The judicial probe into the breach in the Kosi embankment that triggered the worst floods of Bihar in 50 years has begun, officials said on Monday.
Sources in the chief minister's office in Patna said the one man inquiry panel headed by Rajesh Balia, a former chief justice of the Patna High Court, formally began the probe Sunday. The secretary of the water resources department Ajay Naik appeared before the commission.
“Rajesh Balia on Sunday demanded all the official documents related to the Kosi embankment from state water resources department,” an official said.
Balia undertook an aerial survey of the breach and flood affected areas on Saturday.
Earlier this month, the Bihar government had appointed the one-man inquiry commission after the opposition demanded to know the cause of the breach. The decision was approved by the state cabinet, which also prepared the terms of reference for the probe.
In a bid to silence opposition leaders who blamed the state government for the breach, the government has asked the judicial panel to submit its report within six months from the date of notification.
"By ordering the judicial probe, the state government is trying to save its skin. The probe will not serve any purpose because the Nitish Kumar government is to blame for the breach. Everyone knows that," Railway Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad said in Patna.
The government said the judicial panel will examine aspects related to the efforts to maintain the utility of the project since its inception in 1953, particularly after the heavy landslide in 1979 that pushed the Kosi towards its eastern bund and the 1991 breach. Besides, the panel is also expected to suggest remedial measures to prevent such a catastrophe in the future.
The judicial panel will also probe whether the flood protection works of the Kosi embankment, as recommended by the expert committee had been completed before the onset of the monsoon this year.
More than three million people in over 1,000 villages in Saharsa, Madhepura, Supaul, Arartia and Purnia districts were rendered homeless and over one million cattle affected by the floods caused by the change in course of the Kosi river.
About 989,000 people were evacuated to safer places and over 350,000 people had taken shelter in over 300 relief camps in flood-affected areas, officials said.
About 50,000 people, who refused to move out despite repeated appeals by the government, were still marooned in Madhepura and Supaul, among the worst hit districts.
The state agriculture department has estimated that standing crops in 175,000 hectares of land have been destroyed.