Sunday, February 9, 2014

India’s first river-linking project: Bad science on a grand scale?

India’s first river-linking project: Bad science on a grand scale? 

If  the river-linking project works, Khagaria will be the pioneer of flood management. If it doesn’t, it risks becoming a prime example of how tinkering with nature can lead to disaster.

If  the river-linking project works, Khagaria will be the pioneer of flood management. If it doesn’t, it risks becoming a prime example of how tinkering with nature can lead to disaster. 

Khagaria is the sasuraal of rivers," says Eklavya Prasad, invoking a local idiom to explain the district's singular status in Bihar. The activist likens it to the home of the in-laws, where everyone must visit to pay their respects. But Khagaria could do without some of this familial bonding because it has been a source of woe for a district through which every south and southeast bound river flows. 

That makes it the scene of devastating floods every year, causing untold misery to the people who live there.

But the government wants to change all that, play god in a sense, by altering the course of the rivers. Khagaria is one of three districts—along with Samastipur and Begusarai—where India's first river-linking project will take place. The hope is that the rivers will help drain away the floodwaters and provide irrigation in the dry season. The river-linking idea is one that's been knocking around for a long time - only natural in a country that can suffer from drought and flooding simultaneously and repeatedly to such shattering effect. But the many critics of the programme call it bad science on a grand scale that will cause the irreversible destruction of lives and property, while bringing about environmental catastrophe. They say there is no understanding or clarity about the likely impact of interlinking on the air and water, biological diversity and socio-economic fabric of the area. 

Shashi Shekhar, who works in the areas of flood management and people's rights, describes the interlinking of rivers as a "mad project". He argues that the rivers in the region are already interlinked and artificial intervention is going to give rise to other problems as it runs counter to hydrological norms. 

"You can't play with the environment and win. We have already seen what building of barrages has done in Uttarakhand," where deadly floods occurred last year. "Do you think that a barrage can restrict a river in full flow? Have they forgotten what happens on the Kosi," Shekhar says. 

The Kosi symbolises engineeringled solutions to flooding that don't take into account the knowledge that farmers have gained from centuries of working the land. So, while agriculturists welcome low-intensity flooding that regenerates the soil with the silt that the water carries, engineers build embankments, barrages and dams in a bid to halt the water in its tracks. Nature has altered the Kosi's course over the centuries, and the people who live there have tried to adjust to this. But since the days of the British Raj, engineers have sought to intervene in a bid to try and make life more settled for them. 

It hasn't worked, suggests Prasad, who made the sasuraal analogy above, considering the regularity with which the Kosi floods. "Just look at the Kosi canals, the eastern and western. These were built between 1954 and 1960. Have we assessed the impact of these canals?" he said. 

Prasad is managing trustee of the Megh Pyne Abhiyan, a campaign network that works on "drinking water, sanitation and adaptive livelihood concerns" in the five flood-prone districts of north Bihar. The government seems to be going ahead without assessing the impact of past experiments, he says. 

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is credited with giving the interlinking programme a big push in October 2002, though the idea can be traced back to the late 19th century and Arthur Cotton, the Madras Presidency engineer who first conceived the plan to improve inland navigation in peninsular India. 

In 1973, then Union minister for water resources KL Rao proposed the Ganga-Cauvery (Kaveri) Link. The idea resurfaced, bigger in scope, in the late 1970s as the Garland Canal, proposed by engineering consultant Dinshaw Dastur. The government made its first serious move in 1980, when the ministry of water resources framed the National Perspective Plan, which proposed inter-basin transfers. In 1982, the National Water Development Agency was set up to carry out pre-feasibility studies, which formed the basis of an interlinking plan. In 1999, a national commission was set up to review these study reports. It was of the view that there was "no imperative necessity for massive water transfers in the peninsular component" and that the Himalayan component would "require more detailed study." 

Interlinking got a boost when then President APJ Abdul Kalam made a passing reference to the need for finding a solution to simultaneous floods and droughts in his address to the nation on the eve of Independence Day in 2002. 

Last year, the justices of the Supreme Court decided that interlinking was a good idea and forced the government to get moving on the plan.

