Bhagirath Prayas Samman · Bihar · Dams · Embankments · India Rivers Week · Kosi

Bhagirath Prayas Samman for Dineshkumar Mishraji: Helping us understand Rivers and Floods

In the midst of a serious meeting pontificating on water issues, suddenly one hears an evocative sher in impeccable Urdu, followed by laughter and rounds of Irshad. The sher captures a lot in a few lines.

For an MTech Engineer from IIT and a Ph D Structural Engineer, Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra, Mishra ji, is a colourful personality.

dinesh.jpg
Mishraji, a light moment Photo: kdasgupta2007.wordpress.com

His erudition on rivers and floods in Bihar is tempered by folklore, songs, myths and shayari. A polyglot, Mishraji speaks and writes with eloquence in not only in Hindi and English, but in Bengali, Odiya and Urdu with equal ease. He holds a doctorate from the University of South Gujarat and has been an Ashoka Fellow. Mishraji is an institution in himself when it comes to rivers and floods of North Bihar and has single-handedly contributed to a gradually changing perception of flooding rivers as a catastrophe or “something to be tamed”.

And hence, it gives us great pleasure to share that Mishraji was honored with the Bhagirath Parayas Samman at the India Rivers Week held in New Delhi on the 29th November 2016. India Rivers Week is being organized since November 2014 by a consortium of NGOs including WWF India, INTACH, SANDRP, Toxics Link and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust. More than 100 River experts, planners, researchers, artists, enthusiasts and activists from different parts of the country have been coming together to celebrate India Rivers Week in Delhi in last week of November to discuss, deliberate and exchange their experiences and ideas aimed at the conserving, rejuvenation, restoration of rivers in the country.

Citation of Bhagirtah Prayas Samman states Dinesh Mishra, an engineer from IIT Kharagpur, has laid the foundation for an extensive knowledge base on floods in rivers. Through his writings, lectures, advocacy and public interactions he has inspired many individuals and organisations to record local knowledge about floods and generate information that creates awareness among communities. All this has become part of a larger social movement… It is an honour to recognize and celebrate Dr Dinesh Mishra’s extraordinary Bhagirath efforts in institutionalizing traditional ways of living with floods.”

Born just prior to independence in a village in Utter Pradesh, Mishraji has dedicated his life in telling us about destruction wrought by infrastructure centric-flood control measures on rivers… especially rivers of the Ganga basin in North Bihar. Since 1984, Mirshraji is engaged in the study of floods, water-logging and irrigation and has slowly nurtured a diverse army which is able to see a lot more in floods than only destruction. He has helped us see the impact of flood control infrastructure like embankments. cover-kosi

Mishraji believes that India’s flood control policy revolves mainly around embankments resulting in severe environmental problems. The maintenance of such structures is in the hands of “indifferent technocracy” which does not take cognizance of the fact that investment in the flood control sector is doing more harm than good. Rising flood prone area of the country is a pointer to that. There are a wide range of aspects that need to be looked into afresh like agriculture, non-farm employment, migration, health, education, and access to civic amenities etc. He finds it intriguing that reciprocal inaccessibility of the flooded areas during the peak season and prolonged water-logging during the peace-time has not attracted the imagination of most of the responsible people. He is trying to learn from the people, their perception of the problem and take it up with those in power while keeping in touch with the people about the probable official intervention.  These bridges are rare and much-needed in India. He has raised the issue of floods and water-logging and the links with infrastructure in state, national and international levels.

He has highlighted the futility of embankments as a flood control measures in rivers like Kosi and its tributaries. Through his persistent efforts of over more than three decades, Mishraji has helped change the way river floods are understood and managed. Using an approach which respects the natural cycle of floods, founded on local knowledge, he has robustly challenged the main stream flood control approach. For him, the long-term sustenance of rivers as well as their natural processes is the key, supported by meticulous research into the historical and cultural aspects of rivers.

Mishraji’s narration of how people used to come out in boats to enjoy flooded areas at full moon nights in Bihar is not only poignant, it also reminds us of the paradigm shift that came into our water management when we discarded age-old wisdom and adopted measures which were out of sync for our rivers.kosi-book-2008-cover2.jpg

Mishraji’s work is a confluence of solid grass root level contacts, extensive knowledge of local traditions, topography, geography and hydrology, robust field research and unique analysis. His writings including articles, books and films have made a deep impact on current understanding and thinking about floods in rivers and how best to deal with them. Through all this, he has made notable contributions towards developing a new policy dialogue on India’s flood control system, and the impact they have had on livelihood practices.

Mishraji is also the convener of an informal group of flood activists called Barh Mukti Abhiyan, an effective informal group with wide acceptance and vast contacts. He is currently engaged in writing about river Gandak and Ghaghara and thus shall complete the entire landscape of rivers of north Bihar.

He has over hundreds of Notable among his large number of publications, are “Trapped! Between the Devil and Deep Waters: The Story of Bihar’s Kosi River” and “River Bagmati: Bounties Become a Curse”. His book “Boya Per Babool Ka’ was chosen as one of the best books written over the subject of environment by the Ministry of Forest and Environment, Government of India in 2002. This was later translated into English and published titled, ‘Living with Politics of Floods’ in 2002.          

He was a member of the Dams and Development Forum of UNEP and represented Project Affected People there during 2003-07. He was also a member of the Working Group on Flood Control and Water Logging of the Planning Commission of India to review the progress made in eleventh Five Year Plan and make recommendations for the Twelfth.

He has encouraged many organizations to take up the issue of floods and water-logging in their respective river basins, in Bihar and other states as well, and they are carrying on their works. He has encouraged many groups to take up drainage works of small chaurs (land depressions) and resume agriculture on the land that emerges out of water. He provides them with basic technical details and help them executing the work. This has shown very encouraging results as compared to heavily budgeted drainage schemes taken up by the Irrigation Departments.Bagmati.jpg

He has published a book on the River Mahananda (titled Bandini Mahananda in Hindi), a boundary river between Bihar and Bengal, in 1994 followed by a bi-lingual (Hindi and English) book on the Bhutahi Balan (2004) (Bhutahi Nadi aur Takniki Jhar Phoonk / Story of a Ghost River and Engineering Witchcraft) and on the Kamla River (2005) titled Baghawat Par Majboor Mithila Ki Kamala Nadi/ The Kamla-River and People on Collision Course.

