Bihar · Floods

Bihar Floods of 1987-I

Above: Cover photo and map from NIDM report on Bihar floods of 2007

GUEST BLOG BY Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra (

 Background Bihar faced the worst floods if its history in 1987[1], the records of which are yet to be bettered. In the preceding year of 1986 the flood was severe in many parts of Bihar but as the rainy season drew to close, the last October rains failed and a vast area of the State came under the grip of drought. Surprisingly, the districts cited for perennial floods like Saharsa, Purnea and Khagaria in the State were also hit by the drought. The year 1987, however, was worst for floods in Bihar (in addition to UP and W Bengal) while the rest of the country was facing one of the most severe droughts in the century. Many parts of the country were facing famine like situation while all the rain bearing clouds had moved toward Bihar. Traditionally, two days of continuous rains or a clear sky of the same duration during the rainy season signals floods or drought in the State and makes farmers apprehensive of the days to come.

The GoB (Government of Bihar) had learnt some lessons from the drought and floods of last year and it had raised the allocation for its Electricity Department from Rs. 235 crores in 1986-87 to Rs. 352.5 crores in 1987-88. The allocation for medium and major irrigation for the same period was raised from Rs. 266.88 crores to Rs. 332 crores and for the minor irrigation; the allocation was to the tune of Rs. 70 crores as against Rs. 43 crores in 1986-87. The GoB had proposed to spend Rs. 44 crores till June, 1987 on the protection of important towns and villages which included the enhancement of flood protection from Rs. 25 crores to Rs. 28 crores. These proposals and allocations hinted towards seriousness of the GoB in tackling the drought and flood situation in the State.

Annual Bihar flood damage table from NIDM report on Bihar floods of 2007
Annual Bihar flood damage table from NIDM report on Bihar floods of 2007

This year, however, the situation was going to be different altogether. A brief description of what had happened in Bihar in 1987 is given in a report of the Relief and Rehabilitation Department of the Government of Bihar (GoB) 0f 1989. It says:

“Unprecedented and unexpected floods of Bihar in 1987 has been termed as the worst calamity of the State in the twentieth century by most of the public representatives. There was a heavy rain on the 18th June but it was followed by a dry spell of four to five days. But the rains that fell in the catchment areas of the North Bihar Rivers, resulted in the rise of the levels of the Kamla-Balan. Then there was virtually no rain till the end of the month. This was followed by an active monsoon in the first week of July resulting in flooding of the Kamla-Balan[2], Kosi[3], Bagmati and the Adhawara Group of Rivers[4] and all these rivers started flowing above the red mark. The experts from Central Water Commission (CWC) explained that this event was also caused due to simultaneous heavy precipitation in the catchment areas of these rivers in Nepal. It is also believed that floods were aggravated due to breaching of many drainage schemes in Nepal or due to blockage of streams subsequent to land slides there. By the end of August 1987, Bihar recorded more than 150-200 per cent rainfall as against the normal. In the last week of July, the Bagmati, the Adhawara Group of Rivers, the Kamla-Balan and the Kosi had crossed their danger levels and the flood situation was causing concern then. The Burhi Gandak[5] and the Mahananda followed the suit in the first week of the August. The Burhi Gandak broke all its previous records of flood levels in Rosera and Samastipur. The Kosi at Basua, the Kamla-Balan at Jhanjharpur, the Bagmati at Benibad and Hayaghat and the Adhawara at Ekmighat far exceeded all the previous records on the 13th and the 14th August. Many embankments on the either sides of the rivers breached at more than 104 points. All the roads of North Bihar either got submerged or breached, railway lines swung in air and the communication got thoroughly disrupted. It was a deluge all along. This situation remained the same till the third week of September because the rains continued leading to the second phase of flooding. The rivers of South Bihar like the Sone, the Ganga, the Tilayya and the Punpun were also in spate leading to heavy losses of life and property.”

