Chaos had already been inflicted in Shripur and Western Kushaha when an Indian team led by District Magistrate of Supaul, Bihar Sarif Aalam, arrived at Judhgunj in Sunsari with 10 trucks loaded with wire-nets. Villagers were chasing cattle towards the east while the settlements started getting vacant. People desperately gathered to cross the Koshi on trucks, tractors and whatever they could find and with whatever they could carry with them.
The army did not stop people from entering the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, which otherwise is prohibited for civilians. On August 18 at around 12.50 noon the Koshi embankments were worn away within six hours of the panic period. While the rate of people, who did not sleep the previous night fearing the floods, fleeing their villages increased, the Indian team that had come to repair the embankment also went back to India along with its equipment.
54 out of 56 sluicegates at the Koshi Barrage were fully opened shortly after the embankments started to wear away. Still, the water flow rate showed no signs of decreasing that day. India’s Ganges Flood Control Commission (GFCC) had already asked Chief Engineer Satyanarayan, in-charge of the Barrage, to return exactly a day before the disaster occurred.
The GFCC had called him back for his blunder of not opening the sluice gates in the Barrage allowing the flood to start submerging the neighbouring area..
According to technicians, the flow of water towards the east increased as the sluice gates were not opened. The embankment could not be repaired on time and the embankment located 12 kilometres upwards the Barrage began to erode. The question is why weren’t the sluice gates opened in time? The Indian party which has full control over the Barrage is silent on this. ? The present state is how to lessen the damage,? said Executive Engineer of GFCC Jain Singh, sent to Nepal by the central government of India.? Rather than pointing out whose fault led to the accident, it?s time to think what we have to do now.?
The Governments are trying to cover up their weakness. A day before the disaster, it tried to submit a letter to the Sunsari District Administration Office (DAO) mentioning that repair work could not be continued because lack of security. The Indian project has accused the Sunsari DAO of not accepting its letter.
After that the project went to another government office in the district and the letter written in Hindi was translated into Nepali. The letter addressed to the Executive Engineer of the Project?s top working committee Awadhesh Kumar on August 17 stressed mainly on three topics:
- Obstacles of labourers in embankment repair must be removed,
- Army mobilised in the Wildlife Reserve must assist in repair work,
- The Wildlife Reserve must help stop the breach by cutting down plants at the areas where embankment breach is taking place.
In the letter, Government accused the Nepali labourers of obstructing the embankment repair work, it also mentioned that the Nepal Army (NA) was being uncooperative. However, the NA has claimed that this is completely untrue. The Indian party accused the NA of not letting the party carry out the repair work because the army men used the area for training and exercise. On the other hand, the NA denied the claim. Meanwhile, incidents like obstruction of work by labourers and stealing of wire-nets are not new in the Koshi area.
Stealing of wire-nets in the embankment along the river is not a new story. A recent example of this is the theft on August 17 in which 2,000 sacks of sand and 60 wire-nets were stolen from near the Koshi Barrage. Over a dozen complaints about the stealing of sacks and installed wire-nets are registered at the Samparka and Bhu-arjan Office, Sunsari.
Signs of trouble
No trouble comes at one?s feet with warning bells. Still, the flowing pattern of the Koshi?s course was not new. There was some reason behind calling the Koshi ?Sorrow of Bihar?, and that is the Koshi can cause damage. Not just that, a team of Indian experts had submitted a report that mentioned that the Koshi was changing its course from the west towards the east for three months.
The report had also asked to pay special attention to the security of the embankment since it could be swept away any time. The team had given the signal based on satellite photographs. However, the government of Bihar remained mute on the warning and did not begin the work on time. No appeals were made to alert India from the Nepali side as well. As a result, it was already very late when repair work started.
The Indian team of experts had pointed out the risk of an arm of the river flowing away from the main stream shortly after the embankment breach. It said that because of sand deposited land inward the embankment was higher than the outward land.