His book on the River Kosi titled ‘Dui Paatan Ke Beech Mein – Kosi Nadi Ki Kahaani’ was published in Hindi in 2006. Its updated English version titled “Trapped! Between the Devil and Deep Waters – Story of Bihar’s Kosi River”, co-published by SANDRP, came out in 2008 just before the famous breach of the Kosi embankment at Kusaha in Nepal. Book on Bagmati  was published in 2010,  titled Bagmati Ki Sadgati. Its English version is also co-published by SANDRP titled “River Bagmati: Bounties Become a Curse” in August 2012. He has now started working on the major river of North Bihar, the Gandak and that will complete detailing the major rivers of north Bihar. This book will touch the Ghaghara and the Burhi Gandak too that flow almost parallel to the Gandak. 

Mishraji’s crusade to highlight the wisdom behind age-old methods to “live with the floods”, his fight to expose the utterly destructive impacts of embankments and their role in amplifying flood misery, coupled with his sensitive and scholarly love of folklore and literature make his work accessible and engaging. We need more people like Mishraji who can tell us the stories of our rivers.

We congratulate him for the Bhagirath Prayas Samman and thank him, on behalf of our rivers, for his Bhagirath efforts.

SANDRP

 

Bihar · Floods · Kosi

Breach in Chamarbandha Embankment in Samastipur-1958

Above: Samastipur Floods 2013  Photo: RailIndia

Guest blog by Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra[1] (dkmishra108@gmail.com)

Background There was an unexpectedly heavy flood during 1953 in Bihar that led the State leaders to think about the flood control measures to be taken seriously. The losses incurred in the State in floods prompted the Government of India to formulate its first Flood Policy and take preventive and corrective steps so that the flood victims are helped in whatever way possible. While the Flood Policy was given the final shape and announced in September, 1954 Bihar was already under a severe spell of floods in 1954. The 1954 flood is still counted as one of the worst floods in the history of Bihar and remembered well by the elderly generation. Following the floods of 1954 and promulgation of the National Flood Policy many embankments were constructed along the Bihar rivers and the Burhi Gandak that passes through the present districts of W & E Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Samastipur, Begusarai and Khagaria and joins the Ganga about 25 km below Khagaria town was one to be embanked in its stretch below Champaran. Continue reading “Breach in Chamarbandha Embankment in Samastipur-1958”

Bihar · Floods · Kosi

1948 Floods in Bihar-3 Inaugural flood in Bihar after Independence – Assembly Debate

-Guest blog by Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra (dkmishra108@gmail.com)

This years’ flood[1] was discussed in the Bihar Legislative Assembly on the 18th September, 1948 from a different angle than what is common to political forums. Dip Narayan Singh initiated the debate saying, “…I have a feeling that the floods cannot be stopped altogether and therefore I will request the Government to find ways to reduce the losses caused by floods, provide succor to the people at the time of their emergencies and this process should continue to find innovative means to deal with floods. At the moment this job is assigned to the Sub-divisional Officer or the District Magistrate. When the floods arrive then the victims neither get boats nor the relief reaches them in time. I will request the Government, therefore, to initiate a permanent procedure to deal with floods.” He continued, “Let the Government of India constitute a Commission to go into the details of the floods in the Ganga basin and devise strategies for facing the floods so that the miseries caused by it can be reduced.”

Then and Now. 2008 Kosi Floods, in perspective if the 1948 Floods. Photo: Times of India
Then and Now. 2008 Kosi Floods, in perspective if the 1948 Floods. Photo: Times of India

Prabhunath Singh suggested that,  “…all the embankments running along the Ghaghara from Darauli in the west to Kasmar in the east via Agampur, Tajpur, Naini Bundh, Sonepur Seva Samiti should be raised and strengthened. Along with this sluice gates should be installed on all the small rivers like Tel and others coming from Naini and Brahmapur to facilitate drainage of the stagnating water.”

He charged the Railway Company of obstructing the process for it felt that if all the other embankments are raised and strengthened, the railway embankments will be adversely impacted. That is the reason this district has to face floods year after year. He suggested to the Government that if it really wanted to help the people in their moment of crisis, it should help the flood victims in rebuilding their houses and arrange seeds for them to put agriculture back on rails. If the Government decides to advance loans for the purpose, it will require nearly Rs 30 million for Saran district alone. With that money it would be better for the Government to device means to make Saran a flood free district for all times to come. He further suggested that the Government must realize the money from the people that it gives to them as help and take advice about the costs involved from the engineers[2]. Saran was a rural district with high population density which was unmatched elsewhere. The villages there were beautiful with rich cultural background. The people there have a high degree of self respect. Gratutious relief should be given only to them who really need it. There are people in our villages who would prefer to die than to queue up for relief.

Timeless flood suffering in Kosi. 2008. Photo: Reuters
Timeless flood suffering in Kosi. 2008. Photo: Reuters

Girish Tiwari, also from Saran, said, “…Yesterday someone was asking what is the amount of money orders received in Saran from different places? I want to tell him that the people in Saran will have to starve if their loved ones didn’t send money orders here. The people need relief but there are various ways of providing relief. The places where there is a need of employment, open work there.”

He continued, “There is a stretch of Diyara land starting from Darauli till Sonepur. Let me tell you about Sitab Diyara, the village of Jay Prakash Narayan, which is now located west of the Ghaghara in Balia district of Uttar Pradesh. Many people from this village have shifted to Balia in Uttar Pradesh and some have moved to Rivelganj. People from Nagar Diyara have no place to go and they need land from the Government to settle down somewhere and the Government should acquire land for them. That will be a help.”

