People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 14 , 2008



Kosi Causes Devastating Floods In Bihar

Vijay Kant Thakur

SEVERE floods devastated Supaul, Madhepura, Saharsa, Araria and Purnea districts in Bihar when the river Kosi broke the bund near Kusaha on August 18. As soon as the bund broke down, the river engulfed a large number of villages downstream. The table alongside shows the extent of losses, as per the government’s calculations.

Flood Affected Areas & People in Bihar


No. of Blocks

No. of Panchayats

No. of Villages






11 lakh 55 thousand





2 lakh 27 thousand





10 lakh





4 lakh 31 thousand





35 thousand

One will note that the main stream of the river had had more or less the same course some 200 years ago.

Known as the “Sorrow of Bihar,” Kosi causes widespread damages as it often changes its course in the westward direction. A barrage was constructed in 1954 to tame the river, and then the Kosi began to flow between its eastern and western embankments, though the latter have been breached 18 times since then. In 2004, the eastern embankment as breached at Navahatta in Saharsa district, causing widespread devastation. Experts are of the opinion that this breach of embankment at Navahatta was in itself an indication that the main stream of the river would soon shift eastward. But neither the government’s water management personnel nor any of the teams engaged in a study of floods paid due attention to this threat. Various streams of the Kosi bring down a huge quantity of silt and, in view thereof, the planners and constructors of the embankments had then estimated that these would last 30 years. They are now 54 years old, however. The planners had also suggested regular removal of silt and cleaning of the riverbed, but none of the successive governments paid any attention to this aspect. When Karpoori Thakur became the chief minister of Bihar, he did something for the filling up of whatever gaps had been left in the embankments when they were constructed in 1954. But the later governments, some of them led by his own disciples, did not pay any attention either. Pushing floodwater through these gaps, the Kosi continued to devastate large areas every year.

As recently as in June this year, the district magistrate (DM) of Saharsa had sent an SOS to the state government regarding the safety of the eastern embankment when it was facing big pressure from the river water. The cabinet minister of water management in Bihar, Vijendra Yadav, belongs to Supaul that falls in the Kosi-flooded area; and the state minister for disaster management, Nitish Mishra, belongs to the same district. Yadav did visit Supaul after receiving the SOS, but came back to Patna after chastising the DM for his SOS. The chief engineer of the Kosi project sent as many as six letters to the state and central governments between August 5 and 17, but they all went unheeded. Nay, till as late as August 17, the official reports said the embankment was safe. A stretch of the Kusaha bund --- from 12.1 km to 12.9 km --- was in a pitiable state and demanded repair at the war level. But the successive governments simply ignored their obligation, and the present government too followed in the footsteps of its predecessors to allow its minions to corner as much of the flood relief money as possible. It is a known secret now that relatives of the ministers coming from the Kosi-flooded areas were also in the line to grab the repair contracts. Be that as it may, the state of Bihar could have been spared this horrendous tragedy if only the government had acted on the recommendation of the high level committee that the safety measures must be completed by June 15. (One notes that the state government had itself constituted this committee.) It was because of this callousness on the part of the government that as many as 3,00,000 people were uprooted from their hearth and home, and had to face unprecedented hardships for weeks.

The Kosi flew through Sursar rivulet some 200 years ago, but this stream died down after the river changed its course. Of late, it breached the bund at Kusaha and now this very rivulet has become the main stream. Flowing from Balua Bazar in Chhatapur block of Supaul district to Araar Ghat in Madhepura district, the rivulet Sursar has destroyed hundreds of villages in Supaul, Saharsa and Madhepura districts and changed the whole geography of the area. The silt brought by the Kosi has made a large number of agricultural fields barren. The cultivable area thus affected is estimated to be in lakhs of acres. Though the exact figures are yet to come, it is estimated that thousands of people have died during the floods or died later because of starvation. Lakhs of the livestock have perished. Two thousand kilometres of roads, hundreds of educational and other institutions, and the rail lines passing through this area --- all have been destroyed.

