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Who will repair the breach?

A month after the Kosi river broke its embankment at Kusaha in Nepal to wreak havoc in Bihar, uncertainty still surrounds the plugging of the 1.5 km wide breach. Rai Atul Krishna reports.
By Rai Atul Krishna | Hindustan Times, Patna
UPDATED ON SEP 18, 2008 11:45 PM IST

A month after the Kosi river broke its embankment at Kusaha in Nepal to wreak havoc in five districts of North Bihar, uncertainty still surrounds the plugging of the 1.5 km wide breach. There are questions aplenty: Who will execute the job? How will the agency go about the task? And when can the work actually start?

The question of who will seal the breach has generated so much heat between the Bihar Government and the Union Ministry of Water Resources that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had to seek the Prime Minister's intervention to settle the issue. It is still not clear if the task will fall to the Ministry or Bihar's Water Resources Department.

Experts hold that the sealing process can begin only after the discharge from the breach declines to manageable levels. This may take weeks considering the discharge at Barah, located upstream from Kusaha, was about 68,000 cusecs on September 17. This was down from the peak discharge of 1,94,000 cusecs on August 29 but still too high to permit commencement of work for closing the breach.

The fall in water level is reportedly causing Kosi to put pressure on the eastern embankment of its pre-breach course. This holds out the threat of fresh breaches over a long stretch of the embankment. Simultaneously, there are fears that another spell of heavy rain by the end of the current month or early October may cause another round of severe flooding.

"Another round of flooding, in fact, remains our biggest fear. Kosi is known to have discharged up to 4 lakh cusecs of water in late September-early October. This is why our 160 boats and 400-odd NDRF personnel and remain stationed in the vulnerable areas and are still persuading people to be evacuated to safer places", National Disaster Management Authority member KM Singh told HT.

Reaching food to flood victims reluctant to leave their marooned homes remains a serious problem, now that airdropping has stopped owing to issues of logistics. Roads have been washed out. The water level in many areas has declined enough to inhibit boat movement but not sufficiently to allow for road transport. Looting of relief trucks on highways has also raised security concerns.

The threat of epidemics extends to relief camps but is much more serious in the deep interior where medical assistance is difficult to come by.

Then, there is the collateral damage. There has been no accounting of the lives and livelihood of lakhs of inter-district migrant daily wage labourers, who hold no identity card or any other instrument to make them eligible of any compensation. Revenue and land records of hundreds of villages have reportedly been washed away.

The Chief Minister has sought Rs 8,922 crore from the Centre as assistance for rebuilding and reconstruction work in the affected districts. This is over and above Rs 1,000 crore (and 1.25 lakh tonnes of food grains) released by the Prime Minister.

But a month on, method in dealing with the crisis appears to be more important than money.

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