Ram Bonod Singh from Chhapra claimed that, “Not an inch of dry land is available from Manjhi to Sonepur. The current of water was so strong that all the mud houses collapsed. Cattle were in deep trouble. Most of them died or swept away and those survived fell sick. There was no fodder as all the land was under water. Fodder needs to be arranged for them and the Government must open cheap husk and straw shops to save the cattle.

Not much has changed..cattle battling the Bihar Floods now. Photo: BBC News
Not much has changed..cattle battling the Bihar Floods now. Photo: BBC News

Dip Narayan Singh lamented that boats were not available normally when the floods struck and the officers had no clue how to face the emergency. Many boats of the traders were parked at Mahnar and Hajipur and had the officers known about their availability they could have helped in rescuing a good number of people from the flooded areas and thus saved their lives. Insisting on the opening of cheap grain shops in the flood ravaged areas he told that a huge amount of food grain was buried under the debris of the collapsed houses and the seeds for the next crop also got trapped there. Such people needed to be helped by ready to eat food and also with seedlings of paddy for immediate transplantation from the areas that were not flooded this year. This should be done without any further loss of time. Some people might need loans for house building and that should be made available to them on deferred payment. Cooperatives could also advance loans to such people wherever they existed. Crop loan might be needed for some and that should be arranged for those who asked for it.

Murli Manohar Prasad talked about floods as a long term problem and said that some years ago there was a meeting with the Government of Uttar Pradesh when it was decided that the Railway Bridge at Majhi on the Ghaghara will have to be extended and embankments should be built on the river from Dhanawari till Chinwari like that built on the Gandak. Uttar Pradesh had opposed this embankment on the ground that the proposed embankment will have adverse impact on the Balia district. He wanted to know from the minister about the fate of those discussions. He also wanted that the issue of deforestation should also be discussed with Uttar Pradesh as massive felling of trees had aggravated the flood situation in Bihar while maintaining that not much benefit is expected from the restoration of forests as, “Unfortunately, the topography of Saran is quite unique. The level of the Gandak river is above the level of its surrounding, the river flows in many streams that take off at various points from the main stream. The level of these streams is also higher than the adjoining land and embankments are built on them also (He was referring to Zamindari embankments.). The local people had developed a very efficient system of irrigation and drainage that worked well till the Moghul Rule. Sluice gates were built on the embankments at various places on the Gandak which helped in controlling various smaller rivers taking off from the Gandak. Whenever people apprehended floods, they used to drop the shutters of the sluice gates. Besides, they have connected the chaurs (depressed lands) with these rivers and could take water from the rivers or discharge water into it with the help of sluice gates. Their drainage channels used to run parallel to the embankment of the river and were connected to the chaurs and the people could manipulate the direction of flow water as they desired. Almost whole of the Saran district was somehow connected to many of its major rivers namely the Ghaghara, the Gandak and the Ganga. Unfortunately, this amazing set up of irrigation and drainage got ruined with time and the sluice gates that were functional till 1878 ceased to function because the indigo planters who were paying the water rates based on the expenses incurred on running the set up to the Government refused to pay it anymore which they were paying so far. That led to the death of a good irrigation and drainage system. When water ceased to flow through these channels then not only the zamindars but rayyats also started encroaching the river bed and the local officers of the Government helplessly watched the proceedings of dismantling law and order situation of the district. His appeal to the Government was that, “it should not end up only distributing relief to the flood victims but should think seriously over the flood problem of the district.”

2013 Kosi Floods Photo: India Today
2013 Kosi Floods Photo: India Today

Prabhunath Singh intervened once again to say that, “The land between Darauli to Sonepur is quite fertile. The district of Saran is rated as a deficit district not because its land is inferior but because its population is very large and per capita availability of land is too small. I want to reiterate, therefore, that the damage inflicted by floods on the district is the only reason of the misery here and the Survey and Settlement Reports confirm it.” The embankment built in Kasmar Pargana from Sonepur to Darauli was earlier looked after by the Zamindars but their attitude changed and they had virtually abandoned the maintenance of those structures which were in ruinous state. He wanted the Government to take over the up-keep and maintenance of these structures. He added that an embankment existed earlier on the left bank of the Ghaghara from Sonepur to Kasmar and all that was needed to be done was repairing this structure.  If the Government of Uttar Pradesh objected to it then Bihar Government could always tell them that the embankment already existed and the State was only repairing it. The Survey and Settlement Report records stand a testimony to that effect.

Most of the members of the Assembly were of the view that the policy hitherto adopted of ‘no embankments’ along the rivers should be revisited, should now be changed and embankments must be built wherever needed or demanded by the people. The Government, however, was still not decided and used to pass the buck on the experts’ advice as it very well knew the consequences of embanking of heavily silt laden rivers.

Two ministers in the Government replied to this entire debate in the Assembly and their statements are worth studying minutely. First to reply was Ram Charitra Singh who said, “… It is quite likely that the reason for the floods in North Bihar are the people themselves living in the State.  Almost all the rivers of North Bihar have their origin in the Himalayas that are covered with ice. All the rivers that discharge their water into the sea bring a lot of sediments in their flow and deposited it on their path to the sea. That is how the land was formed in this region. Then came the human race which started tampering with the rivers for its own benefits and its lack of foresight resulted in the situation that we are faced with now. The debate that has taken place in the House establishes that we are still trapped in the same mindset.   The result is that many embankments have been built and many others are in the process of being built. The debate today in this House has revealed that many of our friends desire that we should continue building the embankments and they believe firmly that this will benefit them and improve the flood situation. I must say that, scientifically, had these embankments not existed the problem of this magnitude were not going to be there but what has happened has happened. We now better concentrate on the future course of action. Our policy is to control the construction of embankments.  Wherever these embankments are built, their construction is illegitimate and a vigil has got to be kept on them. At some places there were constraint and embankment had to be built there although it creates problems.”

