Above: Cover photo and map from NIDM report of Bihar floods 2007
Guest blog by: Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra
West Champaran district of Bihar is located in the Northwestern corner of the state and is surrounded by the Gandak and the Burhi Gandak along with their tributaries. Two of its blocks, Madhubani and Thakaraha, are located on the western bank of the Gandak and are adjacent to the Deoria district of Uttar Pradesh. There used to be a rail line connection between Chhitauni Ghat of Uttar Pradesh and Bagaha in Bihar. A bridge connecting these two towns was washed away during the floods in 1924 and the British Government did not restore this bridge as the train service was coming handy for the freedom fighters to travel to UP and vice versa. This bridge and the rail service were restored a few years ago. The administration of these two blocks (these are split into four now) is run from Padarauna in UP during the flood season as the blocks get thoroughly disconnected from Bihar. To prevent the westward movement of the Gandak and embankment named Pipra-Piparasi Ghat embankment (PP Embankment) was constructed in 1960s as the river has a tendency to shift towards the west and there is a constant pressure of the river on this embankment during the rainy season. At times, the safety of this embankment is threatened and there is long history of its breaches and the engineers of the Irrigation Department face a tough time maintaining the embankment. When the rail bridge was not there on the Gandak one had to go to Madhubani and Thakaraha by crossing the Ganga via Chhapra, Siwan and Gopalganj.
The Burhi Gandak originates in West Champaran but has a large catchment area in Nepal. Many tributaries of the river join it from the north. Both the rivers are now embanked on either side.
In 1987, there were heavy rains in the catchment area of the Gandak in the third and fourth week of July and the river came very close to the 35 kilometer long PP embankment and it eroded the spur constructed near fourth kilometer on the 25th July. The river was flowing with high speed between 13th and 17th km near the Madhubani Block Office and was at a distance of only 300 to 400 meters from the embankment. Collector of the district had paid a visit to this site on the same day where the engineers and workers of the department were fighting for the survival of the embankment. The visit of the collector ensured that an emergency food supply of 500 quintals each was stored at Tamkuhi and Padarauna (both in UP) to meet any emergency and some boats were also arranged there.
Continuous rains in Champaran and upper catchment of these two major rivers caused flooding of the tributaries of the Burhi Gandak like Oriya, Pandai and Masaan. There was blockage of the flow of the flood waters due to roads, railway lines and canals of the Gandak Project at many places resulting in overtopping of railways lines and suspension of train services between Narkatiaganj-Raxaul sections of the North Eastern Railway. There was water on the rail line between Sikta and Marjadawa rail station too. Many portions of the Bettiah town were flooded and there was water passing through the Bettiah-Mainatanr and Bettiah-Narkatiaganj road and no vehicular traffic was plying on both the roads.
There was a lull for a while but the rains in the second week of August exposed West Champaran once again to floods. Continuous rains flooded the hilly tributaries of the Burhi Gandak resulting in near submergence of the Jagannathpur, Puraina, Maswaas and Surajpur Panchayats of Sikta block. The Oriya was eroding furiously and Milparsa village was almost consumed by the river. All the Panchayats of Majhaulia block were flooded simultaneously and the Chanpatia block was also facing the same fate as the town and its rural areas were under flood water. The Haraha swept away a wooden bridge near Goiti and Bankatawa village that snapped the contact between Bagaha and the villages beyond the bridge. Most of the villages in the Tharuhat area were hit by the flash floods of hilly streams. The Rohua started erosion in Bagaha Municipal area and was trying to sweep a permeable spur on its bank near Agrawal Vatika. Any damage to the spur would mean that Bagaha town will be at the mercy of the river but, fortunately, the crisis was averted. Four to six feet deep water was flowing through the villages of Mangalpur, Gudariya, Khuntahi Tola, Gahiri, Telwa, and Bhagwanpur in Nautan block. Jogapatti, Bairiya and Sasaraiya blocks of the districts were also facing heavy and prolonged flooding. Road between Chhapawa and Semra was washed away leading to disruption of communication between Bettiah and Motihari. Three to four feet deep water entered in hundreds of houses in Bettiah town making the life hell for thousands of people as all the openings to drain this water were blocked. The control structures where the Don Canal crosses the Masaan and Ramrekha rivers were badly damaged.
