It seems the Chief Ministers of all the flood affected states are obsessed about dredging the rivers and reservoirs and are advocating massive scale dredging as a solution to flooding. This is partly triggered by the Rivers-as-waterways advocacy by Union Surface Transport Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari and partly by the need for showing to the people that they are doing something new to tackle floods, it seems. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar contributed to it in a way last year when he mentioned the accumulation of millions of tons of silt along Ganga due to the backwater impact of Farakka Dam. This year, the Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal[i] has been talking about dredging Brahmaputra as a solution to floods in Assam.
DURING FEB 25-26, 2017, A LANDMARK MEETING HAPPENED IN PATNA, ORGANISED BY BIHAR GOVERNMENT, UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF CHIEF MINISTER SHRI NITISH KUMAR. THE MEETING WAS ON INCESSANT GANGA WITH SUBTITLE “CAN WE ACHIEVE CLEAN GANGA WITHOUT INCESSANT GANGA?”. THIS NATIONAL-INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE WAS LANDMARK MEETING FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, SINCE A STATE GOVERNMENT WAS TAKING THE LEADERSHIP FOR THE CAUSE OF THE RIVER GANGA. WHILE THE CONFERENCE WAS FOCUSSED ON ACHIEVING A REJUVENATED GANGA, I WAS TO SPEAK ON THE WAY FORWARD ABOUT THE FARAKKA BARRAGE, A KEY OBSTACLE IN THE PATH OF REJUVENATED GANGA. FOLLOWING IS MY LETTER TO BIHAR CHIEF MINISTER, FOLLOWING THE CONFERENCE, WHICH CONTAINS MY RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE BIHAR GOVERNMENT. THESE RECOMMENDATIONS WERE APPARENTLY ACCEPTED IN THE FINAL SESSION.
March 2, 21017
Shri Nitish Kumar,
Chief Minister of Bihar,
Firstly, I would like to thank you and Water Resources Department of Bihar for inviting me to the Patna Conference on Incessant Ganga on Feb 25-26, 2017. This shows great vision and foresight on your behalf, to raise such crucial issues that is not only necessary for the Ganga, people of Bihar, environment of Bihar and future of Bihar, but also for the whole nation. We hope you will continue to lead the nation on this issue, and I am sure you will get huge support, including from me. Continue reading “Landmark Ganga Conference in Patna: What Bihar needs to urgently do”
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. Continue reading “Bihar Floods in 1987 – II – East Champaran”
Today (on Dec 17, 2013) is the 8th day of indefinite fast by flood activist Shashi Shekhar in Sitamarhi (Bihar) with a demand to stop work on the unwanted and unjustified embankment along the Jheem river (part of Adhwara group of rivers in North Bihar) and for bringing Lakhandehi river back to its path where it was flowing less than a decade back. Several others have joined the fast since it started on Dec 10, 2013.
The demand is to prevent the shifting of river Lakshmana Ganga (Lakhandehi) toward east and to divert the river towards the west, so that the 147 km stretch of the original course resumes to get the river water, thereby helping hundreds and thousands of farmers, who are presently facing water scarcity. This can be done by desilting of the Lakhandehi river. The demand is also to stop work on the embankment along the Jheem River.
We are copying below the statement below compiled by Megh Pyne Abhiyaan, Bihar, from the statements and reports provided by Mr Shashi Shekhar. It explains the background of the situation.
Bihar government that has taken the decision of building the embankment without any consultation with the local people and even without any impact assessment and seems to be driven by contractor interests and have not yet bothered to respond. The state water resources ministry says that only the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar can take a decision on this and we see not effort from that quarter. With every passing day the health of Mr. Shekhar is deteriorating and the state government will be held responsible for any eventuality in this regard.
All this also highlights a serious anomaly in the Government of India’s EIA notification of Sept 2006 that excludes embankments and other such flood related structures from the need for environment clearances, environment impact assessments and also any public consultation process. This is clearly wrong since embankments have huge social and environmental impacts. This needs to urgently change, but the MoEF has not done that in spite of numerous letters to the ministry since 2006.