He continued, “…I went to the Saran district recently and stayed there for three days (watching the flood situation) and immediately after my return here I got 14 embankments built along the Ganga for flood protection including Dighwara, Shitalpur and Kaudimal. I am not upset that so many embankments have been destroyed this year and a sum of Rs. Two lakhs twenty thousand has been wasted but I don’t regret it and should our engineers suggest that an embankment is essential, I will not hesitate helping them build it.” He admitted that the kind of damages due to floods that were seen in Saran this year were not seen elsewhere and assured all his help to the district. Emphasizing the need for drainage of the Chhapra town he had already instructed the Chief Engineer, Special Officer and the District Magistrate to repair the roads, railway line in collaboration with the District Board even if it amounted to cutting the railway line immediately. The Kharif crop was already lost and if the water is not drained out, the chances of Rabi would also recede.

Another minister, KB Sahay had this to say. “…The problem of floods is very critical. If we construct embankments in Saran, what impact will it have on the other districts? If we control the Ganga in Saran, how will that effect the other districts in UP? I want to put all these facts before the House and want to assure you that the Government will appoint a Commission whose job will be to tell that if an embankment is to be built in Muzaffarpur, it should tell us where and how?…If in Patna then where and how and so on.”

2008 Flood Photo: Bihar Days
2008 Flood Photo: Bihar Days

Dinesh Kumar Mishra, Convenor-Barh Mukti (dkmishra108@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[1] This is Third part of a series of articles Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra has written for SANDRP based on his month long research at the National Library, Kolkata recently.

For Part 1 see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/1948-floods-in-bihar-1-inaugural-flood-after-independence-view-from-press-gallery/

Part 2: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/1948-floods-in-bihar-2-inaugural-flood-after-independence-official-version-of-floods-and-its-aftermath/

[2] He meant that the Government should not give money to the flood victims just as a dole. It was to be a soft loan and the estimates etc should be suggested by engineers.

Bihar · Embankments

Response to SANDRP blog: On Sediments & Rivers

Satellite image of Brahmaputra River From: Wikimedia Commons
Satellite image of Brahmaputra River From: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Dinesh Kumar Mishra (dkmishra108@gmail.com)

Read the article by Thakkar and Dandekar[1] on sediments with great interest. The basic duty assigned by nature to any river  is to build land (nearest word is delta formation), transport the water falling on its catchment to the master drain or the sea and keep the ground water level intact besides saving its fertility. Scriptures define river in many other ways. The basic reason for that was, probably, to discourage tempering with the river. The rivers flow for the good of all the living beings (paropakaray bahanti nadyah), they are cited as an example for continuity. Our ancestors used to bless the younger ones that their name and fame will last till the rule of forests, mountains and rivers are there. There are strict restrictions about polluting rivers and the punishment is also prescribed for doing so. That provides enough food for thought about rivers to us. When we recall our rivers to grace any religious or social ceremony, the emphasis is never forgotten as to what should be our attitude towards rivers. Most of our festivals are held on the bank of the rivers (barring Karmanasa) in Bihar which is called tirthas i.e, the sacred places.

We care too hoots about our rivers now.

An engineer or a trader looks at the rivers about the profits that can be made by the existence of the rivers and they rightly use the word ‘exploitation’ which we all know what it means. As engineers, we all are trained to look into the Benefit Cost ratio and are never taught about the social costs. That is not our job. We tell the politicians where the profit and votes lie. They, in turn, tell all others that they have a team of world class engineers who have advised this or that. The implementers (the contractors) intervene in the mean while. Then there may be financers, promoters, consultants and what not, each with some vested interest or the other. Some of them are for money, some for power, some for name and fame and some for merely impressing others of their proximity with the sources of power.

Each one of them has an insurance that by the time the ill effects of their wrong doing come to the fore, they will not be there in this world. That sets the tone for discussions now.

Let us look at the physical characteristics of river water. The river water contains sediments of all kinds and their shape and size depends on the locations that they are transported to by the river water. The ultimate destination, however, is the sea.  I have read considerable literature about sediments and floods and I know that at least since middle of the 19th Century, the British engineers in India have been telling that water is not the problem and it is the sediment that is responsible for flooding. This should be treated first if the floods are to be avoided.

Unfortunately, we are not taught how to deal with sediments and we read about it as a passing reference.  Water flows downstream but the sediments remain where the water no more is in a position to push it further down.

Structurally, if you intercept water by a dam, the sediment will collect in the reservoir area.  I had read a report of Central Water Commission a few years ago (I should be having a copy of it somewhere in my collection) wherein they had studied the sedimentation of  64 reservoirs in India but only in two of them their prediction of sedimentation was near to reality. Rest all the dams were in pathetic situation. Trap the river within embankments, the sediment will settle within the embankments and raise the bed level of the river. Kosi is a good example of mishandling of sediments. This river was flowing in 15 different channels some 60 years ago. The engineers embanked just one of these channels and forced all the water and sediments into that channel. The result is that the bed of this channel is higher than the adjoining ground. In lower reaches, the river is aggrading at a rate 12.03 centimeters every year. The engineers and the State is busy raising the embankments without realizing that they are ‘storing disasters for the future generation.’ Construct a ring bundh round a settlement to protect it from the floods of river, the sediment will settle outside the ring to the detriment of the community in future.

Many settlements in Bihar were encircled by such rings in the past.  These are all a false security for the people. There is sand casting within the protected area and boats ply there during the rainy season. Some of these rings do not exist anymore because the river has wiped them out. Every step of mishandling sediments leads to a disaster situation which we do not know how to cope with and do away with the sediment.

Look at any silt laden river. It used to spread the sediments free of cost all over the area which is what we call the land building by a river. You disturb a river and this quality is lost.

Then starts the famous debate on forests. The engineers are again confused over the issue and they are not sure whether restoration of the forests can be of any use. Once the ground is saturated due to rains, the role of forests is over, they say. Fortunately such conclusions are not available freely in vernacular. I shudder to think how the masses will react to such wisdom.

I had a chance meeting with the Minister of Water Resources of Bihar before this election and he wanted me to suggest something to combat floods. The discussion boiled down to sediments and the quantity of sediments that passes through Bihar every year.

Irrigation Commission Report of Bihar (1994) talks vaguely about sediments and no inference can be drawn out of it. This may be willful that a reader may not decode the information contained in the report.