The National Water Development Agency has now finalised the detailed project report for linking the Burhi Gandak river to the Baya/Ganga river in Bihar. This involves constructing a barrage across the flood-prone Burhi Gandak and a 29 km canal from the barrage into the Baya. Interlinking the Burhi Gandak, Baya and Ganga will reduce the flood potential in Samastipur, Begusarai and Khagaria, according to the plan. Government reports estimate that these three districts alone account for flood damage to the tune of Rs204.73 crore every year.

Bihar is the state that's most affected by floods every year. It accounts for 8% of the country's geographical area of which 17% is flood-prone affecting 36% of the population. 

The state government says the Rs4,200 crore multipurpose project is a significant flood management and irrigation initiative rolled into one. The project report states that diverting floodwaters will save Rs143.31 crore, with the additional benefit of providing irrigation for 1.26 lakh hectares of land during the kharif season. The benefits total Rs587.10 crore, according to this. 

With the state government on the verge of executing the ambitious project, Bihar Water Resources Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary is upbeat.

Augmenting irrigation potential eliminating flood concerns across 4 to 5 lakh hectares will boost economic activity, the minister says. 

Skepticism about interlinking stems from past ineffective solutions. Flood management in Bihar has been focused largely on embankments. Since the 1950s, some 3,500 km of embankments have been built, along with nearly 400 km of drainage channels, apart from about 50 town/village protection works. While the government claimed that these measures accorded reasonable protection in the flood-affected areas, independent inquiries have failed to confirm this. 

In 1994, the Second Bihar State Irrigation Commission, which analysed flood damage data between 1968 and 1991, found that "although quite significant flood management works had been implemented in Bihar till March 1992, it is apparent from the reported figures of damage in all the 11 flood-prone basins that damages have increased gradually and significantly in recent years." 

Prasad and Shekhar also refer to the displacement that will take place. The state's water resources minister rejects this, saying that while 490 hectares of land would have to be acquired, there won't be any displacement as the benefits will be substantial. 

Officials say the interlinking project has an astonishingly high cost-benefit ratio of 1:54. "The fears are misplaced," says an official associated with the project. "We are not proposing draining of the river, simply allowing for the evacuation of 10% of the excess flood water, which is about diversion of 492 cumecs (cubic metres per second)." 

Critics say aspects such as silting haven't been taken into account. "Has the project plan taken into account the high level of silting in the rivers? What is the plan for desilting and dredging, and how will they dispose of the silt. Will it mean that more cultivable land will be set aside for this purpose? Not addressing the issue of silting is a big mistake, as the channel will constrict over time, creating an overflow situation yet again," Shekhar said. 

At a fundamental level, critics such as Prasad, Shekhar and others working in the field of flood management and water-people issues, say the main objection is lack of transparency. "Why have the people not been taken into confidence? After all, it is their lives that will be affected," Shekhar says. 

Some activists argue that small irrigation projects are the solution as they will drain the flooding rivers as well. Such solutions aren't being pursued, they say. "There has been no work done on small irrigation canals since the British," says an environmentalist working in the region. 

How exactly the interlinking project will roll out is still not clear and questions will be raised about that. But for now the Bihar government is pleased with the way things are moving. "It has been completely a state government initiative. For nearly three long years, we kept on pushing for the project and finally the NWDA ( National Water Development Agency) has prepared the DPR (detailed project report). We will now have to wait for the technical approval from the Central Water Commission before proceeding further," Choudhury says. 

If it works, Khagaria will have the honour of being the pioneer of a new method of flood management. If it doesn't, it risks becoming a prime example of how tinkering with nature can lead to disaster. 

For Reference/Info :