Crop Season Starts with Deficient Rains The rains that fell in the month of June were just sufficient to settle the dust after the summer season in most places. Where the rains were good, the farmers had started sowing operations for paddy but a drought situation was not ruled out as drought was feared in Bhojpur district since there was no rain till the first week of July there. Voices were raised in Bihar Vidhan Sabha about the drought situation in Bhojpur by Sonadhari, MLA, on the 3rd July as all the ponds and tanks had dried there and labourers were facing starvation as there was no work available for them to make their living and Raghupati Gope, MLA (6th July) informed Vidhan Sabha that although Piro, Charpokhari, Tarari, Sandesh, Sahar, Udawantpur, Jagdishpur, Bihiya, Dumaraon, Navanagar, Itarhi, and Buxar blocks are spread with a network of (Sone) canals, there is no water in them and the drought situation is grave there. He requested the Government to make arrangements from the Rihand Dam in UP and feed water to these canals to provide irrigation to dying crops.

District wise damages in 1987 Bihar floods (SOURCE-AUTHOR)
District wise damages in 1987 Bihar floods (SOURCE-AUTHOR)

Seedlings of paddy were dying in Magadh Division of South Bihar due to severe drought and Jagadish Sharma, MLA, narrated the situation in the Vidhan Sabha (6th July) saying that the Government should postpone the realization of electricity bills from the defaulting farmers for the time being and should immediately change the burnt transformers, ensure supply of electricity to the farmers, restart all the tube-wells and provide adequate supply of diesel to them. Member from Banka (Bhagalpur) talked about the pathetic situation of agriculture and dying Bhadai crops in his constituency (7th July). Paddy seedlings were burnt fully and he wanted the GoB to declare Banka as Drought Area and start relief works there immediately. Similar situation was growing in East Champaran too where the rainfall was grossly deficient and there was no water in the canals. Citing the case of Ghorasahan Branch Canal of the Gandak Project Moti-ur-Rahaman MLA, told the Vidhan Sabha on the 22nd July that there was no employment available to the labourers and they were on the brink of starvation. Failure of rains has made the situation in Dhaka, Patahi, Ghorasahan, Chirayya, Chhauradano, Adapur, Pakaridayal, and Madhuban blocks of East Champaran.

Regular monsoon set in the State in the last week of July. It rained heavily in the last week of July all over the State and the Ganga had started severely eroding its northern bank in Jaunia, Karhagola Ghat, Jarlahi and Bhawanipur villages of Barari block of Katihar district while in Suryagarha, Lakhkhisarai, Halasi and Sikandara block of Munger district the floods that hit the area on the 26th July had swept away 200 houses rendering thousands of acres of agricultural land sand-cast. Besides, all the maize crop and paddy seedlings were swept away in the flood. The right bank canal of the lower Kiul Project was also swept away in this day long flood leaving the irrigation of about 10,000 acres of land at the mercy of the rain God. If this canal was repaired immediately, it would generate employment failing which the labourers will suffer and agricultural production would dwindle. Alakh Sharma MLA brought a calling attention motion in Bihar Vidhan Sabha on the 3rd July, 1987 to request the Government to take corrective measures.

Bihar River Basin Map (Source:
Bihar River Basin Map (Source:

Floods Take Over Virtually the first rain in the Kosi basin in the last week of June did not deter the Government officials who “… were visiting these villages with armed police to realize loans incurred by the farmers in such a situation, capturing their bullocks at gun-point and hand them over to Kanji House. They arrest the farmers and send them to jail. They are planning to dispose off the land of farmers for a pittance though auctioning. The date for such auction is being fixed and there is a panic among the farmers”, said Vinayak Prasad Yadav in Vidhan Sabha on the 3rd July. With all the preparations of the Government to face the drought or the flood situation and the expectations of the people through their representatives, begins the second week of July. As a sequel to the heavy rainfall in the second week of July, the Kosi had started eroding and flooding the area within its embankments and the people living there were facing either floods and erosion or the sand-casting. The Khagaria district was first to bear the brunt when large number of houses collapsed due to simultaneous floods in the Kareh, the Kamla, the Bagmati, the Burhi Gandak and the Kosi. The villages were engulfed by flood waters and many of them faced reciprocal inaccessibility. Flood water entered eight Panchayats of the Salkhua and Mahishi block of Saharsa district. With the release of water from the Birpur barrage on the Kosi, many villages of the Nirmali, Kishanpur and Marauna block located within the Kosi embankments were flooded badly in the middle of July itself which normally does not happen. Yadav requested the GoB once again on the 22nd July to move the people living within the Kosi embankments to safety whose villages or houses had been eroded by the river. Those whose houses have collapsed should be given grants from the Government to build their houses. Farther east, the Mahananda crossed the red mark near Dhengra Ghat in Katihar.