Now, if it is understood that sediments are the problem, do we know the amount of it? The answer in ‘No’.

Or, even if it is available, it is not in public domain. We keep on telling that rivers have become shallow but its extent is not known in most cases. I suggested to him that if the government was really serious about the issue, let us take cross section of the river at strategic points that the WRD must have been taking before independence or after the establishment of the Planning Commission and check what is the extent of aggradation of the river bed and what have been the change in the cross section. This will tell us the sediment retained in the river bed and give a hint about its transportation to the sea. It will also tell us that if we pursue the policy of flood control as we are doing at the moment, what will be the fate of the river after say 50 years. He very kindly phoned his principal secretary who, probably, told him that this was possible.

Two questions arise from this discussion, (i) does it require an outsider like me with little access to information that these august bodies dealing with rivers have to tell the minister what should be done to assess the sediments? And (ii) what on earth the responsible engineers of the WRD have been doing all these years? Do they know their job and responsibility well?

kosidisaster

Former chief minister of Bihar had announced in May 2009 after the breach at Kusaha on the Kosi (in Aug 2008) was plugged that the embankment is not going to breach for thirty years, at least. Everybody interested in the Kosi issue knows that the breach had occurred because the river was pushed towards eastern embankment of the river by sediment deposition on the west and this was not given the attention it deserved.

I wonder since when the rivers have started taking command from the chief ministers. Even if they do, what will happen in thirty first year?

I am of the opinion that a peon in government is more powerful than a Noble Laureate outside for the peon can get something done through his contacts but the latter can only make a request. It is up to the establishment whether it heeds to his/ her advice or not.

3rd July 2014. Jamshedpur

END NOTES:

[1] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/what-do-rivers-have-to-do-with-silt/

Bihar · Embankments

Flood activist Shashi Shekhar on indefinite fast in Sitamarhi (Bihar) Against Unwanted & unjustified embankment and for a River

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.

Activist Shashi Shekhar Speaking at a workshop in Patna
Activist Shashi Shekhar Speaking at a workshop in Patna

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[1]. We hope national media carries this important news.

SANDRP

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/.

Statement

 

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

Statement in Hindi 

Sources

Þ     Personal communication Shashi Shekhar, Dec 2013;

Þ     Brief – Sangharsh Yatra, Dec 2013

 

Bihar · CAG Report · Floods

CAG Review of Flood Control measures in Bihar: When will Auditors learn about ecology?

CAG Review of Flood Control measures in Bihar:

When will the auditors learn about Ecology?

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Recently tabled CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) audit report on Bihar contains a performance review of implementation of flood control measures[i] in this most flood prone state. Most of the rivers in North Bihar originate in the Himalayan range in Nepal and cause floods in downstream Bihar with recurrent frequency. 73 percent of geographical area in Bihar is said to be under the threat of flood every year and 16.5 percent of total flood affected areas of India is located in this state.

On reading this performance review, one gets an idea of how CAG audit teams’ knowledge base on flood issue in Bihar relied heavily on Ganga Flood Control Commission (set up by Government of India in April 1972) recommendations, Bihar Flood Management Rules of 2003, Guide on Flood Management Programmes issued by Govt of India etc. However, the performance audit fails to draw upon the numerous writings by Dinesh Mishra of Barh Mukti Abhiyan (Freedom from Floods campaigns) and others. The performance audit also fails to draw upon the recommendations in the civil society fact finding mission following the massive floods due to Kosi embankment breach at Kusaha in Nepal[ii], Kosi Deluge: the Worst is Still to Come.

So when a performance audit report fails to draw upon the writings from ecologists and environmental historians, what recommendation flows from it? The same that would have flowed from the various official Ganga Flood Control Commission (GFCC) reports: build high dams in Nepal to trap the silt, at Barah Kshetra and on the tributaries of the river Kosi, a reservoir with adequate flood cushion at Noonthore on the Bagmati river, three dams over the river Gandak and a multipurpose reservoir at Chisapani on the river Kamla Balan. It is out of this blind faith in looking at high dams as providing flood control and flood cushion solution that CAG audit raised an audit observation that Bihar had failed to prepare even the Detailed Project Report on these proposed dams. The reply that state flood control department filed in November 2012 stated that a Joint Project Office was established at Biratnagar (Nepal) to study the feasibility of proposal of dam on Bagmati, Kamla Balan and Kosi rivers and the DPR of dam at Barah Kshetra was expected to be prepared by February 2013. The audit could have raised the question about the appropriateness of spending money on such futile exercise.

Misplaced faith in structural solutions Dinesh Mishra responds to this fallacy of the auditors stating, “The CAG report repeats what is told to it by the Govt. of Bihar (GoB) as the long term plan that was proposed for the first time in 1937 and nearly eight decades later the proposal is still under ‘active’ consideration of the two governments. Neither the GoB nor the CAG brings out this fact that there is massive resistance to any dam building in Nepal and more so if it is done by India. That is the reason why it has taken 16 years to work on the DPR so far without getting the same ready for any negotiation.” Dinesh Mishra adds, “There is no talking about seismicity, downstream impacts of large dams and strategic defence of the dam itself. We are not sure whether these structures would ever be built, but it is a carrot dangled before the flood victims of the state as if once the dam is built, all the flood problems of the state will be solved” (emphasis added).

No review of reasons for the Kosi disaster of 2008 Also missing from performance review are references to reasons for massive floods in the year 2008 following the breach in Kosi embankment at Kusaha and the pending recommendations by the still ongoing enquiry committee of Kosi High Level Commission. The audit fails to go indepth into how improper maintanance of the embankment lead to this flood disaster, who were responsible for improper maintanance and what system is needed to ensure such blunders are not repeated in future. The audit could have also gone into the role played by GFCC, Kosi High Level Committee and others in the Aug 2008 Kosi flood disaster. The audit continues to display an understanding that looks at more and more embankments straight jacketing the river, or unproved technological remedies such as Intra Linking of Rivers as potential solutions. Hence it raises questions on the non-completion of DPRs on Intra-linking of rivers and on completion of only 61.47 kms embankment against the target of 1535 kms as envisaged in the 11th Five Year plan.