Past and present floods in Bihar

Central Water Commission CWC is an apex body of India to look after the
irrigation and flood control in the country. Any trivial matter regarding these two
issues cannot move any further without the nod of this institution. Ask CWC
which year Bihar was hit by the worst floods in the history, the answer would be
2004. This is because, according to CWC, 2004 was the year when 4.99 million
hectares (MH) of land in Bihar was inundated. This information must have been
given to CWC by Government of Bihar GoB. In fact, 2004 flood of Bihar was
limited to 20 districts of North Bihar (Siwan and Saran faced no floods in 2004).
Area of North Bihar is around 5.4 MH and the combined area of Siwan and
Saran is 0.486 MH. Subtract this area from the area of North Bihar to get a
figure of 4.914 MH implying that the flooded area of North Bihar was more than
the actual area of the region. When this anomaly was reported in the press, the
flood hit area of the state slumped down overnight to 2.772 MH in the reports
prepared by Disaster Management Department of the State. GoB, however,
took precaution in retaining the flood affected area as 4.99 MH when it
submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister for assistance to combat the
losses that year. Even Prime Minister's Office did not notice the fallacy in
reporting and so did Ministry of Water Resources and the CWC. One wonders
that in future if a relationship is drawn between the rainfall, highest flood levels
of the rivers and the area affected due to floods in Bihar, will it not lead to
erroneous conclusion? The answer is - who bothers? That is the seriousness
with which data are handled by these august institutions.
GoB took another precaution. It has ceased to disclose the district wise flood
affected area ever since to avoid any criticism. Even this year (2007), the flood
affected population of Sitamarhi district is indicated as 27.86 lakhs whereas the
population of the district according to 2001 census is only 26.83 lakhs although
the official website of GoB suggests a population figure of only 20,13,796
persons. One should not be surprised if the GoB stops giving the flood affected
population now onwards. However, accepting the credibility of whatever data
and information is available, let us take a look at various devastating floods in
the State in past.

1954 Floods Talk to any elderly person in North Bihar and he would
tell you something about the devastation caused in the floods of 1954.This flood
was limited to North Bihar only with an affected area of 2.46 MH and a
population of 7.61 million (out of 18.393 million). This flood affected 8119
villages (out of 21,107 villages) of North Bihar leading to the loss of standing
crops over 15.96 lakh hectares. Some 1,79,451 houses were destroyed and 63
persons lost their lives in this flood. 1944 cattle had also perished in the floods
this year. The flood loss was valued at Rs 50 Crores.
This was the year when the first Flood Policy of the country came into being and
the proposal to dam the Kosi at Barahkshetra in Nepal was dropped in favour of
embankments along the river citing the reason that the proposed dam would be
a safety hazard for the people living in downstream areas. After this all the
major rivers of Bihar were embanked and the process continues still. The flood
prone area of Bihar in 1954 was 2.5 MH and the state had only 160 kilometers
of embankments along its rivers.

1974 Floods The impact of this year's flood was felt south of the
Ganga also in the districts of Munger and Santhal Parganas and had a spread
area of 3.182 MH. It had hit a population of 16.39 million and crops over 1.751
MH were lost. 5,16,353 houses were destroyed in this flood that killed 80
persons and 288 cattle. The total losses were put at Rs. 354.59 Crores.
Following the floods, the GoB appointed a committee to look into the flood
damages and suggest means to combat floods under the Chairmanship of
Kanwar Sain, former Chairman of CWC. This committee reiterated the idea of
construction the Barahkshetra Dam on the Kosi and said that the embankments
could only be a temporary solution to the flood problem of the state. Till 1974,
there were 2192 kilometers long embankments within the state and it was
claimed that they were providing protection to 1.5 MH of land. The flood prone
area of the state, however, had shot up to 4.3 MH by this time.
1987 Floods This was the worst recorded flood of the 20th Century, the
records set by that flood have not been broken so far (2007 included). This flood
had not only mauled North Bihar, its impact was felt in South Bihar as well as
Jharkhand (it was a part of Bihar those days) also. An area of 4.668 million area
of present day Bihar and a population of 282.38 lakhs was hit by this year's
flood that had engulfed 23,852 villages and destroyed crops over an area of
2.51MH. It further destroyed 16,82,059 houses killing 1373 persons. The state
had deployed 58 army boats, 14,304 boats in North Bihar, 1366 boats in south
Bihar and pressed in services of 13 helicopters for rescue and relief operations.
The rains that started on the 11th August continued almost non-stop till 19th
August and no food packets could be dropped in Madhubani, Darbhanga,
Samastipur and Khagaria for about 3 weeks. Blocks like Alauli and Beldaur
remained marooned till the end of October. The floods repeated five times in
days to come and Jhanjharpur (Madhubani) was inundated even after Diwali.
There were 3,321 kilometers long embankments in the state by 1987 that were
expected to protect 2.873 MH of land against flooding. There were 104
breaches in these embankments and the flood prone area of the state had gone
up to 6.461 MH. A committee under the Chairmanship of Naresh Chandra was
appointed to look into the causes and remedy of floods in the state. The Report
is gathering dust somewhere in the Central Water Commission.

