A day after a flood alert was sounded in Bihar, memories of the devastating 'Kosi' flood of 2008 is haunting lakhs of people in the Kosi region of Bihar.
People of the region say they are having sleepless nights as the swollen Kosi River is posing a serious threat to its eastern embankment. They say the state government has failed to construct a much-needed pilot channel.
With incessant rains and heavy water discharge into the Kosi River from Nepal in the last few days, official of the state disaster management department in Bihar did not rule out a repeat of the devastating flood.
Reports say that the flood situation is grim in the northern districts of Bihar Muzaffarpur, West Champaran, Sitamarhi, Saharsa, Madhepura, Araria, bordering Nepal as major rivers are flowing above the danger mark and floodwaters have entered more than 100 villages and forced thousands of people to take shelter on high rise embankments and national highways.
Floods have affected nearly 4 lakh people in West Champaran alone, while thousands in Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur, Araria and Saharsa have also been affected.
District authorities have asked hundreds of people to shift to safer places following the rising water level of the Kosi and other rivers like Bagmati, Gandak. The state government has asked engineers and district officials to keep a 24-hour vigil.
"It is going to be a difficult time for people as the river Kosi is posing a threat to its eastern embankment that was breached in 2008. The Kosi this year has changed its course eastwards, putting more pressure on the eastern embankment and revived fear of devastating floods," an engineer of the state Water Resources Development Department, who is camping in Saharsa district, said.
What has worried people more than any thing is that the state government failed to dredge pilot channels between eastern and western embankments to rein in the wayward Kosi. "Now, Kosi is posing a fresh threat, the WRD engineers are yet to start dredging," an official of the state disaster management department told rediff.com on condition of anonymity.
He said that even after the 2008 Kosi tragedy, which was described as a national disaster by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, WRD officials did not learn a lesson. "Nothing can be done now .It is for people to pray for divine intervention," he said.
The state water resources department had designed a proposal for a 7-km-long pilot channel in the downstream of the Kosi barrage, keeping in view the change in the course of the river and the subsequent pressure on the eastern embankment because of the siltation on the western side of the river.
Work for digging a pilot channel was initiated by the department on April 10 this year at Saptari district in Nepal. The estimated cost of the project was Rs 11 crore. It was aimed to reduce the pressure of the water on the eastern embankment as well as to regulate the water flow equally on both sides.
The Nepal government, however, stopped the project in a few days, as they feared the flood prevention work would inundate Gobargarha and other villages in the district.
Incidentally, the breach in 2008 happened after locals in Nepal stopped engineers from Bihar from strengthening the embankment on the Nepal side.
A district official in Supaul said WRD engineers managed to save the embankment from the 5km point to the 25km point of the barrage last year. "But any breach in the embankment would prove devastating for Kosi region this time" he said.
However, Bihar Water Resources Development Minister Vijay
Kumar Choudhary said that the government has sounded a statewide alert after the flood threat aggravated following heavy rains in the state and in the catchment areas of Nepal in the last one week.
He said that a team of National Disaster Response Team is camping in Saharsa with four boats and ready to deal with any eventuality.
Choudhary said the eastern Kosi embankment, near the Indo-Nepal border (at Kusha in Nepal) was breached on August 18, 2008, which had unleashed a flood of massive proportions that rendered more than 30 lakh people homeless in five north-eastern districts of Bihar, was totally safe. "We are taking care of it. There is no need to panic," he said.
According to WRD officials, the Kosi River breached its bank upstream in Nepal and changed course in 2008. It was said to be the worst flood in the state in the last 50 years.
According to the water resources department, a lot of water has been discharged into the Kosi in the last one week after heavy rains in Nepal as well as in Bihar.