Need to audit CWC’s flood forecasting performance The audit report does however mention those long term non-structural measures, such as flood plains zoning bill and establishment of flood forecasting units at field levels in upstream Nepal that were also recommended in 2004 by GFCC. The audit scrutiny showed that the state water resource dept had failed to enact flood plain zoning bill as well as in establishing flood forecasting units at field levels in all 16 test checked divisions out of 60 flood control divisions. The Audit should have also looked at the quality and use of flood forecasting by the state government and central agency like the Central Water Commisssion. CWC’s flood forecasting and its role in other aspects of flood management in Bihar also need a performance appraisal urgently. The Role played by Farakka Dam in creating backwater effect in Bihar, thus prolonging the flood duration in Bihar and also increasing the height of floods is another aspect that needs scrutiny.

Non implementation of Flood Plain Zoning Bill The flood plain zoning bill would have provided framework for regulation of development activities with the help of flood management maps. In November 2012, replying to this audit observation, department sought to justify its inaction by arguing that flood plain zoning is “impracticable and hindrance in the pace of development of state”. In the wake up of recent disaster in Uttarakhand, Bihar as well as other states would do well to give up on this misconceived tactic of shooting down any advocacy for environmental regulations by terming it as arresting ‘the pace of development’.

Bihar evaluating detention basin DPRs? The audit also pointed out that the suggestion of creating detention basins, i.e. adapting natural depressions/ swamps and lakes for flood moderation was not implemented by the dept as they had neither identified any sites nor released any funds to any divisions to undertake this work during 2007 to 2012. When this was pointed out by CAG auditors, the dept replied in August 2012 claiming that the DPRs of detention basins was under evaluation and final plans would be prepared by December 2012. However, till February 2013, no further progress on this was communicated by dept.

The audit also observed very serious deficiencies in financial management by the department. During the five year period 2007 to 2012, the dept had failed to utilise 11 to 44 percent of the available funds mainly due to delayed/ non-sanctioning of the schemes, delay in land acquisition, opposition by local people and non-passing of bills by the treasuries. Worse still, audit scrutiny showed that the dept had made 30 allotments amounting to Rs 47.47 crore to divisions on the last day of financial year.

Audit scrutiny of flood protection scheme revealed that the contract management of the dept was deficient as was evident from the cases of non-publicity of tender, allotment of works to ineligible contractor, loss to government owing to undue favour extended to a particular contractor and loss of Rs 103 crore due to non-availing of the benefit of competitive bidding in execution of Bagmati extension scheme. Audit also noticed other deficiencies such as non adherence to flood calendar in 44 percent of test-checked works, infructuous expenditure worth Rs 68.50 crore in four test-checked divisions and excess payment of Rs 6.25 crore in two test-checked divisions. Audit also pointed out that dept had incurred an unfruitful expense of Rs 20.21 crore due to abandoning, closure/ postponement of zamindari bandh in two test-checked divisions.

The office of CAG of India has indulged in lot of talk around the idea of environmental auditing. An International Centre for Environment Audit and Sustainable Development was inaugurated at Jaipur in May 2013 and the office of the CAG of India has held a few consultations on environment auditing in recent past. However, performance reviews such as this one clearly points out the need for CAG auditors to equip themselves better in the realm of understanding the ecological aspects around flood, flood plains and flood management; rather than simply drawing up from the reports in official domain such as Ganga Flood Control Commission etc. Will the newly appointed head of India’s Supreme Audit Institution devote his labour to this urgent tak?

Himanshu Upadhyaya

(Author is a research scholar at Centre for Studies in Science Policies, JNU, New Delhi.)

Assam · brahmaputra · Embankments · Floods

NDMA Commissioned IIT Roorkee Study on Brahmaputra River Erosion: A Biased and Structural Solution Oriented Report?

 

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Pic:  1  Erosion in Rohmoria in the Upstream of Dibrugarh. Source: The Assam Tribune

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has recently published a report named “Study of Brahmaputra River Erosion and Its Control”. NDMA had commissioned this study to the Department of Water Resources Development and Management of IIT Roorkee. NDMA is an apex body constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to prepare the country to face natural and human-made disasters. NDMA is headed by the Prime Minster of India. Under the natural disasters category it includes earthquake, flood, tsunami, land slide and avalanches while nuclear, chemical or biological disasters have been categorized as human-made disasters. This report provides a lot of information and data on the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The information about erosion is also very much detailed and descriptive. The report can be found at http://ndma.gov.in/ndma/latestdisasterupdates/NDMA%20Final%20Report%20Brahmaputra%20River.pdf

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Pic:  2 Recent News Reports of Erosion in Subansiri River, One of the Largest Tributaries of Brahmaputra on the North Bank. Source: Dainik Janambhumi

ImagePic:  3 Houses on the side of the Old Embankment in Matmora. Source: Parag Jyoti Saikia

This reports deals with a very serious issue of erosion in the Brahmaputra river basin in Assam. Erosion should not be confused with floods even though both are annual phenomena in the Brahmaputra river basin. Erosion can be seen to have a more severe impact than floods because erosion leads to permanent loss of land and property. During floods land and houses are submerged for a period of time. But erosion displaces people from their land and property for good. Erosion inflicts severe damage to agriculture, economy and cultural relations of people. Erosion compels people to migrate to different places. Villages get eroded one after another and people living in those villages have to move to another location with their belongings. But this may not be possible and affordable for all those who lost their land in erosion. So for many of them, living on the side of embankments in very poor living conditions remains as the only option. Erosion also leads to migration of rural youths to urban areas in search of jobs. In the last few decades erosion has posed as a greater threat to the people of Assam than floods. The severity of erosion can be seen from the Table 7 of the report in which Satellite Based Estimation and Comparison of Area Eroded In Brahmaputra during the Period 1990 to 2007-08 and 1997 to 2007-08 have been presented.