Local media is reporting on this on daily basis; the national media is yet to carry this except an isolated report or two. We hope national media carries this important news.
PS: On Dec 19, 2013, Eklavya Prasad conveyed: Flood-activist Shashi Shekhar’s indefinite fast (against the construction of embankments along Adhwara Samuh and demanding de-silting of River Lakshmana Ganga (also known as Lakhandehi) was called off last evening. The negotiations between the district administration/state and Shashiji went off well and ALL his demands were have been accepted. According to Shashiji his indefinite fast has helped to take issues to a logical conclusion!
2. No action was taken following the assurances, so the fast was to resume in January 2014 as per this report: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/indefinite-fast-continues.
3. Chicu from IWP wrote this piece in March 2014, which says the demand of bringing the Lakhandei river back to its course is not feasible and due to the priorities of the state government, the construction of embankments is likely to continue.
4. July 28, 2014: A petition by Shashi Shekhar against “the present project for raising the embankment along river Jhim and Jamura (Adhwara Group) from Sonbarsa Bazar to Sonbarsa Village” was rejected by Patna High Court, see full order: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/154770140/. It said in the end: “Counsel for the petitioners then submitted that in the name of the project the executants of the project are coming to the raiyati land in the adjoining area and are forcibly cutting the soil from the raiyati land. If that is so, the raiyat concerned, from whose land soil is forcibly taken out by the executants of the project, is at liberty to lodge First Information Report against such illegal soil cutting from the raiyati land.”
5. March 28, 2017: A petition by Brahmaputra Infrastructures, one of the contractor for the project, in Patna High Court. The order is available here: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/50437728/.
Sangharsh Yatra – A incessant protest for service, development and justice
Highlight On December 10, Shashi Shekhar, a well-known flood activist from Sitamarhi district of north Bihar started an indefinite fast on the banks of River Lakshmana Ganga (also known as Lakhandehi), as part of Sangharsh Yatra, protesting against the construction of embankments along Adhwara Samuh rivers.
Background River Lakshmana Ganga (Lakhandehi) previously flowed into India near pillar number 32 at Dularpur village in the Sonbarsa block of Sitamarhi district after crossing Simraha in Nepal. The distance between these two villages across the border is approximately 1.5 kilometers (km). However, presently the river has shifted almost 1-1.5 km east from its original location (i.e pillar number 32). The reason for this shift is being attributed to the siltation that has occurred, 8 km north of the Indo-Nepal border around Laxmipur village, which is located in Nepal. Because of this shift, the river on the Indian side has now started flowing near pillar number 35 at Choti-Bharsar village.
The shift in the river’s course towards east has resulted in its draining into river Jamuda, which is a part of the Adhwara-Samuh. Additional water of river Lakshmana Ganga (Lakhandehi) in river Jamuda has started causing floods thereby affecting Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, and a small part of Madhubani districts. People fear that the consistent shifting and flooding of Lakhandehi towards the east will lead to the flooding of the river Jheem, which is also a part of the Adhwara-samuh. They believe that flooding of Jheem will create havoc in the region as Sonbarsa block will get inundated. The shifting of the Lakshmana Ganga (Lakhandehi) from the west to east has dried up the original 147 km stretch of the river (in India), causing problems for the local farmers. Sustenance of productive agriculture along the old course of Lakshmana Ganga (Lakhandehi) is posing as a huge challenge.
The protest According to Shekhar, since 2002 he has been fighting against the mindless construction of embankments by writing letters to various government authorities and holding discussions with the concerned officials. However, there has been no positive response from the Bihar government, forcing him to take the extreme step of indefinite fast to protect the rivers from further destruction.