2004 Floods This year's flood was spread over 20 districts of North Bihar
with an area over 2.772 MH ( 4.99 mh according to CWC) and a flood-hit
population of 2.13 Crores. This flood had engulfed 9346 villages. destroyed
crops over an area of 1.399 MH and swept away 9, 29,773 houses killing 885
persons. Desparate attempts were made to paint 2004 flood as the worst ever
flood in living memory and duping the PM was a part of it.
By this time the undivided Bihar had an embankment length of 3465 kilometers.
24 kilometers went to Jharkhand and another 11 kilometers was swept away.
Remaining 3430 kilometers long embankments are still there with Bihar while
the flood prone area of the state has gone up to 6.88 MH. Government of India
had appointed another Task Force to look into the flood problem of the state
and suggest remedy. This report, too, says that the flood affected area of Bihar

in 2004 was 4.99 MH. One should not be expecting anything worthwhile from
the report which is based on wrong footings. Obviously, constituting committees
and Task Forces etc is just an extension of floods that provides post retirement
employment to administrators and technocrats.

2007 Floods Much has been written earlier and it is not intended to repeat
it here but it must be said here that whenever a phrase 'worst ever flood' is
used, caution must be exercised. It suits all concerned, except the victims, if the
worst ever flood strikes an area. Should miseries be marketed? Marketing
managers could muster a statement from United Nations that Bihar was hit by
worst ever flood this year which, it was constrained to modify later saying it
meant South East Asia and not Bihar. GoB has diluted its wordings and does
not call it worst ever floods in living memory. Will Central Water Commission
modify its information?

Is it natural for a river to shift course? What rights, if any, do the displaced people have? How can India check its surging rivers? TOI finds the answers

When the Kosi reverted to its 250-year-old course last month, leaving 30 lakh people homeless in northern Bihar, apparently due to heavy rains in Nepal, the near-Biblical scenes of havoc left many with just one question: Why?

Why do rivers change course? What happens to the people they displace? Are these refugees of wayward rivers entitled to compensation for the land they lost? And just how prepared is India to check its surging rivers? It’s futile to ask ‘why’, says A K Bajaj, chairman of the Central Water Commission because “it’s very natural for a river to keep shifting its course. It’s a part of its natural evolution.” Bajaj explains that fast-flowing rivers are prone to silting up as they surge down the hills and spread out on the plains, allowing sand and suspended matter to deposit in their slower, wider depths. Over time, the deposits create resistance, forcing the river to move to an area of lower resistance. This is called changing course. Nature’s fury—earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes—can change a river’s course as well.

And then there’s man. Environmentalists now say at least some of the blame lies with human activity. Says IPCC chief R K Pachauri, “As a result of climate change, floods are increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s not possible to ascribe a single event such as the current floods in Bihar to human-induced climate change, but the trend is unmistakable.

These are likely to get more serious in the future if the emissions of greenhouse gases are not mitigated at the global level.” Bajaj agrees that “the volume of water in rivers has been on the rise, resulting in greater force of flow. Therefore, even relatively lesser amount of rain during the monsoon can lead to a catastrophe”. He adds that “in the next 15-20 years, this phenomenon will continue till most of the glaciers have melted.

After that, there will be just minimal flow of water.” The role of natural evolution and nature’s fury in a river changing course may sound like one of the simplest lessons in a child’s geography book. But the effects can be complex. When waterside property suddenly becomes landlocked for miles and new waterfront acreage emerges, havoc ensues. Who owns the new land? Do the people who once farmed along the banks have any rights at all? The government has a 54-year-old formula by which land equivalent to 3.5 times the width of the river on either side is deemed the floodplain.

Embankments are built on it. If a river has changed course, the new floodplain “is considered very fertile and good for farming although this stretch is never safe from floods,” says Bajaj. People want to settle on the floodplain because it is fertile and easily irrigated. Not so the Kosi, the river of sorrow, which brings unfertile soil with it from the higher reaches. Authorities say that once the Kosi waters start receding, the breach in Nepal would be repaired. It is hoped that the river would revert to its original course.