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Map of the Study Area from the Report

The study divides the river length into twelve segments from Dhubri to Dibrugarh and that is why there are 12 reaches mentioned in the table.  It is clear from this table that the while the erosion prone length of the river is 10% higher along the South Bank of Brahmaputra compared to the same along North Bank. Areas facing erosion is 123% higher in South bank during the last decade (1998-2008) of the study period. The highest erosion area/per km of erosion prone bank is upstream of Dibrugarh, where the river enters the plains from the hills.

Areawise division into 12 reaches in the river

North Bank

South Bank

Total Erosion Length

(in km)

1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km)

1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km)

Total Erosion Length

(in km)

1990 to 2007 – 08 (in sq. km)

1997 to 2007-08 (in sq. km)

1. Dhubri

40.19

124.461

94.129

7.05

194.983

10.791

2. Goalpara

39.5

79.046

40.902

4.85

17.816

5.052

3. Palasbari

54.87

48.668

42.914

14.02

23.006

15.859

4. Guwahati

21.02

7.92

1.654

24.38

5.385

12.079

5. Morigaon – Mangaldai

6

35.606

2.138

47.91

96.979

103.7

6. Morigaon – Dihing

24.86

29.057

7.275

47.8

10.795

56.72

7. Tezpur

8.58

38.758

4.733

52.95

16.628

44.774

8. Tezpur-Gohpur

8.85

31.187

5.794

44.16

26.098

71.227

9. Majuli-Bessamora

24.69

25.562

12.327

47.17

32.788

28.998

10. Majuli Sibsagar

16.93

60.657

16.878

54.95

44.018

42.118

11. Dibrugarh

37.86

37.506

43.529

43.89

46.595

6.066

12. U/s Dibrugarh

70.5

20.376

55.454

57.54

399.529

333.416

Total

353.85

538.805

327.726

389.13

914.62

730.8


The Study Report:
There have been a lot of studies done on the river, to find a solution to the issue. But what comes as a surprise is the attempt to shy away with some of the crucial issues of the riverine eco-system in the northeast. But before going into crucial issues, a brief note about the report is provided.

The March 2012 study is divided into two phases. The first phase is named as ‘Sattelite Data Based Assessment of Stream Bank Erosion of Main Stem Brahmaputra and Its Major Tributaries’. In the second phase processing and analysis of the hydrological data of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries has been done.

In the first phase of the study information and data of 18 years (1990 to 2008) has been put together. The study pertains to a reach of 620 km on the main stem of Brahmaputra River, i.e., its entire course in Assam from upstream of Dibrugarh up to the town Dhubri near Bangladesh border.  23 major tributaries (13 northern and 10 southern) within India have also been considered. The data for this whole area was collected using an integrated mechanism of Remote Sensing and Geographical Information System.

In the second phase of the study a new method of analysis called Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) has been used. The data processed through this analysis has been used for modeling the rainfall-runoff process and runoff-sediment process for the study area.

The report identifies inherent ‘sediment overloading’ of the river fluvial system as the main cause for river bank erosion vis-à-vis channel instability in Brahmaputra. The report recommends by proposing river training works for two pilot areas on Brahmaputra River. The first site is in Bhuragaon of Morigaon district and second one is near the Guwahati airport.

Critical issues:

The team of investigators for this study was led by Prof Nayan Sharma of the Department of Water Resources Development and Management at IIT Roorkee. This is a very descriptive report from the point of information and data about the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries. But even then there are several things that the report does not mention at all.

The report mentioned that inherent ‘sediment overloading’ as the prime cause for erosion in the river Brahmaputra. But another study named “River Bank Erosion and Restoration in the Brahmaputra River in India” has identified several other factors responsible for bank erosion.[1] That study states “The salient hydraulic and bank material factors responsible for bank erosion of the Brahmaputra system are i) rate of rise and fall of river water level, ii) number and position of major channel active during flood stage, iii) angle at which the thalweg approaches the bank line, iv) amount of scour and deposition that occurs during flood, v) variability of cohesive soil in bank material composition, vi) formation and movement of large bed forms, vii) intensity of bank slumping, and viii) progression of abandoned river courses to present-day channel.”

Identifying only ‘sediment overloading’ as the main reason for a dynamic river system like Brahmaputra seems an over simplification that overlooks the critical issues.

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Pic:  4  A view of the Balijan Tea Estate Eroded by the Brahmaputra in Rohmoria in Dibrugarh district of Assam. Source: The Hindu

Even though the report identifies sediment overload as the prime cause of erosion, it has provided insufficient analysis as to why the sediment load is actually increasing in Brahmaputra. The report rightly states “Accelerated erosion has occurred in this region due to intensive deforestation, large – scale road construction, mining and cultivation on steep slopes.”

Pro Hydro Bias: Here the report completely ignores case of hydropower development in Arunachal Pradesh and its impact on Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The report nowhere mentions about the proposals for 168 hydroelectric dams in Arunachal Pradesh and its impact in the rivers in Assam. In the recent times, the state has witnessed mass protest against hydropower development in Arunachal Pradesh. In fact the report shows a pro-hydro bias when it laments that “less than 5% of the existing hydropower potential” have been put to use so far. At a time when people are demanding for cumulative impact assessment of dams on the rivers of Assam, reports like this attempt to create confusion among people. It is to be noted that when Assam was witnessing the mass protest against big dams, it was Dr. Nayan Sharma who appeared in the electronic media advocating for big dams.

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Pic:  5  Erosion protection work at Nimatighat on the Brahmaputra in Jorhat District on May 5th 2013.       Source: http://www.prokerala.com[2]  

Bias for Structural Intervention: This report advocates for structural intervention for flood protection and reiterates the need for more embankments. Lots of analysis has been done on the ill effects and poor performance of embankments. Embankments essentially transfer the problems to the downstream. There are ample examples of how structural interventions made for erosion protection have failed. We can take the example of Rohmoria, located in the upstream of Dibrugarh town in this regard. There were a series of structural interventions made to control erosion but it failed.[3]

The embankments proposed in this report for the two pilot-study areas are proposed to be constructed using geo synthetic bags. The geo-synthetic bags will be put inside polymer rope gabions[4] and installed in the critical toe of the bank line. The efficacy of controlling erosion through geo-tube embankments still not established, but even then geo-tubes have become the buzz-word for flood protection in Assam. The Asian Development Bank has offered a loan of $12 million for erosion protection through construction of geo-tube embankments. But Assam government engineers working on Brahmaputra and its tributaries are critical of ADB’s programme of erosion control through geo-tube. In a report published in regional news paper on March 2010, it was stated that revetments like geo-bags cannot be successful in Brahmaputra because it creates a permanent deep channel along the existing river bank.[5] The report also stated that geo-synthetic bags which were installed for bank protection in Palashbari-Gumi area were washed away by Brahmaputra. This area is in the downstream of Saraighat Bridge and close to Guwahati airport area where one of the pilot projects has been proposed.

