BY THIRA L BHUSAL
KATHMANDU, Aug 23 - A high-level government team that inspected areas devastated by the flooded Koshi River has held India responsible for the havoc. The devastation took place as the Indian side did not carry out repair and maintenance work on the Koshi barrage and the embankment along the river, thereby violating the Nepal-India Koshi agreement, said top officials. India is entirely responsible for repair and maintenance work and operation of the barrage, as per the bilateral agreement signed in 1954. "Every year in the past the Indian side used to do at least some maintenance work. But this year they did not carry out the repairs," Khom Raj Dahal, Deputy Director General of the Department of Water Induced Disaster Prevention (DWIDP), told the Post. "This was the main reason why the Koshi breached the embankment and submerged about 10,000 hectares of cultivated land and villages." The Indian side used to contact the Regional Directorate of the Department of Irrigation (DoI) in Biratnagar. The DoI plays a facilitating role as and when requested by the Indian teams. "But, this year they did not contact the DoI regional office" Dahal said.
However, issuing a strongly worded press statement on the matter Tuesday, the Indian embassy in Kathmandu blamed Nepali authorities for the disaster. "The Indian technical team mobilized required resources and has remained in readiness to carry out the required work to strengthen the embankment but it was prevented from reaching the site. As a consequence, thousands of people in Nepal and India have been forced to suffer a calamity that could have been avoided," the embassy said.
When the Indian technical team arrived at the Koshi River as in past years, it was too late to control the situation, according to Dahal. "They arrived there when the river had already started damaging the spurs whereas the maintenance work should have been done before the monsoon to prevent such a tragedy," he added. Another major reason for the river's diversion is the increasing level of the riverbed. "The riverbed is two to three meters higher than the countryside (areas outside of embankment)," Dahal said. About 32 kilometer stretch of the embankment from the Koshi barrage to Chakraghatti is in a vulnerable condition. "Thorough reconstruction of that total area is the permanent solution," he added. After bilateral talks an Indian team has agreed to immediately start work at the site. The two sides have reached a seven-point agreement. Deputy Director General of DoI Anil Kumar Pokharel led the Nepali delegation. Dahal of DWIDP, Regional Director of DoI Kamal Prasad Regmi and Senior Divisional Engineers Hemant Kumar Jha and Basistha Raj Adhikari were members of the Nepali team. Likewise, the Deputy Secretary of Water Resource Department of the Government of Bihar led the six-member team of India.
The Nepali side has agreed to back the Indian team in establishing link and access roads to the damaged areas. For that, the displaced people who have been staying along the safe embankment areas need to be relocated to safer places. The embankment areas are also being used as roads. Nepali authorities will help establish roads through the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Dahal informed. Then only will the Indian side start reinstatement of the damaged areas. "The reconstruction work needs to be completed prior to the monsoon in 2009 so as to avoid any disaster next year," Dahal said.
Embankment not permanent solution: Expert
Ajay Dixit, Director of the Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, has said that there is a need for rethinking the very concept of building embankments for flood control. "Embankment is an easy way to address flooding but not a sustainable solution. The notion that technology can solve all types of problems is wrong," Dixit told the Post, adding, "Preventing water from its natural flow is not a permanent solution but to give it an outlet is the right way. Drainage or other types of outlets can be better options." Hydro expert Dixit, suggested that the concept of an open basin allowing a river's main course to expand to its flood plain may be a better option.
(यह स्टोरी कांतिपुर डॉट कॉम से साभार है और इसे प्रकाशित करने का उद्देश्य यह है की लोग नेपाल सरकार का पक्ष भी जान सके )