The report about floods sent to the Government by the Circle Officers of Sikta, Mainatanr and Narkatiaganj blocks grossly underestimated the damages in their respective areas according to the local people. These blocks suffered floods starting 31st July but relief operations were not on the desired scale. Situation in Madhubani, Thakaraha, Ramnagar and Lauria was no better either. Wherever the floods of the Gandak had reached, devastation was total while the smaller rivers were effective in sand casting the area wherever there water reached even for a short while. Irrigation Department’s staff was busy averting breaches in the PP embankment.
Swirling waters of the Burhi Gandak breached its embankments at many places in Majhaulia block between Bindwaliya and Haripakari villages during 18th to 22nd August exposing the residents of Jaukatia, Baithania, Dumri and Garhawa, Mogadi, Semra, Sarisawa etc together with Panchayats of Trivah Kshetra to great dangers. Affected people received some doles from the Government but that was pittance and was intended to complete the formality. Health services were absent and medicines were not available. Where available, the cost of medicines was exorbitant.
An MLA from West Champaran, Birbal Sharma summed up the situation in West Champaran in a press conference in Bettiah on the 21st August saying, “Akashvani – Patna had flashed a news item in its bulletin a few days ago based on the report of its correspondent that 500 quintals of food has been distributed among the flood victims in West Champaran by the district administration but the flood sufferers in Chanpatia suggest that they haven’t got the glimpse of the said food items so far.” He said that so far only 10 qtls of flattened rice has been distributed by Narkatiaganj Sugar Mill and Chanpatia Mission has distributed 100 qtls of food stuff which is more effective than the official relief. He added that, “Some senior Officers of the district are more cruel than the colonial rulers of the British era. They have no sympathy with the flood victims and are busy manipulating resources.”
Talking to press men he said that 23 Panchayats of Chanpatia, 10 Panchayats of Sikta and Rampur, Bheriharawa, Rajpur, Mathia, Jaymangalpur and Kehuniyan Panchayat of Narkatiaganj have been badly hit by floods. Mangalpur, Khuntahi and Gudariya villages have been eroded by the Narayani (Gandak). Mahaui, Murla, Inarbarawa and Magarmahui are eroded by the Masaan and Tamuria by the Pandai. The Pandai is also eroding Dumdumawa village in Lauria Thana and the Sikrahana is hitting against Tularam Ghat. THE Kartaha has sand cast a four kilometer stretch of fields.
According to preliminary estimates there was Rs. 14 crores worth of loss to life and property in West Champaran. Don and Trbeni Canals were damaged at dozens of places and the water emanating from the gaps created thus had spoiled crops. These breaches in the canals prevented irrigation in the areas where water was needed later in the Kharif season. Lot of agricultural land was sand cast in West Champaran because of floods in smaller rivers and thousands of houses were destroyed all over the district. A significant number of cattle also perished in this years’ flood. Communication with UP was snapped for a long time due to damage caused to the Barauni-Lucknow NH-28.
According to official sources 16 blocks and 306 villages with a population of 4.36 lakh people and 1.73 lakh cattle was hit by floods in the West Champaran district this year. Flood water had spread over 5.23 lakh hectares destroying crops over an area of 1.23 lakh hectares. Some 24, 676 houses were destroyed in these floods but there was no reported case of human or cattle death. Total loss due to floods in the district was valued at Rs. 23.5769 crores.
Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra, Convenor – Barh Mukti Abhiyan, D-29 Vasundhara Estate, NH-33, PO: Pardih, Jamshedpur 831020, Jharkhand, India E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Mob: +919431303360
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