Above: Cover photo and map from NIDM report of Bihar floods 2007
Guest Blog by: Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra
Khagaria faced the first round of floods starting 8th July this year when the floodwaters of the Kosi, the Kareh and the Bagmati had engulfed large number of villages in the district. The Ganga and the Burhi Gandak was relatively quiet at this time despite heavy rainfall locally. It took towards the end of July that the flood level of the rivers started rising alarmingly and the Kazijaan embankment on the Burhi Gandak breached on the 2nd August in Alauli block of the district. The flood water emanating out of the gap created thus engulfed the Panchayats of Raun, Sahasi, Budhaura, Mujauna, Bhikhari Ghat, Shumbha and Burhawa Haripur. The road connecting Alauli to Khagaria was submerged in flood water and its connection with Khagaria was snapped. There was an untimely flood in the Kosi and all the Panchayats of the Beldaur block came under a sheet of water. The blocks of Chautham, Parbatta and Gogri were still spared by floods as the Ganga was maintaining its low profile. So far only 14 Panchayats of Alauli, 5 Panchayats of Chautham, 13 Panchayats of Gogri, 11 Panchayats of Beldaur, 3 Panchayats of Khagaria and only one Panchayat of Kosi was flooded. Relief programs were started in this district on the 4th August but its coverage was meager according to the local people. Rise in the levels of the Badla-Karachin embankment on the Kareh and Badla- Nagarpara embankment on the Kosi/Bagmati was causing concern among the local people.
On the 14th August, there was a breach in the Badla-Nagarpara embankment near Hardia village and its water started flooding the villages in the Chautham block. Three people were reported to have died due to this breach. Villages in the vicinity of the breach site like Hardia Punarwas, Brahma, Badla and Malpa etc were first to be hit by the flood waters that ultimately spread to over hundred villages. The people shifted to the roof of their houses, mostly thatched, which could not provide much safety. Many families moved to the Mansi-Saharsa railway line and a large number of cattle had to be set free to fend for themselves.
Says Bandelal Yadav of Hardia, “Our old village is Hardia and now located on the river side of the Badla-Nagarpara embankment. There are two more tolas namely Kamri Digri and Hardia Punarwas. There are about 5,000 voters now in this village but the population in 1987 was less. . You have come here through Hardia Punarwas which is the rehabilitation site of the village for the people who were evicted in late 1970s and early 1980s when this embankment on the Bagmati was built. When the embankment was being built, we wanted the Government to build an approach ramp to the embankment on either side to facilitate our movement but the departmental engineers said that there was no provision of it in the project and it will be built later. This area is chronically flooded, almost every year we face floods.
“In 1987, the embankment on the old Bagmati near the Badlaghat Railway station, north of Hardia Punarwas, breached first and the water coming out of that gap tried to enter the river again near our old village and breached the embankment here too. This was the point where we had proposed the approach road. The river water then started coming out of this new gap too and rushed towards Khagaria via Hardia, Malpa, Saidpur, Mandar and Amni etc. Malpa was also very badly hit. As the embankment breached, most of rushed towards the railway line for safety, some came to stay on the remaining portion of this embankment and those who could not reach either of the places were swept away. Those who shifted on to the embankment were lucky in the sense that they could be rescued by boats to Mansi. There is no count of how many cattle died or were swept away in the floods that followed. Some people died here in our village too and in neighboring villages but their bodies were not recovered and hence no compensation was paid to their kin. We were all rushing for safety and had no time to look for who is left behind or was washed away. It took us about three months to come back to our village.
“Rosera in Samastipur is located at an elevation of about 40 feet above this place and if there is any breach in the embankment of the old Bagmati or Burhi Gandak there, the water comes straight to Khagaria within 7 to 8 hours and massive flooding takes place here.”
There was also a breach in the Bagmati embankment near Amni village close to Khagaria that led to the flooding of many villages in the north-eastern corner of the district. Many bridges like Nos: 44, 45, 47, 48 and 50 in the Mansi-Saharsa rail line were overtopped and the train services had to be suspended for many days.
The black top road connecting Alauli to Khagaria was breached near Chat Ghat and communication of Alauli with Khagaria was snapped once again. There was nothing stopping the flood water of the Bagmati and the Kosi from spreading to new villages. The Parihara–Khagaria embankment on the Burhi Gandak was threatened with a breach near Rajaura village as a retired line was being built here at an estimated cost of Rs. 53 lakhs the construction of which was stopped by the Chief Engineer on the 8th July for some unknown reason. There were gaps in this incomplete embankment and it was feared that the river water might enter the nearby villages. Flood water was passing over the National Highway–31 near Pasaraha railway station. Flood water was also passing over this road at 296, 297, 306 and 311 kilometers (from Barhi). At the 404th kilometer from Barhi a bridge was washed away near Purnea bye-pass on the 15th August and that had snapped the road link between Maheshkhunt and Purnea. A Bailey bridge was constructed at this point later to restore the link between northeast and Delhi. The matter did not concern the safety of NH-31 east of Khagaria alone. West of Khagaria, between Satish Nagar and Gauchhari, there were at least six places wherefrom the flood water was passing from north to south and these gaps had taken a shape of small rivers and no vehicular traffic pass over these gaps. Wherever this water used to pass this road, it also used to gnaw the road from its base leading to the sinking of the road in flood waters. It took more than three weeks to make this road functional.
