Bihar · Floods

Bihar Floods in 1987 – II – East Champaran

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

Guest blog by Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra

Floods in East Champaran started following the heavy rainfall in the last week of July 1987. There was a sudden rise in the flood levels of the tributaries of the Burhi Gandak (Sikrahana) like the Sarisawa, the Tilawe, the Gaadh, and the Bangari leading to submergence of lower areas of Raxaul town where flood water of depth up to two to two and half feet was spread all over. This initial flood had also affected 25 Panchayats and 125 villages in the blocks of Raxaul and Ramgarhawa. The rains that set in on the 26th July, 1987 continued unabated and by the time of the beginning of August all the major rivers –the Gandak, the Burhi Gandak and the Bagmati were in spate. Road communication of Motihari, the district HQ of East Champaran, was disrupted fully in this very first spell of floods. There was three feet deep water passing over NH-28 near Chhapwa. The road to Bettiah and Areraj was too badly damaged to afford vehicular traffic to pass through. Road from Pipra Kothi to Siwan was already damaged much before the rains and its condition deteriorated further after rains.  All the three rivers were flowing above danger mark on the 2nd August, 1987 and a vast cultivated area along with hundreds of villages came under a sheet of flood water of these rivers. The train service between Sugauli and Darbhanga was suspended because of flood water on the railway track.

The situation turned for the worse when there was further rise in the levels of both the Gandak and the Burhi Gandak, and water entered the Motihari town snapping the rail and road link between Motihari and Raxaul. There was no surface communication between Raxaul and Bettiah either. Motihari – Areraj and Sugauli – Raxaul road and rail link was also snapped on 3rd August, 1987. Railway line between Adapur and Panchpokharia Halt stations was swept away and the trains running between Narkatiaganj and Darbhanga were stranded wherever they were. The flood situation in Raxaul, Ramgarhawa, Adapur, and Sugauli blocks was particularly precarious. Almost three-fourth of Motihari town was flooded by river water and places like Daroga Tola, Jaadbhari, Belbanawa, Thakurbari, Rajendranagar, Jaanpur, Banjaria, Pandaal and Chhitauni were more affected than others. People had to vacate their houses and had to take shelter on the roofs or some other higher places. Chief Minister Bindeshwari Dubey and Irrigation Minister Ramashray Prasad Singh took an aerial survey of the flooded area of East Champaran to assess the situation and needs there. The trip resulted in establishing of 31 relief centers in the district. Situation in the adjoining districts like Birganj in Nepal was equally bad and three feet deep water was flowing through most of the streets in the town.  In the swift current of water, items kept in the Custom Office of Birganj like coconuts, paan, tins of Soyabean oil and drums of vegetable oil were washed away and were floating in the streets of the town. Local people fished these items and sold them at throw away prices.

Flood water stared receding from the Motihari town on the 4th August, 1987 but that was a death knell for the people of the blocks of Ramgarhawa and Turkaulia as the water of Burhi Gandak was on the look out of new places for flooding. People from the most of the areas in the district were facing the music due to floods by this time.  Last year too there was flood in East Champaran but the situation was not that bad. This year, a drought was taking shape in the beginning of the season but the rains after 25th July changed the sequence totally and the floods returned where they belonged to. Many smaller streams became active this year apart from the tributaries of the Burhi Gandak to flood over 200 villages of Raxaul, Ramgarhawa, Adapur and Chhauradano blocks. There were gaps in the embankments of the rivers and water coming out of those gaps together with flood waters of relatively quiet rivers like Dhanuati worsened the situation for the people living in Sugauli, Areraj, Turkaulia, Motihari, Chirayya, Pakridayal and Madhuban blocks. All the Bhadai and Agahani crops in these blocks were lost and, at many places, even sugar cane too was drowned and destroyed. Nearly 3, 00,000 people of these blocks were trapped in floods and a sizable number of them had taken shelter on the railway stations of Sugauli, Semra, Motihari, Ramgarhawa, Dharminia, Raxaul and Adapur. People had cut the railway line near Ramgarhawa railway station to drain the water out and this was nothing new at this location. Breaching canals of the Gandak Project had helped making situation worse for the people. Those who were left behind in the villages and had not moved out were facing the problem of cooking food as there was no fuel and those who still had cattle with them were facing the fodder crisis.

There is a funny story related to the Gandak Canals in the Paharpur block. Many canals of the Gandak Project pass through this area but the farmers do not get any irrigation from them. The Government extracts canal charges from the farmers because their fields are located in the command area of the canal. The farmers whose land was acquired by the Government for the Project were paid compensation for their land but they still pay land cess (Malguzari) to the Government as the records are not yet updated. Massive water logging takes place in the villages of Inarawa Bhar, Pakaria, Bankat, Parsauni, Laukaha, Bihasi, Ibrahimpur, Sataha, Sairwan, Tikulia, Bagaria, Raykataria, Hematpur, Bhusepur, Mahiyarawa, Narkatia and Panditpur etc. The canal prevents drainage of rain water in the first place and seepage from the canal adds insult to injury. At times, this water logging acquires unbearable proportions and water even enters homes of the farmers. The farmers cut the canal in that case and turn it to a drainage channel. This is what they have been doing for the past ten years in some village or the other. Then they are booked for damaging Government property and case are filed against them in court of law. The farmers then apply for bail and get it. If at any time the Government had dug a channel for draining the water out, it was done for making money and defalcation in the name of drainage and water logging remained where it was. (Dainik Hindustan-Patna, 6th September, 1987)

Water of the Burhi Gandak once again entered the town of Motihari on 11th August, 1987 affecting the water supply, electricity establishments and telephone line. Rail line once again was covered with flood water and the services had to be suspended. There was a heavy shower in Raxaul area on 12th August, 1987. This again resulted in flooding of 200 villages in Raxaul, Adapur, Ramgarhawa, Sugauli and Turkaulia blocks. The Sarisawa was active on the eastern and northern side of Raxaul while the Burhi Gandak and Gaadh were submerging over 100 villages of Ramgarhawa and Raxaul blocks like Singhasani Bela, Adhkaparia, Harsauna, Kakoria, Garh Bahuari, Belwa, Sirsia, Sukhi Simra, Belahi and Chkani Haria Panchayats. The impact of this flood was so severe that Kaisar-e-Hind and Kharkatawa ring bundhs were breached at many places. NH-28 was also overtopped at many places leading to disruption of traffic between Bihar and UP. The resumption of train services between Sikta and Marjadawa that was suspended for the past 12 days was further delayed.

It was around 20th August, 1987 that the floods of this round came to a manageable stage and after a gap of about 25 days the flood victims started returning to their homes. The floods had so far spread to 17 blocks of East Champaran, seven people were reported to have been killed  and over 7.5 lakhs people were reported to have suffered floods this year and. Their return to homes, if at all the houses still existed, was accompanied by total destruction of the Bhadai and Agahani crop, with the anxiety of rebuilding the house, repayment of loans incurred from moneylenders or Government institutions, preparation for the next Rabi crop, fodder for the cattle, protection against epidemic, safety of left over grains if any, and shattered family economy. In the process if anyone received some assistance from the Government, it was an occasion to celebrate. To say that it was a solution to any of the long term problem was clearly an illusion.

According to official figures 718 villages belonging to 18 blocks and a population of 12.09 lakhs suffered floods this year in East Champaran together with 1.70 lakh cattle. Standing crops over an area of 83,000 hectares were destroyed and 25,124 dwelling units were also hit by floods. Some 17 persons and 2 cattle lost their lives in this tragedy. Total losses in the district were estimated to be Rs. 32.0708 crores.

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

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