‘Embankments, dams to check Kosi shouldn’t be made blindly’

September 20th, 2008 - 4:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 20 (IANS) A fact-finding team that published a report on the Kosi deluge in Bihar has sought to circulate its findings among MPs and the water resources ministry so that policies are not “formulated blindly” without taking into account ground realities. They say re-establishing embankments or dams will only make rivers more volatile.The report titled “Kosi Deluge: The worst is still to come” has been prepared by a team comprising noted flood experts, river ecologists, landscape architects and representatives from Nepal. The Kosi river last month breached its embankment in upstream Nepal, swamping hundreds of villages and affecting over 3.24 million people in Bihar and leaving at least 60 dead.

“Copies of the report will be circulated to members of parliament and the ministry of water resources so that they can acquaint themselves with ground realities before they blindly go about formulating policies.” Dinesh Mishra, civil engineer and member of the mission, told IANS.

Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” concluded his trip to India recently and his visit may call for a fresh approach to the controversial Kosi treaty and also revive the age-old proposal to build the Kosi High Dam. But Mishra is opposed to the dam as he says it will only pose more problems.

Mishra, who also authored “Trapped Between The Devil and The Deep Waters” that compiles his research on Kosi, said: “The idea of a 269-metre Kosi dam was first mooted in 1937 during the British rule and has been projected to have a lifespan of no more than 37 years. And considering that about 90 million cubic metres of silt is being carried by the river each year, the dam is bound to choke.

“Neither will it produce the promised power nor provide intended irrigation benefits.”

Experts from the team and other disciplines that included researchers, representatives from environmental organisations and professors emphasised that attempts to re-establish failed projects like embankments and dams would make the rivers in north Bihar more volatile. They were present at a meeting to discuss the report and future challenges at the National Indian Foundation here Friday.

The high dam proposal, they felt, had conveniently ignored the issue of displacement and rehabilitation of over 75,000 Nepalis and Indians.

Said Sudhirender Sharma, member of the fact finding team: “The appeal discounts the fact that the proposed dam will actually not get built before the next 20 years, that too at a whopping cost of over Rs.500 billion. The flood plains of Kosi have more immediate problems at hand. They need to be addressed first.”

Sharma, who is also a noted development analyst, placed importance on the plight of villagers.

He said: “The embankments have created an artificial rift among people there who belong to the same society - those inside and outside the embankments.

“This year, those inside have been spared from floods; they don’t want the embankments to be plugged as the breach allowed Kosi to re-route away from their settlement. Those outside want the breach plugged, to ward off more floods. Can we label priority on either?”

At present around 1.5 million people are safe within embankments. Three million villagers outside had to bear the brunt of the breach and are still susceptible to more floods.

Said Ramaswamy Iyer, former secretary with the water resources ministry: “Having realised the errors of the past, there is no escape from reversing them over a period of time very carefully, minimising the pain of re-adjustment to the extent possible. That applies to global warming and climate change, and it applies equally to the fallacy of ‘flood control’.”

The experts also felt that instead of finding a political escape route like structural solutions, the landscape must be restored for natural flooding with people’s participation, engineers’ help and political foresight over a gradual period of time.

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