The Indians were very late; this is clear from the Koshi Project requesting Nepal only on August 15 to provide the required help after the Spur 1210 and 1219 RD at the eastern embankment fell into the breach. Mohammed Haaroon, 35, of Judgunj, Sripur-8, says, ?Lalu Prasad Yadav had himself come to inspect the area when there were rumours about the wearing away of the embankment eight years ago.?
Not only did Nepal get into trouble of being inundated after the Koshi?s main course started flowing towards the east, the Koshi Project located at Birpur of India which monitors the Koshi Barrage itself was submerged. Nadir Mohammed of Western Kushaha says, ?We felt that the water may come towards the east due to an increase in its volume, but not that it would eat up the embankment also.?
Earlier, the embankment along the River had been breached at India?s Chandrayan, which lies 40 kilometres down the Barrage, in 1987. However, it was not devastating as this time.
On the viewpoint of the investment, the experts estimated that the embankment repair could be carried out with Rs 2.5 to 3 million if it were carried out on time. However, this time a colossal loss that can never be recovered even by billions of rupees has been inflicted. More than 35,000 people in Sunsari district have been displaced due to inundation.
In the case of Nepal, embankment repair allocation stood at 14,000 and 13,000 cubic metres of stone for the fiscal year 2061/62 and 062/63 respectively. However, in 063/64 allocation stood at only 5,000 cubic metres of stone and in the last fiscal year at only 6,000. The rate of decrease in the use of stone also applies to the use of wire-nets to stop the breach. This is just a minor model of India?s apathy in embankment repair. Idrish Miya of Shripur, Judgunj says, ?There used to be bulks of stone near the Barrage and the embankment earlier. For a year or two nothing is there.? According to the Koshi Treaty, Nepal does not levy taxes on stone used in the embankment while the stone and soil is provided by Nepal itself.
Executive Engineer of the eastern Koshi embankment Birpur, Sukhdev Ram, claims that the work could not be carried out on time due to incidents like protests carried out by the labourers and the army?s exercises. He says, ?Nepal?s customs do not release the materials that are used in embankment repair on time.? He claims that he has already given information to the Sunsari DAO in writing about the problems. However, both the locals and the administration disagree with what the Indians say. Tek Narayan Yadav of Western Kushaha says, ?They (Indian side) bring two nets when 50 are required; when we protest, they claim we didn?t let them work.?
The Nepal-India High Level Committee for Koshi control has declared the time from June 15 to October 15 ?flood period?. The provision mentions that the other time period must be used for monitoring and repair work. The Committee assesses the year?s flood effects, what effect the flood may have the following year, etc. at the time other than the ?flood period?. Based on the Committee?s recommendation, the Delhi government allocates the budget to keep the Koshi flood under control.
According the Koshi Treaty, although the Koshi Barrage is under full control of India, the Nepali side has been participating in the issues of its effect and control. The Nepali side should have said more about a possible breach on that basis; however, that did not happen. Moreover, Nepal should have been more vigilant towards the present disaster that the Koshi floods caused. Besides, the monitoring of the Koshi?s present and possible effects is carried out in the winter, at a time when both the water level and flow rate recedes. According to the locals, whatever groups that come from Patna, India to monitor the Koshi so far, have come in the dry season.
Thus, the water did not recede in the Koshi although most of the sluice gates of the Koshi Barrage were opened. While sand seems to have increased in the western part and the water level is still two meters below the sluice gates (at the time of writing). Electricity generation has been halted at the Kattaiya Power House, which runs by the water brought from the Barrage. Not because of the flood, but the turbine has not be able to rotate as there is no water. The change in the Koshi?s course has inundated India?s Arariya, Madhepura, Supoul and Saharsa districts affecting 2 million Indians. It is clear that India has faced more damages comparatively than Nepal due to the blunder of its own technical experts over the Koshi. The reason being: the river joins the Ganges only after crossing 125 kilometres from the Koshi Barrage. As the river changed its course, the size of the area affected may have matched the length of the river.
