ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Dinesh Kumar MishraSubscribe to Dinesh Kumar Mishra

Ways Out of the Quagmire

Water Resources of India by A Vaidyanathan (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2013; pp 233, Rs 250 (paperback).

Resuscitating a Failed Idea: Notes from Bihar

The idea of a national interlinking of rivers needs to base itself on the past six decades' experience of river and fl ood control measures. A contribution from Bihar shows that not only is the state's "surplus water" tag a bit incorrect, the very structures - dams, canals and embankments - which are proposed to implement the river interlinking project have been a big failure. Then what explains the enthusiasm for this failed idea?

The Kosi and the Embankment Story

The Kosi afflux bundh breached in Kusaha in Nepal on 18 August 2008. This was the eighth incident of its kind and the first time did a breach occur upstream of the Kosi Barrage. The ones in 1968 and 1984 were no less disastrous but this year's breach has generated the most concern and its international dimension has added an edge. In an effective life of 45 years, the embankments have remained intact for 37 years. What happens to the people who have suffered the wrath of the river nearly five times more than those in the areas protected by the embankments?

Bihar Floods: The Inevitable Has Happened

The overflowing Kosi had, as of end-August, wreaked destruction on more than three million people living in north and east Bihar. A field visit reports on the misery of the affected, haphazard rescue efforts and criminal exploitation of the uprooted. The immediate task is to improve relief operations and then provide support to the displaced who will not be able to find work until the 2009 kharif season. A blame game is now in operation, but since the early 1960s whichever the party in power, the people of Bihar have been affected by official apathy towards the embankments on the Kosi. This time it is a clear case of dereliction of duty by the state government in repairing upstream barrages before the monsoon of 2008 that has resulted in devastation.

Living with Floods

Modern flood control technologies have neither been very successful nor are they people-friendly. This is because their focus is on trying to control the waters of rivers in spate and not of making use of the flood waters in the best possible way, while ensuring the least damage. This forms the basis of flood 'management' traditionally in many villages in Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The Bihar Flood Story

In spite of the rise of investment in the flood control sector, the flood-prone areas and the flood damage in Bihar are on the increase. The reason for this paradox lies in the short-sightedness exhibited by the expert technical opinion which has taken diametrically opposite stances in preand post-independence period. It opposed construction of embankments during the British rule, as the colonial rulers desisted spending on rehabilitation operations. While in independent lndia, the technical opinion, under the political compulsion to do welfare of the people, has wholeheartedly supported construction of embankments and big dams. As a consequence, not only have flood control projects not performed according to the initial expectations but have in fact created a worse scenario.
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