It’s great to see the top edit in THE TIMES OF INDIA today (Aug 12, 2019) calling for urgent review of flood management in India. Indeed the current floods can be a big wake up call.
TOI Edit rightly says: “Similarly, there’s also an urgent need to upgrade dam management in the region. Despite heavy rain warnings, why couldn’t Maharashtra and Karnataka coordinate to release dam waters downstream as a pre-emptive measure? We need much more proactive and punctilious supervision of dam waters.” Indeed there is need to fix the responsibilities of failures in Dam Management, including forecasting failures, Violations of rule curves, mismanagement of reservoirs and lack of information sharing and coordination.Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 12 August 2019: URGENT REVIEW OF FLOOD MANAGEMENT REQUIRED”→
A new surge in the developmental interventions in the rivers in India is seen with the implementation of National Inland Waterways Act, 2016. Under this Act, 138 stretches of the rivers, creeks, backwaters, estuaries, etc. in 24 states and 2 union territories will be developed as the ‘national inland waterways’ for the transportation of huge cargo and passenger vessels. Being declared as “national” means that the control and regulation of these waterways will be in the hands of the central government and not state governments. This project of Central Government is being pushed forward with the claims of inland water transport being cost-effect, environmental friendly and safe for the transportation of hazardous goods. However, these so called benefits are neither universal nor automatic as they will be dependent on certain conditions, and will accrue if and when those conditions are met. Development of these waterways will be controlled and regulated by Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI). Continue reading “National Inland Waterways in Bihar: Viable or desirable?”→
Flood forecasting is an important activity during monsoon, considering the huge and increasing flood prone area, flood frequency, extent and flood damages. Accurate and timely flood forecasting can hugely help reduce the damages due to floods. Central Water Commission (CWC) is the only agency responsible for flood forecasting in India. To understand the CWC’s flood forecasting better, we have compiled the list of the various flood, inflow forecasting sites and flood monitoring sites in India.
In this compilation, we have given state wise list of CWC’s flood forecasting, flood monitoring and inflow forecasting sites, along with available details like rivers, sub basin, river basin, Warning level, Danger Level, High Flood Level, Full Reservoir Level, Maximum Water Level. As we see below, there are many gaps in this basic information for the sites that are part of CWC’s list.
Aquifers in 16 States in the country are contaminated by uranium, whose presence in drinking water has been linked to chronic kidney disease by several studies, a recent study has shown. More importantly, uranium doesn’t figure on the list of contaminants monitored under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ drinking water specifications. The main source of this contamination is natural, but groundwater depletion by extensive withdrawal of water for irrigation and nitrite pollution due to the excessive use of nitrogenous fertilisers may be exacerbating the problem, said the study.
– The study was carried out by a team of researchers led by Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University in the US. The team, which also included experts from the Central Ground Water Board, the Rajasthan government’s Ground Water Department and Gujarat Water Resources Development Corporation, analysed groundwater samples from 226 locations in Rajasthan and 98 in Gujarat.
Wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water.
But they are threatened by reclamation and degradation due to activities like drainage and landfill, pollution, hydrological alteration (water withdrawal and changes in inflow and outflow), over-exploitation resulting in loss of biodiversity and disruption in ecosystem services provided by them.
Similarly, despite country’s space agency ISRO had in 2011 mapped over two lakhs of wetlands across the country, the centre has, so far, notified only 115 wetlands and 63 lakes in 24 states and 2 UTs for conservation and management.
Ganga Basin, particularly Bihar is facing unprecedented floods, starting on Aug 12, 2017. Water levels of Major tributaries of Ganga, including Kosi, Mahananda, Rapti, Ghagra, Bagmati, Gandak and Kamlabalan are close to or above the historically highest flood levels almost simultaneously. This has rarely happened in the past. The water level of Ghagra is close to HFL at Elgine Bridge in Barabanki district in Uttar Pradesh. Most other flood forecasting sites in North Bihar and East UP were shown as pink dots on CWC flood forecasting map on Aug 13-15, signifying that water level at these sites was above the danger level. This is possibly the beginning, this wave is expected to rise as it travels down towards Bihar and then W Bengal and Bangladesh. Continue reading “Ganga basin faces unprecedented floods in Aug 2017”→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Background Bihar faced the worst floods if its history in 1987, the records of which are yet to be bettered. In the preceding year of 1986 the flood was severe in many parts of Bihar but as the rainy season drew to close, the last October rains failed and a vast area of the State came under the grip of drought. Surprisingly, the districts cited for perennial floods like Saharsa, Purnea and Khagaria in the State were also hit by the drought. The year 1987, however, was worst for floods in Bihar (in addition to UP and W Bengal) while the rest of the country was facing one of the most severe droughts in the century. Many parts of the country were facing famine like situation while all the rain bearing clouds had moved toward Bihar. Traditionally, two days of continuous rains or a clear sky of the same duration during the rainy season signals floods or drought in the State and makes farmers apprehensive of the days to come. Continue reading “Bihar Floods of 1987-I”→
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”→
This years’ flood 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.”
Prabhunath Singhsuggested 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. 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.
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.
Dip Narayan Singhlamented 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.”
Prabhunath Singhintervened 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.”