The Gandak[6] (Narayani) crossed the danger level in Khadda in Deoria district in UP adjacent to West Champaran and the river started slowly gnawing the spurs that were constructed to keep the river away from the embankments near Milkhitola on its western bank on the Pipra – Piparasi Ghat stretch. The Burhi Gandak eroded the approach road of a bridge near Lalbegia Ghat in East Champaran secluding the blocks of Dhaka, Patahi, Ghorasahan, and Chirayya from the district headquarters of Motihari. This point of the bridge was under attack of the river last year also but its repair, though done indifferently, had avoided the crisis then. The quality of work, however, was very poor and the local people felt that the river hit again at this point next year and the department may not be that lucky as it was this year. Their suspicion was true and the river did its job in the first opportunity. This breach, apart from causing seclusion of the area also led to rise in prices of essential commodities there and items like kerosene oil, diesel fell in the hands of the black-marketers. It was not possible to repair this breach before the rains stop and that meant that the flood hit people will have to put up with the situation that was thrust upon them in the beginning of the season.

On the other hand, in the district of Saran, the flood protection works between Sonepur and Dighawara were still incomplete, this meant that whatever work had been done till the middle of July will be carried away by the Ganga if the flood is heavy. If the flood is mild, the river water will enter the villages through the gaps left and inundate the area that it was supposed to protect. The ultimate outcome will only be the distribution of relief and money making in repairs.

In the meanwhile, there was a heavy downpour in Sono and Chakai block of Munger district on the 15th July and the hilly rivers of the area like the Ajay, the Kohli, the Patari and the Sandhara were flooded badly. These rivers encroached their banks and inundated the adjoining areas and virtually ruined the villages that their water entered into. These villages belonged to Adivasis and Dalits and the topography of the area was such that it was not prone to flooding. These people were not accustomed to face floods and were caught unaware.

The Ganga had started eroding seven kilometer long stretch of its banks close to Karhagola railway station and it was threatened with erosion. The Karhagola – Jaunia embankment on the Ganga was in precarious state last year also and nearly 400 erosion victims were already camping on the Ganga – Darjeeling road ever since. Most of these events were spread over the period of 10th to 22nd July.

The Worst was Yet to Come It was in the last week of July that the floods came in their true colors and continued for about a month. The last spell of floods was faced in the first fortnight of September when the present day South Bihar suffered most. Districts like Madhubani and Darbhanga faces floods even in the month of November. It is intended to give a district wise detail of the floods this year but before we do that let us have a look into the losses due to floods in every district which will give us some idea of what had happened there. This years’ flood had hit 26 districts of Bihar (this was the total number of districts then in the state) spread over 359 blocks and 23,852 villages. A population of 282.28 lakhs and 32.14 lakh cattle were trapped in these floods that were living over an area of 46.68 Lakh hectares. This flood had damaged a crops raised over an area of 25.10 lakh hectares, destroyed 16,82, 059 houses and killed 1,373 human being together with 5,296 cattle. Total loss due to floods in the state was valued at Rs. 1203.3381 crores[7]. This does not include the four districts namely Sahebganj, Godda, Palamu and Hazaribagh that are now located in Jharkhand.