If that happens, the question is whether it would be possible to reclaim the 2.75 lakh acres of farmland, that are under water now. The Kosi has forced public policy review before. It caused devastating floods in 1953-54, forcing the government to announce zoning to demarcate areas prone to flooding. An estimated 40 million hectares across India were classified flood-prone. But 54 years later, less than half are protected by embankments. “Issues like topography, policies and other factors cause delay.

In Upper Assam, for example, we are witnessing rising levels of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries in Dibrugarh district. But the river is so huge and ferocious that it’s very difficult to tame it,” says a CWC official. Officials at the department of hydrology studies say that building dams may be the best way out, as is the case with the Colorado river in the US. It has 30 dams to keep it in check. “In case of the Ganga and the Kosi, the government of Nepal, where both rivers originate, is not allowing construction of dams.

So, we shall remain at perpetual risk,” says Bajaj. It is true that dams have become a symbol of development at great human cost. Environmentalists protest against them. But officials say, “Either you protect human lives or you protect each and every plant and animal on this earth and negate human beings and their development.” IN DANGEROUS WATERS The Kosi river in north Bihar is notorious for the meandering behaviour of its east-to-west course. In the past 250 years, the Kosi has moved westwards by more than 100 km Bihar has a history of rivers changing course because of its terrain.

he Ganga has been changing its course over the years and last year, a new 500-acre tract came into existence between Maner and Mokama. Ownership of this tract became a bone of contention between some landlords in the area The Brahmaputra has a huge volume of water and is quite unmanageable. It keeps changing course and a major shift has been observed in the North-East since the 1960s The Rupnarayan river in West Bengal joins the Hooghly after completing a 240-km course.

