Bihar’s sorrow Kosi could strike again

May 2nd, 2009 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, May 2 (IANS) As India remains locked in general elections and the Maoist government in neighbouring Nepal is intent on dismissing the Nepal Army chief, the mighty Kosi river that flows through both countries could be getting ready for a fresh strike with its breached embankment yet to be repaired.
In August 2008, the mighty river had breached its embankment after heavy rains causing devastating floods in southern Nepal and India’s Bihar state across the border.

Now the Bihar construction company that won the tender to rebuild the embankment and its damaged accessories has failed to complete the work within the extended deadline of Thursday.

A joint Indo-Nepal Committee on Water Resources met in Kathmandu last year and agreed on a time frame to complete the repair and prevent a fresh tragedy in 2009.

However, though the committee decided to work on a war-footing and rebuild the embankment by March 2009, the project could not be completed due to several protest movements in Nepal’s Terai plains that paralysed Sunsari district, where the embankment is located.

Besides underground armed groups and ethnic communities calling frequent closures, a local organisation of flood victims has also been blockading the highway, demanding rehabilitation.

Though Bihar’s Vashisht and Vashisht construction company was given an additional month to complete the repair, it failed to do so. The company is said to have written to Bihar’s water authorities this week, asking for yet another month’s extension.

To add to the delay, now the Indian company is said to be locked in a dispute with the Bihar government over non-payment and has reportedly threatened to stop work if its dues are not cleared within 48 hours.

As the work remains halted, the Kosi meanwhile is swelling again with the scorching summer heat melting the snow on the mountains and feeding the rivers. Though monsoon is two months away, the erratic weather this year is raising fears of untimely rains and a fresh disaster.

Indian officials said they had made several representations to Nepal’s foreign and water resources ministries, asking for support so that construction could resume in the plains but to no avail.

Last year, the floods created bad blood between the two neighbouring countries with Nepal accusing the Bihar government, which is entrusted with the maintenance and repair of the embankment, of negligence and India saying its engineers were driven away by a Nepali ethnic community.

The Kosi is a major election issue in India.

Indian Railways Minister Lalu Prasad, who heads Bihar’s Rashtriya Janata Dal party, has been trying to whip up public sentiment against his opponent and current Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United by blaming him for the floods that left over three million homeless in Bihar.

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