The Bagmati-Kareh embankment breached near Rosera in the night of 18th-19th August and the flood water moved straight towards Khagaria and it created a deluge like situation in 20 Panchayats of Alauli block that was just improving after the early floods of this month. The flood water proceeded toward Khagaria town and flooded the entire area north of railway line. It was feared that the flood water might breach the railway line and fill the southern portion of the town too. Since the water reached Khagaria late in night there was panic in town and near stampede conditions prevailed there. The flood victims moved in directions where they thought the situation would be safe. Khagaria Collectorate and the Hospital had 5 feet water flowing through it and all the medicines and valuable articles kept there got spoiled. The jail premise was also flooded and the prisoners had to be shifted to first floor. There was water also in Kosi College where the library and laboratories got flooded and heavy losses were incurred.
By twentieth August almost every nook and corner of Khagaria district was under flood water. The air strip of Khagaria was also submerged under water. There was no dry land available between Navgachhia and Khagaria and no plane or helicopter could land in this zone. The relief operations had to be conducted from Bhagalpur under that circumstance.
There was lot of dissention among the common people about the role of the district administration as it takes about seven to eight hours for the flood waters to reach Khagaria from Rosera and it was well aware of this fact. It ought to have issued warning to the people of Khagaria about the advancing flood water but it did not. On the 21st August seven social workers from Mokama Catholic Church traveling in a boat were swept away in floods. It is said that there were 13 persons in the boat which included two nurses from Barauni Refinery – Mrs. Helen and Mrs. Stelen; two nurses – Sister Anthony and Sister Samathia from Mokama Catholic Hospital, a jawan Rajendra Singh of Khagaria District Police, another young man and the boatman were swept away in this flood. This tragedy took place near Badlaghat railway station in the Kosi. This boat was heading for the flood affected areas for health services under the leadership of one Fr. George when this accident took place. Fr. George succeeded in swimming across to safety. A local leader working on Cooperatives, Ram Bahadur Singh had prepared a list of 64 parsons who were killed in this flood between 13th to 19th August and handed over the same to the district administration. The administration neither accepted the list nor refuted the same. In the last leg of floods in Khagaria there was drainage congestion on the rail line bridge connecting Khagaria to Samastipur near the village Imali that led to flooding of many villages upstream and the road connecting Bakhari to Khagaria was overtopped at many places.
Altogether, on the 24th August there were 12 army boats and 72 army jawans engaged in rescue and relief operations who were slowly withdrawn as the floods started receding. This years’ floods in Khagaria due to overflow of the rivers like the Kosi, the Bagmati, the Kareh and the Burhi Gandak pushed the victims on the verge of starvation as most of them had left their homes in panic to the places of safety without taking their belongings with them. These ‘safe places’ became isolated and inaccessible in due course and no relief could be reached to them in time for the want of resources. The victims also could not reach the do-gooders for the same reason. Most people were stranded over the roof tops or on the remaining portions of the embankments; some of the reportedly camping on tree trunks. The blocks of Chautham, Alauli and Beldaur suffered more as compared to other blocks in the district. It is said that there was enough relief material and food available with the district administration at Khagaria but it could not be reached to the victims. Food stuff that could be dropped with the help of helicopters was only a drop in the ocean and most of it fell in the flood waters when dropped and became useless. If there was any dry place at all where the packets could be dropped, there was rush to grab it by the flood victims who were looking towards sky and running on the ground from all possible directions. Many people got injured in the process and two of them reportedly died in stampede on the Khagaria railway station.
The plight of the assembly of so many uprooted flood victims in a crammed place whose houses were washed away, whose cattle were either swept away or let loose by the owners, who were continuously on the look out for another safe place, whose feet were soaked in mud and heads without any kind of roof, who were starving and there was no assurance or hope of any food served to them soon, cannot be understood without actually watching them. Their only hope was the benevolence of the Government. Sometimes, neighbors come for help but what when the neighbors also suffer also share the same fate. NGOs do come to support but they have their own priorities and limitations. Besides, their own safety and the safety of the materials they carry are at stake and that delay their intervention when needed most.
According to official sources all the six blocks of Khagaria were flooded this year with 208 villages, a population of 7.37 lakhs and 1.68 lakh cattle suffered floods. The area affected due to floods was 1.21 lakh hectares and crops over and area of 73,000 hectares was lost in the district. Number of houses damaged was 1, 02,250 and 174 persons and 118 cattle perished in this year’s flood. The losses in the district were valued at Rs. 59.8995 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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