De-silt rivers to check flood, erosion

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar have earned the gratitude of villagers, afflicted by recurring erosion, by announcing de-silting of the mighty Sone river in Rohtas district. The river that makes eights districts the rice granary of Bihar has been sharply eating into its northern bank ever since building of a barrage at Indrapuri, near Dehri. Almost all villages from Bandu in Nauhatta block to Kashigawan to Dehri are in constant threat of obliteration. Hundred acres of fertile land and dwelling houses have already gone into the river. The situation has reached such a pass that if the erosion is not checked urgently the Sone may touch the foot of Kaimur hills and entire industrial hub will be lost. (Nitish Kumar, during his recent seva yatra to Rohtas, has promised to revive the dead industries).

The erosion problem is a gift of engineering blues. The gates of Indrapuri barrage remain closed during the flood days and thereafter, thus preventing down flow of sands coming from Chhattisgarh, UP and Jharkhand rivers. All these rivers originate from mountains and carry heavy silt. The sediment deposits have raised the river-bed level, thus reducing the water storage capacity. During floods water spills over and enter low-lying areas. Sharp currents erode banks. Since the Sone’s right bank (falling in Jharkhand) is on a higher plane, the pressure is mainly on the left bank in Rohtas district. Situation becomes more alarming when the Sone tributaries, fed by heavy downpours, are in abnormally high floods. The gates of some half a dozen dams and barrages are opened to save structures. And the Indrapuri barrage and littoral villages on the left bank have to bear the brunt.

Nature has been quite bountiful to the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Scores of perennial and semi-perennial rivers criss-cross them. But short sighted or lopsided planning has turned the Nature’s benevolence into a festering curse. Since Jharkhand has mainly hilly tracks, Bihar has to cope with the high floods and resultant destructions. In addition to rivers flowing down from steep Himalayan ranges, heavy siltation of all rivers has aggravated flood vagaries. Now all rivers have been caged within high embankments. Since the Himalayan rivers, especially Kosi, carry heavy silts, the river-bed levels go up in every flood, necessitating corresponding raise in embankments. The situation has assumed alarming proportions so much so that rivers now flow on higher plane than villages. And any embankment burst wrings in death and destruction. The situation in the pre-embankment era was not so agonising for the villagers and livestock. People had learnt to live with swamps. Flood water would deposit silt in the crop fields and flow out with the fall in water level. Chaurs and ponds would store sufficient water for lean days. And silted fields would grow golden crops with a little or no inputs. North Bihar was known for mangoes and quality fishes. Now fishes come from far away Andhra Pradesh in the south and are sold even in remote villages of Darbhanga and other north Bihar districts. The king of fruits comes from UP and other states as the home brand mango orchards have become a thing of the past. Crop production has gone down and farming inputs have become too costly for all farmers to use for better yield.

A permanent solution to recurring floods erosions and drought lies in the de-silting of all rivers in Bihar. Silts have distorted all big and small rivers and changing contours of towns and villages alike. The deep and mighty Ganga has moved away from Patna only because a huge amount of silt has got deposited in the river. The advent of Farakka barrage has blocked silt inflow in the ocean. And now de-silting of the Ganga is not possible for the same reason. All other rivers in north and south Bihar face the same problem as they disgorge their water in the Ganga. The problem is growing complex every day. Therefore, irrigation scientists and experts should find some way out to urgently de-silt all Bihar rivers. It is a tragedy that no one talks of siltation problems. Even flood control commission experts and members do not pay attention to this nagging problem. They suggest linking of rivers in Bihar to check flood ravages and ensure irrigation to parched crop fields on the both sides of Ganga.

Theoretically linking may provide temporary solutions. But linking attempts cannot succeed on land mainly because of topographical and other problems. Even the building of reservoirs and dams in Nepal territories won’t cut much ice. Moreover threat of dam busts and resultant deluge will also loom large. Permanent solution lies in de-silting and taming wayward rivers. The task is not easy. Irrigation experts and scientists should thrash out solution to clean and minimise sedimentation of the rivers. Meanwhile, it is expected that urgent steps would be taken to de-silt the Sone river and prevent erosions and collapse of only dependable canal irrigation system in the state. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar should see to it that his promise to the Rohtas people to clean the Sone river is urgently implemented, and not lost in the bureaucratic jungle as more often than not happens.