Year on, water has receded, not misery | india | Hindustan Times
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Year on, water has receded, not misery

Across the Kosi plains of Madhepura, Saharsa, Supaul, Araria and Purnia, the story is almost the same — broken railway lines, ruined bridges, caved in roads, destroyed buildings, heavily silted farmlands and a slow babudom. Arun Kumar & Ruchir Kumar report.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2009 01:47 IST
Arun Kumar & Ruchir Kumar

There is a bridge, 240-feet long, over the Sursar river, a tributary of the mighty Kosi. It is made of bamboo.

Exactly a year ago, when the Kosi breached the embankment at Kushaha in Nepal and flooded the vast plains across five districts of north Bihar, the earlier avatar of this bridge was also washed away.

But while the babus in Patna, the state capital, were pushing files for rebuilding the bridge, people of the Sukhasan village, about 40 km south of district headquarter Madhepura and 290 km northeast of Patna, decided to build a bamboo bridge — on their own.

Fondly called the Lakshman Jhula, the structure may wobble at every step, but it works — without the mukhiya (the village headman) or the legislator taking any part in it.

Septuagenarian Pitambar Jha, a retired headmaster and the only double MA in Sukhasan, said, “The bridge has been the lifeline for over 6,000 people of Sukhasan for decades. It collapses whenever the river is in spate.”

A non-government organisation (NGO), Goonj, provided the construction material bamboo, iron wire, ropes and nails — and the villagers offered labour, free of cost. For, the government relief, as always, proved to be inadequate.

Each family received Rs 4,340 in two installments and one quintal of foodgrains with some cash compensation for crop and house damage, removal of silt and loss of livestock.

But money alone is not the answer. Silting of vast tracts of land has made agriculture virtually impossible, forcing hundreds to migrate to Punjab, Haryana and other parts of the country.

In several tolas (neighbourhoods) in villages, only women are left behind. Thanks to some NGOs, these women are learning to sustain themselves. Some of them are now able to earn Rs 1,000 a month by making sujnis (mattress made out of discarded clothes).

In Kala Govindpur village, women have formed self-help groups (SHGs). One such SHG is Saraswati Swayam Sahayta Samuh, comprising 12 women, each contributing Rs 50 a month. This money is deposited in the bank and given out on loan at two per cent interest.

Its president, America Devi, said, “Some of us bought livestock out of the Rs 24,000 loan we took from the bank. We have already repaid Rs 20,000.”

America Devi runs a small grocery shop, while most other members — Buchni Devi, Kaushalya, Jamuni, Bulanti, Shakuntala, Rajni, Jayanti, Savitri, all in their mid 30s and 40s — have their husbands working in faraway places.

But as the people are struggling to rebuild their lives, complaints of corruption, denial, the role of middlemen and highhandedness of some mukhiyas and their minions are aplenty.

Last month in Madhepura’s worst affected Kumarkhand block, the anger of the people spilled over. Villagers assaulted block development officer Gopal Prasad and ransacked his office.

Across the Kosi plains of Madhepura, Saharsa, Supaul, Araria and Purnia, the story is almost the same — broken railway lines, ruined bridges, caved in roads, destroyed buildings, heavily silted farmlands and a slow babudom.

But the bamboo bridge over the Sursar stands defiantly, a little wobbly, though.