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Bihar: Families Affected by Kosi River Floods March 12 Days to Patna to Lodge Protest

About 8 lakh people living between embankments across the river, which is spread over Supaul, Saharsa, Madhubani and Darbhanga districts, suffer losses every year due to floods. They have been demanding rehabilitation for decades.
Kosi flood victims walking on Patna Road. Photo: Umesh Kumar Ray

Patna: At least 100 people, including women, living in miserable conditions within Kosi river embankments in Supaul of Bihar, walked 250 kilometres in 12 days to reach Patna to press for their long-stand demand for rehabilitation.

The padyatra (walkathon) began in Supaul town’s Bairiya Manch and crossed six districts. Most of the people who took part in the padyatra were above the age of 40 and some among them were even above 60, but there were no signs of fatigue on their faces. Instead, anger was writ large on their faces over the government’s apathy to their concerns.

They distributed four-page handbills en route to the people who they encountered during the padyatra. “We have distributed 40,000 handbills to the people to make them aware of Kosi people’s plight,” Pratap Kumar, in his 20s, says. His land falls within embankments and he faces the loss of his crop almost every year.

The padyatra started on January 30 and reached Gardanibagh, in Patna on February 12 noon, where Medha Patkar, Prafulla Samantra, Sunilam, and other renowned activists addressed the padyatra and expressed solidarity with them.

Medha Patkar, Dr. Sunilam, Mahendra Yadav and other activists holding the people’s Committee report. Photo: Umesh Kumar Ray.

“At least a dozen committees were formed since the embankments came into being on the Kosi river, but their recommendations were never implemented. We have also formed a public commission and submitted the report to the government, but the government is not paying any attention to the victims,” Medha Patkar said.

“Basic facilities like health, road, water, education are constitutional rights of people but the government has snatched these rights from Kosi people,” she said.

Chandra Mohan Yadav, a resident of Supaul district and participant in the padyatra, said, “Humara ghar tatbandh ke beech hai…barish ke samay hum log sadme mein rahte hain ki kab badh aayega aur humko ujad dega (our house is within Kosi embankments….we live in fear during the rainy season because floods can damage our house anytime).”

“When first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and first president Rajendra Prasad had proposed embankments on both sides of Kosi river, they had promised that they would be taken care of. But the government left us in a lurch. No government facilities reach us. We have no school, no hospital, no road and drinking water within embankments,” said Chandra Mohan.

Also read: Not Everyone Is Happy With New Embankments on the Kosi in Bihar

Decades of sufferings

Kosi river, which originates in the Himalayas, flows 260 kilometres in Bihar. It joins the Ganga river near Kursela in the Katihar district. The river causes floods almost every year.

In the sixties, to limit the spread of this river, it was decided to build embankments on both sides of the river, when the Kosi Plan 1953 came into being. In 1955, a foundation stone was laid to construct embankments and in a few years, construction was completed. About 8 lakh people from 380 villages of four districts – Supaul, Saharsa, Madhubani and Darbhanga were trapped within two embankments and they were demanding their relocation as they were going to face the wrath of Kosi as the river’s water spread area was compressed in few kilometers by constructing embankments.

As the anger grew, the government decided to relocate the families trapped within embankments. People were promised that they would be given land outside the embankment to make houses, but many families did not get the land. And, those who got land for houses outside the embankments returned to be within embankments as their agricultural lands were within embankments and their relocated lands were occupied by mafias.

Experts say that earlier when there were no embankments on the Kosi river, huge waters coming in the river would spread in large areas so flood impact was less and water would recede in just a few days. But after embankments, the river water remains confined to a few kilometres, so its impact has increased manifold. Now people face flood and erosion on a regular basis.

Jai Kumar Yadav, another farmer who is part of padyatra, said, “We can’t make pucca houses as they can washed away anytime into the river. So we make temporary houses. A house does not last even for five years and it gets destroyed in the Kosi floods. We are living in trouble inside Kosi, but the government is not concerned about us.”

Gayatri Devi, 60, says, “Every year our house gets destroyed in floods. The grains kept at home get wasted, but we do not even get any compensation. We have to live a life of refugees on our own land.”

“All we want from the government is to give us land outside the Kosi embankment so that we can be safe,” she told The Wire.

Also read: A Story in Images: Why Does Bihar’s Koshi River Change Course So Often?

Mahendra Yadav, the founder of the Kosi Navnirman Manch (KNM), who organised the padyatra, told The Wire, “People living within the embankments are living miserable lives for decades but they are being neglected by the government.”

“We have four demands from the government. First of all, the government must conduct a new survey to find out the families who were not rehabilitated during the construction of embankments and they should be rehabilitated properly outside the embankments. Those who were displaced due to Kosi erosion and now living on the embankments should also be rehabilitated,” he says.

Kosi people living within embankments demanded rehabilitation as they face floods and erosion from Kosi river. Photo: Umesh Kumar

‘Implement the recommendations of KPVP’

In 1987, the Chandra Kishor Pathak Committee was formed to chalk out a rehabilitation plan for Kosi victims. The committee has formed Kosi Pidit Vikas Pradhikar (Kosi Victim Development Authority) and proposed 17 points of recommendations including reservation for Kosi victims in government jobs.

In 2022, Mahendra Yadav filed a Public interest litigation in the Patna high court in this regard. Patna high court in its order had asked about the status of the report of the Pathak Committee and whether the recommendations of that report had been implemented or not. The Bihar government had asked for eight weeks’ time to submit the report in this regard.

After eight weeks, the Bihar government told the Patna high court that the report of the Pathak Committee was not with the Water Resources Department. The Bihar government had said that the Water Resources Department is trying to obtain the Pathak Committee report and find out what actions were taken on that report. The state government had told the court that a letter had been written to the District Magistrate of the district concerned for the report, but it could not be found.

This reporter has accessed the Pathak committee report. Chandra Kishore Pathak in his report wrote in detail about the plight of people living within Kosi embankments. The report says, “The assurances given to these people living between the embankments of Kosi have not been fulfilled till date. Their suffering could not be alleviated, making their condition extremely miserable.”

“Some incomplete and impractical rehabilitation plans were made in the past, but they failed. The Committee feels that it is the sacred duty and great responsibility of the Government to take vigorous steps for the economic development and livelihood of these people,” the report says.

Mahendra Yadav demanded that KPVP should be activated again. “The KPVP is widely available. The government must activate it and implement its recommendations,” Yadav said.

Three years ago, the Bihar government started conducting land survey. According to the new survey rule, if the river is flowing through farmland, the land in question goes to the state government. And those parts which were submerged by the river in the cadastral survey but later reappeared due to changes in the course of the river then that land would also become the government’s property.

Roughly 3.5 lakh acres of land falls between the two embankments of Kosi. If the government goes by its rule, then all the lands should become the Bihar government’s property.

Farmers are opposing this decision. They say that Kosi changes its course very fast, in such a situation all the land of the farmers will be transferred to the name of the Bihar government.

“If the government wants to do land survey according to its own rule, then it should give the same amount of land outside the embankments to all the landowners whose land is inside the embankment instead of farms or give compensation equal to the fertile land outside the embankment at today’s rate. If the government does not do this immediately, the ownership of the land on which the river is flowing should be with actual landowners,” Mahendra Yadav said.

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