To be continued…

Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra, D-29 Vasundhara Estate, NH-33, 
PO: Pardih, Jamshedpur 831020, Jharkhand, India
E-mail:, Mob: +919431303360

Blogs in this series:






[1] According to NIDM report of 2007 floods in Bihar: “1987 Floods: This was the worst recorded flood of the 20th century. The records set by that flood have not been broken so far (2007 included). This flood had not only mauled North Bihar, its impact was felt in South Bihar as well as Jharkhand (it was a part of Bihar those days) also. An area of 4.668 million hectare of present day Bihar and a population of 282.38 lakhs was hit by the flood that had engulfed 23,852 villages and destroyed crops over an area of 2.51MH. It further destroyed 16,82,059 houses killing 1373 persons. The rains that started on the 11th August continued almost non-stop till 19th August and no food packets could be dropped in flood affected districts of Madhubani, Darbhanga, Samastipur and Khagaria for about 3 weeks despite deployment of 13 helicopters and 58 Army boats. Blocks like Alauli and Beldaur remained marooned till the end of October. The floods repeated five spells and its gravity can be ascertained from the fact that Jhanjharpur Sub-division of Madhubani was inundated even after Diwali.”

[2] According to Govt of Bihar’s FMIS (Flood Management Information System) website, the profile of Kamla Balan: The river Kamla originates from Mahabharat range of hills in Nepal near Sindhuliagarhi at an elevation of 1200 metres at the latitude 27015 N and longitude 85057 E.It enters Indian territory in the district of Madhubani in Bihar,3.5 Km upstream of Jainagar town.A barrage known as Kamla barrage has been constructed by the state Government near Jainagar.It joins the river Kareh (Bagmati) at Badlaghat.The total length of the river Kamla –Balan is 328 Km of which 208 Km is in Nepal and the remaining 120 Km is in India. The river Kamla –Balan drains a total catchment area of 7232 Sq Km. Out of this 4488 Sq Km lies in Bihar in India and the rest 2744 Sq Km in Nepal.

Salient Features of the Kamla Basin:

1. Total Drainage Area 7232 Sq. Km.
2. Drainage Area in Bihar 4488 Sq. Km.
3. Population in Bihar 38.72 Lakh
4. Water resources 3249.40 MCM
5. Average annual rainfall 1260 mm
6. Total length of main river in Bihar 120 Km.
7. Cropped area in Bihar 2744 Sq Km
8. Tributaries : Mainawati(L), Dhauri(L), Soni(L), Balan(L), Trisula(L).

[3] According to Govt of Bihar’s FMIS website, the profile of Kosi basin: The river Kosi originates at an altitude of over 7000 m above MSL in the Himalayas. The upper catchment of the river system lies in Nepal and Tibet. The highest peak in the world , the Mount Everest and the Kanchenjunga are in the Kosi catchment.It is known as Sapta Kosi in Nepal.It enters the Indian territory near Hanuman Nagar in Nepal.It joins the Ganga river near Kursela in Katihar district. The river Kosi drains a total catchment area of 74030 Sq.Km in India and other countries.Out of the total catchment area of the Kosi, only 11410 Sq.Km lies in India and the rest 62620 Sq.Km lies in Tibet and Nepal.

Salient Features of the Kosi Basin:

1. Total Drainage Area 74030 Sq. Km
2. Drainage Area in Bihar 11410 Sq. Km
3. Population in Bihar 66.55 Lakh
4. Water resources 52219 MCM
5. Average annual rainfall 1456 mm
6. Total length of main river in Bihar 260 Km
7. Cropped area in Bihar 8694 Sq.Km
8. Tributaries: Bagmati(R), Kamla Balan(R), Bhuthi Balan(R), Trijuga(R), Fariani dhar(L), Dhemama dhar(L)

