October, on the eve of two months of the Kosi
breach, the talk was delivered by Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra, a well known voice of sanity with regard to Kosi crisis. Failure of
dams as flood control structures has been demonstrated in Orissa, Gujarat, Maharasthra and Jharkhand.

A white paper was demanded, while sharing the Hindi version of the Fact Finding Report on Kosi “Kosi “Pralay”: Bhayaavah
Aapada Abhi Baaki Hai” sought accountability of Kosi High Level Committee (KHLC) and provide a remedy for the drainage crisis
in North Bihar as was promised by the UPA government's Common Minimum Programme. All the activities of KHLC should be put
in suspension till the time their liability is fixed and Justice Rajesh Balia Judicial Commission of inquiry set up on September 9,
2008 is completed. The commission’s recommendations must not meet the fate of several dozens of committees and it must
recommend criminal charges against acts of omission and commission.

It is noteworthy that Union Water Resources Department Secretary, in a letter to the Bihar Irrigation Secretary on September
24, 2008 has questioned the locus standi of the judicial commission. The letter read: “The Kosi agreement is a bilateral
agreement between two sovereign states, India and Nepal, and Bihar is not a party to either 1954 or the 1966 agreement.
”Water and Power Consultation Services, a central government’s public sector undertaking has provided technical inputs to the
Bihar government on possible ways to plug the breach at Kusaha in Nepal.

Participants included victims of embankments who expressed their anguish at the Delhi, Kathmandu and Patna centric
deliberations and decision making. They called for a movement against Kosi High Dam, embankments and changing the current
course of Kosi.

Amid news reports that Kosi's course will be restored by December 15 and the breach would be plugged by March 31, 2009
citing Kosi Breach Closure Advisory Technical Committee chairman Nilendu Sanyal and Ganga Flood Control Commission
chairman R C Jha on 14 October, 2008 to finalise modalities on plugging the breach, some participants were opposed to the
repair of the breach in Kusaha. Government must hear the views of these people before undertaking repair works.

Meanwhile, central government has sanctioned Rs 40 crore for the project and Bihar Cabinet has sanctioned Rs 197 crore. Bihar
Water Resources Minister Bijendra Yadav has said tenders for the breach closure have been invited and bidding will take place
after October 21.

Proposed "Sapta Kosi Multi Purpose Project" claims to irrigate 68,450 hectares in Nepal and provide remedy for drought-prone
areas measuring 1,520,000 hectares in India. It is claimed that alongwith irrigation and flood control, about 3,500 MW of
electrical power would also be generated from water stored in the 269-meter-high reservoir. According to a preliminary impact
study, the proposed high dam will displace 75,000 people from about 79 Village Development Committees (VDCs) in nine
districts of Nepal alone. About 111 settlements in the 79 VDCs, sprawling over the banks of the Sun Kosi, Tamor, and Arun
rivers, will be totally submerged, while 47 settlements will face partial submergence, and 138 will become fractionally
submerged.

Opinions available in public domain say, "If the dam is going to cause such upheaval, can the crops produced from the 68,450
hectares of irrigated land in Nepal compensate for this huge loss?" argued the bimonthly magazine, Pro Public/Good
Governance, in its report. Estimated losses in the North Bihar are yet to be ascertained. Earlier, the meeting of the Indo-Nepal
Joint Committee on Water Resources in Kathmandu on October 2, 2008 agreed to expedite work on preparation of the Detailed
Project Report (DPR) on Saptkosi High Dam on the Kosi. Both sides reiterated their commitment to expediting the work on
preparation of the DPR of Saptkosi High Dam project during the meeting which concluded on Wednesday in Kathmandu. Nepal
assured full administrative support and security to Indian engineers.

After the breach, on August 18-19, 2008 Nepal government had said that Kosi treaty is a "historic blunder" but Nepal
government's inconsistent and ambiguous position now on the Kosi High Dam proposal based on the same treaty must be
exposed in the Nepali parliament and media.

The Worst is Still to Come


In order to save Kosi region from an ecological and human disaster, Nepali and Indian legislators must take a categorical
position based on a referendum on Kosi.