Saptakoshi into two courses
In 1953, the Indian government had decided to construct the Koshi Barrage and a year later the Nepal government gave the permission for the construction.
King Mahendra inaugurated the Barrage on April 30, 1959.
The process of diverting the course of the Koshi River into the Barrage started only four years after the inauguration, from March 31, 1963.
Now the river has started flowing towards the east washing away nearly two kilometres of embankment. On the first day of the havoc, the Koshi swept away 270 metres of embankment 12 kilometres up the Barrage. Shortly after 15 hours, the River swept away another 300 metres of embankment again. The swollen river breached another 300 metres within a week. The wiping out of the embankment is still going on.
Technicians say that the river used to flow in the same course it is flowing now about 200 years back. As two kilometres of the embankment has been swept away, it has led to the formation of two courses. One of the courses is on its original route, while the other is again divided into three parts. The largest course is nearby the entrance gate of the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve.
This course has swept away almost 500 metres of the highway and has started flowing over it. About 500 metres east of that course, another arm has been formed that has swept away 50 metres of the highway.
If the Koshi has really changed its course, the tributaries will merge at a distance of 500 metres as both of them continue sweeping away the highway. Besides, the road has been cut in Laukahi to let water flow as the water-level increased in Western Kushaha. Laukahi lies about 15 kilometres away from the Koshi Barrage.
The flow of the water in the Barrage is about 300,000-400,000 cusec during the monsoon. It dropped to 168,000 cusec after breaching the eastern embankment. As large amounts of water in the Koshi started flowing eastward, it has been speculated that the river has changed its course. The highest velocity of water in the Koshi is recorded to be 993,000 cusec, which occurred on August 5, 1968.
As the effect of the flood is devastating, the Delhi government has sent a different team to Sunsari besides the Koshi Project. This is the most difficult and challenging problem the team led by Chief Engineer L Sanyal has come across. The team also includes Chief Engineer Ram Prasad Ram, Superintendent Engineer SB Ram and Executive Engineer JN Singh. Though the team includes technicians who have worked for different embankments in India, they find this situation new as it damaged the embankment heavily.
The team has been given a primary order to resume transportation immediately along the East-West highway in Sunsari and to decrease the flood effects. The team will carry out aerial and field surveys in the affected areas. It will start working ?upstream? and ?downstream? based on the surveys to stop further embankment breaching. The Indian technicians concluded that work could not be carried out effectively unless the rain abates. ?After all sorts of study, we will come up with short term and long term programmes,? said team member J.N. Singh, ?As the Delhi government is worried, we are using all our resources.? However, because of the inundation, it is quite difficult to even figure out the border area of the two countries.
As per the Koshi Treaty, the Indian government provides compensation for the loss caused by the Koshi inundation. Earlier, when the Koshi inundated Hanumannagar VDC in 1991, India had given compensation after an appraisal as per the agreement in the Treaty. Nevertheless, this time nobody knows the exact loss. All the statistical data obtained so far is based on assumptions only.
Even after a week of the breach, rescue teams have not been able to reach the breached areas (at the time of writing). A rescue team of police personnel had gone missing and were later found in India on the fourth day of the first breaching. Moreover, the flood itself has hindered the estimation of the loss that has occurred.
To redirect Saptakoshi?s courses towards the Barrage, 45 spurs have been constructed along the eastern embankment from Bhantabari to Chakraghatti at a distance of 32 kilometres. Similarly, 15 spurs have been constructed along the western embankment from Bhardaha to Pathari at 12 kilometres. But nobody has paid attention to the condition of the spurs. The problem cannot be solved if the apathy towards embankment repair continues and the condition of all the spurs is not assessed.
(Note- Please read Fortnightly Magazine The public agenda, 17th issue to understand how Nepal's Government violate the Koshi agreement-1954 and they were reluctant as same as Indian Government)