According to Shekhar this indefinite fast is to attract state government’s attention to prevent the shifting of river Lakshmana Ganga (Lakhandehi) toward east and to divert the river towards the west, so that the 147 km stretch of the original course resumes to get the river water, thereby helping hundreds and thousands of farmers, who are presently facing the wrath of river water scarcity. On the other hand, Shekhar is also trying to address the problems of farmers around and along the river Jamuda of excessive floods, being caused by the the draining of the river Lakshmana Ganga’s (Lakhandehi) water into river Jamuda. The other reason for Shekhar to resort to an indefinite fast is to highlight the skewed flood management strategy adopted by the state government. According to him, the shifting of Lakhandehi is causing excessive floods in Adhwara-Samuh. However, the state instead of constructing ‘thokars’ (boulder structures) to divert Lakhandehi from east to west, is investing in construction of embankments along the rivers of Adhwara Samuh.
The sheer diversion of the river Lakhandehi will substantially reduce the incidences of floods in Adhwara Samuh. This simple logic/solution is being ignored by the state government under the pretext of Lakhnadehi being a trans-boundary river, as if no structural intervention has ever taken place in any trans-boundary rivers in north Bihar. According to him the state government is using the scenario to basically push for the mindless construction of embankments along the Adhwara Samuh rivers. The embankments that are being constructed are approximately 20-25 feet tall and the distance between two embankments is 80-500 feet. Shekhar is unable to fathom the technical reasons for the constructions of these embankments along the rivers that stay dry for almost four months a year and are only 20-40 feet wide.
Shekhar is raising strong objections to the manner in which embankments are being constructed and repaired on Adhwara Samuh rivers by contractors – M/S Brahamputra Construction and M/S Avantika Dhara Reddy and Brothers. With support of police officials and some bureaucrats, these contractors have forcibly taken lands from the farmers by threatening them to sign on false papers. Shekhar claims that no compensation has been given by the government for the land that is inside and outside (immediate vicinity) of the embankment. The land acquired for the construction of the embankment is what has been compensated, though farmers have been offered a pittance as compensation against their land.
According to Shekhar, all statutory compliances have been flouted. BIS states that excavation of earth should take place at the distance of 80 feet from the embankment. He mentions that the BIS also states that apart from leaving a distance of 80 feet the excavation should happen parallel to the embankment in small stretches of 20 feet length and 1-3 feet depth. The reason for the excavation to happen in small stretches is to prevent formation of drainage along the embankment. In reality, the excavation is taking place haphazardly. The contractors/petty contractors are extracting earth within 2-5 feet from both sides of the embankment; with an approximate depth of 10 feet and in the process the standing crops have been destroyed for which no compensation has been given to farmers. Shekhar states that the present practice is turning out to be a big scam which he calls as ‘Mitti Ghotatla’ – Soil/Clay scam. Felling of trees along Lakhandehi, Adhwara Samuh and Bhagmati rivers have been carried out for construction purposes. All this is having an adverse environmental/ecological impact on the rivers and human population. Shekhar is unable to fathom why the state government is not keen on diverting river Lakshmana Ganga’s (Lakhandehi) water which will cost far less than constructing embankment on Adhwara Samuh.
Through his indefinite fast, Shekhar is demanding rightful compensation for the affected farmers; a high level enquiry into the illegal manner in which embankments have been constructed along Adhwara Samuh rivers by deceiving local villagers; withdrawal of false police case against satyagrahis fighting to protect the river; an investigation of links between both the contractors — M/S Brahamputra Construction and M/S Avantika Dhara Reddy and Brothers — and Naxalite groups; and an enquiry into the soil/clay scam worth Rs 200 crore in Bagmati and Adhwara Samuh rivers.
Shashi Shekharji has been able to generate support from opposition leaders within the state, farmers and spiritual people from the region but is looking forward to additional support from all quarters to create pressure on the state government to explore alternatives….
(Compiled by – Nidhi Jamwal, Bhavya Durgesh Nandini and Eklavya Prasad)
Statement in Hindi
Þ Personal communication Shashi Shekhar, Dec 2013;
Þ Brief – Sangharsh Yatra, Dec 2013