On August 19, 2008, the chairman of the Expert Committee on the Implementation
of recommendations of Rashtriya Barh Ayog, R Rangachari said, “It is my
impression that not much has been done to implement the suggestions made by the
committee’s report.” Rangachari was on the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Flood
Control in 2004.

The National Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the Government of India made a
solemn pledge to the people of the country in 2004 to undertake “Long-pending
schemes in specific states that have national significance, like flood control
and drainage in North Bihar.” Despite acknowledging the problem, it is shocking
that neither the Central nor Bihar Government conducts any survey to assess the
effect of flood control measures on the socio-economic conditions of society.

On August 20, 2008, after the breach in the embankment at Kusaha in the Kosi
region, Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal `Prachanda’, took stock of
the post-calamity situation in the Kosi region and said “Kosi agreement was a
historic blunder. The people are suffering due to this”. The agreement had led
to the construction of embankments and proposals for a high dam.

Following an aerial survey of the flood affected areas of Bihar, the Indian
Prime Minister on August 28, 2008, termed the flood crisis as “a national
calamity”. More than four years have passed since the Indian Prime Minister made
the promise in the CMP. Now, in August 2008 he declared, “A high-level team
would be set up to coordinate matters with the Government of Nepal.” He also
promised protective structures and technical assistance to state government to
prevent further deterioration in the embankments. Such dangling of carrots and
providing band-aid remedies are horribly insincere and it has been going on for
over 60 years.

Bihar’s floods in August 2008 caused the eighth breach in the embankments.
According to the Bihar Government’s own reports, last year 48 lakh people in 22
districts were in need of assistance due to floods. Clearly, it is not the
extent, but the unpredictable intensity of the crisis that makes it a
catastrophe. The primary function of floodwater is to drain out excess water. It
has not been allowed to perform its functions due to engineering interventions.

Hundreds of reports prepared by Commissions of all ilks are gathering dust. At


most, they become election campaign tools. The Commission should recommend
fixing charges of criminal neglect against the members of the Kosi High-Level
Committee, who waited for the calamity despite having information that could
have led to timely evacuation of the people.
The drainage problem has failed to alter the policy regime of the country that
favours structural solutions regardless of the natural drainage it may impede.
Proposals like a high dam on the Kosi are as good as jumping from the frying pan
into the fire, if the experience with embankments is anything to go by. Even
when one chooses to ignore the changing morphology of the river, the estimated
lifespan of a dam and embankment being 25 and 37 years respectively, underlines
the transitory nature of the technocentric interventions. The Union Ministry of
Water Resources misled the Rajya Sabha on March 11, 2008 claiming, “Government
has taken various steps in the direction of water management to stop the flood
in north Bihar coming from the rivers of Nepal.” There has been no significant
shift in the way the Kosi issue was perceived in the 1950s and in 2008.

The issue of the Kosi High Dam, first raised in 1948, has been sold to the
victims as one of the ‘permanent’ solutions to recurring floods. Ironically,
embankments as temporary solutions have become reasonably permanent whereas the
‘permanent’ solution has remained elusive. What is ‘permanent’ and how permanent
is ‘permanence’? It must be acknowledged now that there is a condemnable
insincerity in proposing multi-purpose high dams for flood control, because the
dams are proposed to tap the hydropower potential. Is it not clear that when the
multipurpose — flood control, irrigation and power — dam is talked about, the
real motive of the proposal in question is ignored? Clearly, political parties
hold a stake in such power projects that make them little concernend with the
masses struggling to remain afloat. A few days ago, Nepalese Prime Minister,
Prachanda, conveyed his affirmation for the hydel power project in a meeting
with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Conclusion
There is a compelling logic behind seeking immediate review of the Indo- Nepal
Kosi Treaty that created the rationale for embankments and dams. Continuing with
it would amount to flogging a dead horse. The congestion in North Bihar and
Nepal is a problem of permanent water-logging that has remained overlooked for
several decades. Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes or tsunamis cannot be
controlled. But the catastrophe they cause can be predicted, anticipated and
prevented. Drainage of the river must remain sacrosanct, besides timely
evacuation of human and animal population and the establishment of robust public
health systems.

Given its distinct geo-morphological features and complicated hydrological


characters, the Kosi is one of the Himalayan rivers that is yet to be
understood in its entirety. It is high time that policy makers gave up their
outdated ‘conquest over nature’ paradigm. We have to learn to live with the
floods, only this time, in far more readiness.