Impact of Structural Interventions Ignored: The report provides structural solution for erosion control but ignores erosions which were a result of structural interventions in the river. Studies on Brahmaputra basin have shown that during and after the construction of bridges in the river Brahmputra erosion and floods have increased in the downstream areas.[6] In the case of Saraighat Bridge, unprecedented flood and erosion was witnessed in Palasbari and Gumi area. Morigaona and Nagaon districts suffered the same after the construction of Koliabhomora Bridge. Construction of Naranarayan Setu, led to flood and erosion in Dakshin Salmara, Pancharatna and Mancachar.

Similar fears have been expressed for the fourth bridge on Brahmaputra which is under construction between Bogibeel of Dibrugarh district and Kareng Chapori of Dhemaji district. The river is nearly 9 km wide at this point. But for the construction of this bridge, the river had been shrunk to almost 5 km through the boulder spurs. This is posing a great threat of flood and erosion for the downstream areas which include famous river island Majuli and Matmora, where India’s first geo-tube embankment was constructed. Engineers who are involved in the construction of the dykes of the fourth bridge had been reported saying that Matmora area would come under severe threat due to the increased river pressure in the area. The report completely ignores all these facts and shows ‘sediment overloading’ as the cause of erosion.

Besides, the study gives a feeling that erosion in the river Brahmaputra operates in ceteris paribus[7]. The report made no mention about climate change and how it is going to impact a river like Brahmaputra which is flowing right from the Himalayan mountain range. At a time when impacts of climate change are taken into account for every possible environment related matters, ignoring this is another major lacuna of this report.

These critical lacunas put a question mark over the usefulness of the otherwise informative study. Credibility of IIT Roorkee reports have been questioned in the past too.[8] NDMA may keep this in mind and focus on more basic issues. For starters as monsoon sets in and rounds of floods start along Brahmaputra, NDMA’s flood forecasting links have stopped functioning for five days as we publish this in the 1st week of June 2013.

 Parag Jyoti Saikia 

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (www.sandrp.in)

Email: meandering1800@gmail.com


[4] Gabions are sausages made of Polymer ropes that are appropriately woven by a special process to fabricate the Gabions in various sizes. Gabions are generally available in a prefabricated collapsible form. Images of polymer rope gabions can be found here – http://www.garwareropes.com/polymer_rope_pro_g.htm

[6] Mahanta, C; Mahanta, A., ‘Bridge over The Brahmaputra’ Economic and Political Weekly, pp 579-581, 2006

[7] Ceteris paribus is a Latin phrase which can be literally translated as “holding other things constant” and usually rendered in English as “all other things being equal”

Floods

Build them Higher and Higher!!

This week, there was news that Nepal and India have agreed to ‘strengthen’ the embankments on shared rivers like Bagmati, Kamla and Khando in a bid to control floods. “Both the countries have already agreed to strengthen embankments of Bagmati, Kamla, Lalbakeya and Khando rivers and extend the embankments along these rivers to higher ground in Nepal to control spilling of flood water,” Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat said” (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-nepal-agree-to-strengthen-river-banks-to-avoid-floods/articleshow/19035269.cms)

Now while we are busy building our embankments higher and higher, one of the most flood prone country in the world: The Netherlands is doing something drastically different. Through its ‘Room for the River’ Program, Netherlands is actually leaving spaces for floods to spill, and minimise the damage, rather than building higher and higher embankments.roomfortheriver1

“After 800 years of building dikes, we’ve been making them higher and higher,” said Gert-Jan Meulepas, project manager at Royal Haskoning, an engineering and environmental consultancy that developed the project. “But if something goes wrong, the damage will be greater.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-the-dutch-make-room-for-the-river)

roomfortheriver2

With Climate Change and extreme weather events a reality, the focus in Europe and America has shifted from making ‘Zero Failure’ infrastructure to infrastructure that is ‘allowed to fail’ with other protective measures in place like flood dissipation, protected floodplains, alert disaster management, etc. “Designing projects so they are safe to fail,  is often cheaper and more efficient, Kirshen believes. A community might opt to build a dam designed to contain up to a 100-year flood, then develop a comprehensive evacuation plan for the surrounding area in the event of a more severe flood. This strategy anticipates that the dam may not control extreme flooding, but adds other protective measures for higher levels of safety.”http://www.climatecentral.org/news/for-engineers-climate-failure-becomes-an-option-15769

One of the best examples of this flexible management is the Yolo Bypass in the Sacramento Basin in California. Yolo Bypass actually accumulates floodwaters in case of extreme floods and is used by water fowl and wildlife. It is the largest public/private restoration project west of the Florida Everglades. The entire bypass forms a valuable wetland habitat when flooded during the winter and spring rainy season. In the summer, areas of the bypass outside the wildlife areas are used for agriculture.(http://www.yolobasin.org/wildlife.cfm)

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India and South Asia on the other hand, though facing severe threats from climate change and floods and with a history of embankment breaches are refusing to learn lessons. The recent discussion about strengthening embankments between India and Nepal seems to be  a result of this mindset which is not flexible to include ecosystems, goods and services of floodplains and climate change challenges.Image

Shri. D. K. Mishra jee has written extensively about embankments and floods in Bihar. His latest book on Bagamati: https://sandrp.in/pub/River_Bagmati_Bounties_Become_A_Curse.pdf

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