[4] According to Govt of Bihar’s FMIS website, the profile of Bagmati and Adhwara group of rivers: Bagmati is a perennial river of North Bihar. It originates from the shivpuri range of hills in Nepal at latitude 270 47’ N and longitude 850 17’E., 16 Km North-East of Kathmandu at an elevation of 1500 m above MSL. It enters Indian territory in Bihar in the village Shorwatia in Sitamarhi district, nearly 2.5 Km north of Dheng railway station.The total length of this river is about 589 Km .It traverses nearly 195 Km in Nepal and rest 394 Km in Bihar. It outfalls in the kosi at Badlaghat.
Adhwara group of rivers originates from foot hills of Nepal. Nearly 70% of discharge of this river passes through the Khiroi. The rest 30 percent goes to meet the river Dhaus near Karharaghat. Then the river crosses north of Kamtaul railway station and finally falls into the Darbhanga -Bagmati at Ekmighat .

 Salient Features of the Bagmati Basin including Adhwara

 1. Total Drainage Area 14,384 Sq Km
2. Drainage Area in Bihar 6500 Sq Km
3. Population in Bihar 55.30 Lakh
4. Water resources 2184.4 MCM
5. Average annual rainfall 1255 mm
6. Total length of main river in Bihar 394 Km
7. Cropped area in Bihar 5362 Sq Km
8. Tributaries: Lalbakeya(R), Lakhandei(L), Darbhanga-Bagmati(L), Old kamla(L), Hasanpur Bagmati(R)

[5] According to Govt of Bihar’s FMIS website, the profile of Burhi Gandak basin: The river Burhi Gandak originates  from chautarwa chaur near   Bisambharpur in the district of  West Champaran in Bihar and flows through the districts of  East champaran ,Muzaffarpur,  Samastipur and Begusarai. It outfalls into the Ganga near Khagaria. The total catchment area is 12021 sq.Km, out of which 9601 sq.Km lies in Bihar and rest in Nepal. There is no major or medium project over the Burhi Gandak river system.

Salient Features of the Burhi Gandak Basin:

1. Total Drainage Area 12021 Sq.Km
2. Drainage Area in Bihar 9601 Sq.Km
3. Population in Bihar 83.01 Lakh
4. Water resources 4040 MCM
5. Average annual rainfall 1283 mm
6. Total length of main river 320 Km
7. Cropped area in Bihar 7600 Sq.Km
8. Tributaries:- Masan(L), Balor(L), Pandai(L), Sikta(L), Tilawe(L), Tiur(L), Dhanauti(R), Kohra(R), Danda(R),

[6] According to Bihar Govt’s FMIS website, the profile of Gandak basin: The river Gandhak originates at an altitude of 7620 m above MSL in the north of Dhaulagisi in Tibet near Nepal border at Latitude 29018′ N and Longitude 83058’E, in the shownypeaks of the Himalyas. The river enters the Indian territory near Tribeni town in Nepal. Thereafterd the river flows in a southerly direction and forms boundary between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It flows through the west Champaran, East Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Gopalganj, Siwan, Saren and Vaishali districts of Bihar and Gorakhpur and Deoria district of Uttar Pradesh before joining Ganga at Hazipur.

1. Total Drainage Area 40553 Sq.Km
2. Drainage Area in Bihar 4188 Sq.Km
4. Water resources (Surface) 51998 MCM
5. Average annual rainfall 1125 mm
6. Total length of main river 640 Km
7. Cropped area in Bihar 2510 Sq.Km
8. Tributaries:- Bhabsa(L), Harha(L), Kakra(R)

[7] According to “The 1987 Bihar flood, caused by high levels of annual flooding of the Koshi River (nicknamed “the sorrow of Bihar”[1]), was one of the worst floods in Bihar, India, in a decade caused by a landslide that blocked the main route of Bhote Kosi River. This resulted from chunks of earth falling into the river; thus, building a damn approximately 1 km in length. An enormous lake formed behind the damn causing the tragic flood that held between 28 and 32 lakh cusecs of water.[2] 1399 people and 5302 animals lost their lives and nearly 29 million people were affected in 30 districts, 382 blocks, 6,112 panchayat, and 24,518 villages. Government figures list damage to crops at an estimated 68 billion Indian rupees and damage to public property at 68 million rupees.”

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