Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar said on Saturday that having learnt from problems caused by the Farakka barrage, the Centre must first address serious environmental concerns before going ahead with the ambitious inland waterway plan. The plan would require more barrages along the Ganga stretch, which would only impede its natural flow.
Kumar, who strongly raised the issue of dismantling Farakka with Prime Minister Narendra Modi following unprecedented flooding in Bihar, said previous studies had suggested at the very outset that Farakka was never in the interest of the Ganga. Experts had warned about its disastrous consequences over five decades ago, he added.
“The move for the Ganga waterway could further play havoc with the river regime, especially in Bihar, and reduce it to a mere pond, defeating the very objective of Namami Gange project. The emphasis should be on maintaining the natural flow of the river all through. I, therefore, urge the Centre to get a detailed environmental assessment done, else the fate of the river could be catastrophic. The Bihar government will have to look for other remedies also to protect state’s interest,” he added.
Citing a report on the ‘impact of Farakka barrage on the human fabric’ by Manish Banerjee, he said “no environmental impact assessment was done” before constructing the barrage. Problems like poor flow of the river due to obstructions causing siltation, flooding, are now coming to light he added.
The chief minister pointed out that the river had lost its water retention capacity due to a rising bed caused by constant siltation.
“The capacity of the barrage is just 23-lakh cusecs, while even Rajendra bridge in Mokama has a capacity to cascade 30-lakh cusecs,” he added also saying that criticism had been ignored.
“Instead, as studies point out, the then chief engineer in the West Bengal government’s irrigation and waterways directorate, Kapil Bhattacharya was maligned, for echoing the same feelings on the barrage as mine. But today, all the predictions are proving true and I will continue to raise it,” he added.
“Bhattacharya had blamed the dams on Damodar and Rupnarayan rivers for heavy silting in the Hooghly and warned of serious consequences in the form of more excessive silting in the Ganga and flooding in Bihar and West Bengal’s Malda and Murshidabad districts if the government went ahead with Farakka. Yet, the Centre ignored the grave warnings,” he added.
He said, rising river beds were a cause of serious concern.
“That’s why I have called for the need of proper silt management under experts keeping rivers’ ecology and environmental impact under consideration. If the carrying capacity of rivers are impeded, even slightly high discharge will overspill and bring ruination...” he explained.
Kumar added that those who were not ready to hear the alarm bells today would have to answer tomorrow. “Guess what happened to Bhattacharya for his realistic assessment? Instead of being applauded, I have read he was declared a Pakistan spy and a traitor to clear the decks for the barrage,” he said.