Basantpur, Chhatapur, Triveniganj, Kumarkhand, Shankar, Siddheshwar, Muraliganj, Madhepura, Gwalpara, Bihariganj, Alamnagar and some other blocks are the worst affected, but no official relief had reached these areas till as late as September 4. According to the government’s own claim, it evacuated only 9 lakh out of about 30 lakh marooned people. Only about one lakh food packets were dropped by helicopters, and food packets given to 1.75 lakh people. Two third of the flood affected people have not yet received any relief from the government. There is a severe shortage of medicines, fodder for the cattle, etc. Usurious moneylenders are having a field day. They are mortgaging everything the villagers have, all for a song, with the assurance that no villager would be able to redeem the pawned things. Other members of the exploited classes are also busy extracting as much as they can.

The Kosi floods have been notorious for bringing silt, diarrhoea, dysentery, kala-azar and malaria in their wake. The government claims to have only 3.1 lakh people in 315 relief camps. There are only 62 veterinary camps. Fodder has been only nominally distributed for an estimated 10 lakh cattle in the flood affected areas. More than 5 lakh houses have come down. While very little worthwhile relief is visible at the ground level, the media are adding insult to the affected people’s injuries by trumpeting the official claims. A doctor deployed in Saharsa district told us that not a single paisa from the government had reached the hospitals and health centres even by September 4, i.e. 17 days after the August 18 floods.

There is yet another sad fact. Apart from the Kosi-flooded areas, about 14 lakh people have been flood affected in 13 other districts of Bihar --- in Muzaffarpur, Patna, Nalanda, Katihar, West Champaran, Khagaria, Sheikhpura, Saran, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Vaishali, Samastipur and Darbhanga. Apart from the death of 55 persons, there have been severe losses of property. But, preoccupied with the Kosi floods, the administration has not paid attention to these areas. Starvation and diseases are ruling the roost here.

Not learning any lessons from the last year’s floods, the government kept making tall claims and bombastic announcements but its disaster management department proved good for nothing. There are not even boats in adequate numbers, and no stock of polythene, medicines and food grains. Last year, Brinda Karat and Hannan Mollah of the CPI(M) had met the chief minister and suggested certain preventive as well as relief measures for a state where 75 percent of the area is flood prone. But to no avail. Nothing worthwhile was done, except propaganda.

And now the same old tunes are being sung again. In 1994, the Second Irrigation Commission had made a detailed study of all the eight river valley projects in the state, and suggested the constitution of a separate expert committee for each project. But the government remained in deep slumber. After assuming chief ministership, Nitish Kumar announced the intention of formulating a comprehensive flood control plan and deputed retired engineer, Sanyal, for the purpose. The water management department kept repeatedly insisting that all the bunds and embankments were secure. But some embankments on the Gandak, Kamla, Bagmati and Bhutahiwalan rivers suffered breaches in the very first bout of rain, causing havoc.

Glossing over the failure is also going on in the name of Nepal’s non-cooperation. Upendra Yadav, the deputy prime minister of Nepal, says the breaches in the embankments are obviously a result of the lack of maintenance; nobody inspected the embankments for several years and they had got covered with wild plants. This is the bitter fact. The embankments in the state breached because of lack of maintenance --- clearly indicating the government’s callousness.

Immediately after the bund breached at Kusaha, the CPI(M)’s Supaul district secretary and MLC, Balram Singh Yadav, covered hundreds of kilometres on his motorcycle to inform the people that they must move out to safer areas. In Saharasa, the party and mass organisations, led by its district secretary Vinod Kumar Jha, began running a relief camp from August 18 itself, with the contributions made by the people. The CPI(M)’s relief operations were in full swing in Triveniganj, Madhepura, Saharsa and some other areas by September 5. Its rescue teams reached quite early in Chhatapur, Basantpur and other far-away places. Mass organisations of the youth, students and other sections are fully alert. The non-gazetted employees, BSSR Union, insurance employees have also contributed significantly in relief operations.

The CPI(M)’s state secretary and state secretariat members have been regularly visiting the flood affected areas and intervening in the relief and rescue operations to overcome the official callousness, pilferage and corruption. The whole party ran a campaign on September 4 in the entire state to collect clothes, food items, medicines and cash for the affected people, and all this material was sent to the affected areas by September 11.