It carries huge silt deposits and may be forcing the Hooghly to shift course Areas of Uttarakhand, which are near the foothills, are at risk because the Ganga can change course The Sone river in central India has been notorious for changing course, as is evident from several old beds on its east. In modern times this tendency has been checked with the anicut at Dehri, and now more so with the Indrapuri barrage There is evidence of a steady westward shift in the course of the Indus since pre-historic times
A Tribune Special
Kosi on a new course
Sorrow for many, bonanza for someby our Roving Editor Man Mohan
IS the Kosi river calamity man-made? This fear has started lurking in the minds of water resources experts in India and Nepal. Or were the rats and foxes responsible for the worst floods in living memory? How about anti-social elements? Don’t laugh — such ‘causes’ have been shown in the past as “ground realty” in the Bihar government records related to river breaches and flood relief money matters.
On August 8, the Kosi picked up a channel that it had abandoned over 100 years ago near the Nepal-India border. Lakhs of people on both sides of the border were affected as the river broke its embankment at Kusaha in Nepal, thus submerging several districts of the two nations. About 95 per cent of the total flow of Kosi is now passing through the new course.
The Kosi, which flows from Nepal into India, is a major tributory of the Ganga. Over the last 250 years, it has shifted over 120 km, from east to west. The unstable nature of the Kosi — one of the world’s most violent river — is attributed to the heavy silt which it carries during the monsoon season. The Kosi figures in Mahabharata and Rigveda.
The flood mafia of Bihar love Kosi-type calamities. Bihar is known for all kinds of mafias — fodder, education, health, irrigation, flood, and so on. Each mafia use government funds to siphon off money.
Tragedies are also a source of making money — the sufferings of men, women and children wading through flood waters mean nothing to the politician-contractor mafia nexus. The picture of a man in waist-deep water, carrying a calf on his shoulders, in newspapers moved everyone.
Questions are asked how is it possible that the people are suffering silently for decades without any protest and how does a government in a civilised society desist from its obligations to the people?
Nepal’s former Water Resources Minister, Dipak Gyawali, told this correspondent that “the entire Kosi project has become a synonym for the corruption that goes by the name of Bihari politics, which ‘New Nepal’ seems to be importing with glee.”
“When the lateral, left-bank embankment (not the barrage across the river) collapsed on August 18, it was not a natural disaster, but a man-made tragedy,’’ said Gyawali adding “it was waiting to happen…it is a man-made tragedy because of embankments’ poor maintenance over the years.”
The Bihar government in the past has passed the buck to rats and foxes for digging holes in the embankments, anti-social elements, Nepal for releasing waters, and now the latest excuse is global warming.
Also known as the “Milk River”, Kosi has now been dubbed as “The River of Sorrow” as it has caused widespread human suffering in the past due to flooding and very frequent changes in course. The river travels a distance of 729 km from its source to the confluence with the Ganga.
The Kosi has breached its embankment several times since India and Nepal signed the Kosi treaty in 1954. Were they caused only by fast surging downstream waters of the river?
Nepal’s experts allege that Bihar’s flood mafia has been responsible for causing many breaches in the past, not only in the Kosi, but also in the embankments on the rivers flowing from Nepal into India. They say that an inquiry must be made to check whether the flood mafia caused the tragedy this time.
Some Indian experts agree with their Nepalese counterparts and point out that there is massive corruption in works related to the taming of the rivers, especially in Bihar. There were 105 breaches in 1987 in Bihar and in 2004 the figure was 60. Many more breaches, like the current one in the Kosi embankment, have taken place since then.
There are many precedents of deliberate neglect by Bihar’s officials resulting in breaches of embankments on the Kosi and its tributaries. In 2005, the District Magistrate of Darbhanga made a statement that two officials in charge of maintaining the embankments deliberately damaged the one at Dewanaa causing widespread damages, but instead of punishing them, the DM was transferred.
Many top officials have been caught red-handed in Bihar’s flood scam from time to time, including an IAS officer. The flood mafia relishes embankment breaches, because flood relief is a lucrative business: there is no regular audit of flood relief.
On the other hand, Indian engineers say that anti-social elements in Nepal do not allow them to repair the embankment. Actually, these so-called anti-social elements are the victims of the Kosi embankments who have been forced to bear Sunami-like floods every year. Now, they are happy that the river is changing its course, away from their homes and fields.
Eight of the 10 highest mountain peaks in the world are located in Nepal, which has three biggest river systems — the Kosi, the Gandaki and the Karnali — originate in high-mountain glaciers and eventually flow into the Ganga. The worst affected districts included Supaul, Araria, Saharsa, Madhepura, Purnia, Kathiar, parts of Khagaria and northern parts of Bhagarpur, besides adjoing regions of Nepal.
A high-level Nepal government team that inspected areas devastated by the floods in the Kosi river has held India responsible for the havoc. The devastation took place as the Indian side did not carry out repair and maintenance work on the Kosi barrage and the embankment along the river, thereby violating the Nepal-India Kosi agreement.
As per the bilateral agreement of 1954, India is entirely responsible for repair and maintenance work and operation of the barrage. Kathmandu has alleged that there was no effort by the Indian officials to save the breach in time, though Kosi took 15 days to make the breach!
Prachanda, who is expected to make his first official visit to India shortly, is likely to discuss the Kosi issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to find out a permanent solution to the problem which has been affecting both the nations for decades.
A Nepali local development officer says that the Kushaha barrage, built with the assistance of the Indian government, had used inferior construction material, causing the quick erosion of the spurs. Calling it the worst flood in the area in 50 years, Dr Manmohan Singh on August 28 declared it a “national calamity” and the government earmarked Rs. 1000 crore in aid for the region.
How seriously the governments take these breaches — or such tragedies — are evident from the fact that when the Moloney embankment breached in Gorakhpur in 1955, an enquiry was conducted by eminent engineer, Dr A. N. Khosla. Now the embankments breach every year and nobody bothers.
While Nepal, India and Bihar state are busy finding excuses, the people continue to suffer. Wherever the Kosi flood waters made their way downstream, wheat and paddy crops stood destroyed., hitting the people hard.

How Kosi river Changed its course

Kosi River Changed it course because of the damage in the Barrage in the River upstream in The Nepal
I am Attaching few picture here just to make it more obivious.
 Also go through the articles various magazines in India for which I am providing the links in Below

A snake in knots   

Frontline, Volume 25 – Issue 19 :: Sep. 13-26, 2008

Bihar’s tragedy and the shocking failure 

Faces that bore the brunt of Kosi 

September 5, 2008, India Today

Source : By Urmi A Goswami & Ashok Mishra, ET Bureau;;;;
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