Even before we could forget the havoc that a turbulent Kosi unleashed in Bihar last year, we have yet another flood in the northern part of the state this year. This time round, it’s the Bagmati, which crosses three districts of Bihar — Sitamarhi, Sheohar and Muzzafarpur — before it joins the Kosi river. News reports say that the river flooded 11 panchayats (200 villages, as of now) in Runisaidpur block, Sitamarhi district, after it made a 60-metre wide breach in the main embankment at Tilak Tajpur. More than one lakh people have been affected and officials say more villages could be flooded in the coming days.
Though the state government has been quick to react this year by sending flood relief measures unlike in 2008, some questions remain: how could such a disaster take place this year too when the monsoons have been below average and late? The embankment that the Bagmati breached was a new one and the government had spent Rs 8 crore to build it. So, was the design or material used faulty? If that is so, then who’ll be held accountable for the terrible loss of life and property? In the recent Metro rail mishap in Delhi, contactors were blacklisted for shoddy work. Similar punishment must be visited on those responsible in Bihar. Erring officials should be held accountable, notwithstanding the collusion that exists between politicians, bureaucrats and contractors. Just a ‘high-level’ probe will not do any good.
However, the bigger question that needs to be debated is the one on embankments, which don’t seem to be a solution against the angry tides. But unfortunately no one wants to take a call on this. Instead of shying away from examining their merits and demerits, the government should open a public debate and look for other feasible solutions. Even though it is evident that embankments are not working, the Indian government recently gave Rs 82 million to Nepal for constructing embankments along the Lalbakeya and Bagmati rivers in southern Nepal. Lastly, stop blaming Nepal and Maoists for breaches in downstream Bihar. No country, and Nepal is no different, will hold back water and allow its dams to burst to save another riparian neighbour. We need to let rivers flow free; restricting them to certain man-made routes will not work, as is evident from the yearly floods.