Ecological and futuristic vision based state interventions must treat natural flow of rivers as sacrosanct and natural habitats
must not be tampered with, which we must maintain if we want life to exist on Earth. Instead of a gigantic dam, what is
needed is a gigantic network of very small scale water management schemes, including a vast network of small dams in
Himalayas.

NEW DELHI: The Kosi river, which changed its course and washed away the homes and livelihoods of nearly 15 million people in Bihar,
has reinforced the need for effective water management on a priority basis, says a top official of India's Planning Commission.
"The flood caused by the Kosi in Bihar underlines the need for storing water by building dams or barrages. Since the issue involves Nepal,
vigorous diplomatic efforts are needed," Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, told media.

"I do not see any other viable solution. We will have to think and act in terms of storing Kosi water wherever possible and necessary. Let's
hope the government acts fast accordingly," he added.

Kosi has an age-old sobriquet, 'Sorrow of Bihar'. The river gathers water from the Himalayas and flows down from Nepal to India before
joining the Ganga near Kursaila in Katihar, now an inundated district in north Bihar. It is also called Sapta Kosi as the river has seven major
tributaries, Sun Kosi, Tama Kosi, Dudh Kosi, Indravati, Likhu, Arun and Tamar.

The river carries around 80 million tonnes of silt every year, a possible reason for it changing course from time to time. It has an average
discharge of over 55,000 cusecs of water, which goes up sharply during the monsoon.

On April 25, 1954, India and Nepal signed the first Kosi Agreement. By 1963, a barrage was built at Bhimnagar near the Nepal border. A 39-
km long embankment from the barrage to Chatra in Nepal was also built.

Spurs, diagonal structures that check the speed of the river's current, were built to protect the barrage. The jacketing of the Kosi was
successful in controlling the river's direction, but did not address the problem of siltation.

Till this year, Kosi used to flood north Bihar due to breaches in embankments downstream of the barrage. However, the current flood was
caused by breaches that developed in the embankment near Kusaha, located upstream in Nepal.

As per the agreement, India was to take care of the embankment lying in the territory of Nepal. Every year, the entire stretch is inspected
and repaired by June.

However, Bihar government officials alleged that the breaches could not be repaired this year since Nepalis did not allow the labourers to
work on the embankment. The Kosi finally damaged the spurs and caused a 12.8-km lethal breach on Aug 18.

The river took an eastward course and gushed into Bihar. It inundated Supaul and then Araria, Saharsa, Madhepura, Purnea, Katihar and
Khagaria districts in just a few days. It spread subsequently to nine other districts, including Bhagalpur, Samastipur and Muzaffarpur.

Locals believe that the river, having shifted around 120 km from east to west in a period of around 250 years, is now returning to its old
course.

Since a Bihar district has a population of 2.2 million on an average, there is little doubt that the Kosi flooding has affected nearly 15 million
people.

"The number is very high. There is no authentic data available. The loss is unprecedented and certainly calls for a lasting solution," the
central government's Rural Development Minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh told IANS.

Since a permanent solution involves diplomatic cooperation between India and Nepal, he did not see any reason for the Bihar government
to fail in repairing the embankment.

"It was a criminal negligence, and needs to be probed. The responsibility has to be fixed," said the minister. The central government has
declared the Bihar floods a national calamity.

Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has also demanded active bilateral cooperation for building dams to check annual floods,
which inundate parts of that state as well.

She visited the flood-affected areas last Friday and told reporters in Patna that Nepal and India had an agreement in 1996 to build dams on
the Sharda, Ghagra and Rapti rivers but nothing had moved forward since then. Locals say floods of such magnitude were first seen in
1954 and subsequently in 1963, 1971, 1984, 1987, 1991 and 1995.

"This is several times worse than the floods in 1991 and 1995," said Rajiv Ranjan, the former headman of Tatanpura village in Madhepura.
With his village under water, he is currently staying at his house in Madhepura, which was hit by floods Aug 27.

With the Kosi having swept away agricultural land, livestock and houses, it will be difficult for the people of Bihar to get back on their feet. "It
is the end of a chapter. A new one has to be started from scratch. Nobody knows when and how," said Rajiv Ranjan.