Flooded with wrong ideas

Dams in Nepal have been proposed as a solution to north Bihar’s flood problems. But are they really the way out?Dinesh Mishra PatnaThe secretary of the Water Resource Department (WRD) in Bihar has blamed the recent Bagmati floods on the Railways, which is building a bridge near Runni Saidpur. This is similar to circumstances back in 1965, when then Bihar minister of irrigation Mahesh Prasad Singh charged the Railways of  causing floods in the Kamla Basin. At that time, the railway minister at the Centre was Ram Subhag Singh, who hailed from Bihar. History is repeating itself after more than 40 years and now it is time for the present railway minister to step in. Events will be more entertaining now because different coalitions are ruling at Patna and Delhi. In 1965, it was the Congress at both ends. As of necessity, the proposed dams in Nepal are in the news again, as possible solutions to the flood problems, but are they?On 2002, July 22, Jagadanand, then water resource minister of Bihar, asserted in the Bihar assembly, “…The last point, no discharge control — no flood control. Unless discharge is controlled, scientists all over the world are convinced that floods cannot be controlled…Embankments do not control discharge, they can, at best, prevent water from spreading. Weak embankments cannot hold uncontrolled discharge and flood will continue to bother us as a natural calamity. If we want to control floods in this state, we will have to control discharge in the upper riparian states and the neighbouring countries. We have had negotiations with them and have unanimously agreed to proceed jointly.”In reply to a call to attention motion by Ram Vilas Paswan regarding floods in Bihar, Arjun Charan Sethi, Minister of Water Resources at the Centre, told the Lok Sabha on August 22, 2003, “…So far as Bihar is concerned, we are having constant interaction with the government of Nepal because we all know these rivers originate from Nepal. Unless we have any kind of agreement with Nepal, this problem cannot be solved. The proposal for setting up a joint project office in Nepal for taking up field investigations and preparation of a detailed project report has since been approved. 100 officials from Nepal, and 42 officials from India are to carry out field investigations and studies. The project will inter alia have 269m high dam with an installed capacity of 3,300 MW and irrigation benefits accruing both to India and Nepal. In addition to the Kosi Multipurpose Project, it will include Sun Kosi Diversion scheme as well.” A similar statement was made by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, central minister of water resources, in Kishanganj in 2004. Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav, state minister of water resources at the centre on June 24, 2004, said while talking to the press in New Delhi that a sum of Rs 29 crores has been sanctioned for the construction of the Kosi High Dam (He must have meant that it was for the preparation of the detailed project report). As far as Barahkshetra Dam is concerned, politicians in India are sticking to the same statement that dialogue with Nepal is on since 1947. Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav reiterated his statement again in 2005. The joint team is working in Nepal for the preparation of the detailed project report but its personnel are tight-lipped over what they are going to propose and when. The ghost of the Barahkshetra Dam has been haunting planners, engineers and politicians ever since the embanking plans of the Kosi was rejected in favour of a large dam by the central government in 1946 and statements like the one given by Jagadanand, Arjun Charan Sethi, Das Munshi or Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav are routine matter in the flood season.The annual report of the WRD Bihar (2006-07) has already completed the formality of suggesting that the solution to floods in Bihar lies in building dams in Nepal and wants the centre to expedite negotiations. These negotiations are, however, going on for the past 60 years.The fact about these dams is that they are in no way linked to flood control and flood victims in north Bihar have been systematically fooled over the years. They will suffer indefinitely at the hands of politicians, engineers and vested interests who are dangling carrots of dams for decades. There are three dams that are often proposed as solutions to north Bihar's flood problems. These are Chisapani on the Kamla, Nunthore on the Bagmati and Barahkshetra on the Kosi. The 'Report of the Second Irrigation Commission of Bihar' (1994) claims that there is no flood cushion provided in the proposed Chisapani reservoir on the Kamla. (Vol. V, Part 1, p511). A 'Report of the Expert Committee' to study impact of interlinking of rivers on Bihar (April 2005, Chapter III, p16) says, “…But the proposed Sapta Kosi Dam too has not been provided with any flood cushion which should be provided for flood moderation…” Regarding the proposed Nunthore Dam on the Bagmati, the Second Bihar Irrigation Commission Report says, “…it appears clearly that even after the construction of a dam at Nunthore, there would be no appreciable flood moderation in the middle and lower reaches of the Bagmati and obviously further supplementary flood management measures would be needed” (Vol. V Part 1, p414). A recent report of the Bihar WRD (May 2006) observes “…but none of these schemes could come up as yet, and in near future also there is little hope of execution of these schemes (Chapter V, p1).” Thus, there is neither any flood cushion provided in the design of the proposed dams nor is there any likelihood of the dams being built in near future. Inaugurating a seminar organised by the WRD Centre of Patna University on  March 2, 2002, the water resource secretary of the government of Bihar said, given the resources available with the government, there was no possibility of a dam being built on the Kosi at Barahkshetra in the coming 50-60 years. This seminar discussed the flood problems in the state and was attended by the who's who of the technical fraternity in Bihar that included many chief engineers of the WRD Bihar. In that case, the question is whether there is any interim plan to face floods if the construction of the proposed dams in Nepal is not likely to be started in coming 50-60 years and even if it does, it will take another 15-20 years to complete. The answer is no.