CONTEXT: Bihar has been facing serious challenges with recurrent massive floods over the years. This year it has witnessed two issues — flooding and novel coronavirus pandemic.
BACKGROUND: some of Nepal’s biggest river systems originate in the Himalayan glaciers which flow into India through Bihar. During the monsoons, these river systems inundate causing flood like situation in Bihar. A coordinated process needs to be driven between the Centre and the Government of Bihar to handle the flooding in Nepal’s Terai and North Bihar (Mithilanchal region).
COURSE SO FAR:
To deal with the problem of recurrent floods in Bihar, the Joint Project Office (JPO), Biratnagar, was established in Nepal( in August 2004), to prepare a detailed project report to construct a high dam on the Nepal side (on the Kosi, Kamla and Bagmati rivers).
The Central Water Commission (CWC), Ministry of Jal Shakti (MoJS), Government of India, convened a special meeting of the joint team of experts (India side) on February 10, 2020 at New Delhi to understand and analyse the status of the detailed project report.
A group of officers formed by the CWC has to work on various aspects of the detailed project report and propose an action plan for its early completion. The Water Resources Department, Bihar has repeatedly requested the MoJS, to expedite the progress of the detailed project report.
In Spite of the best efforts made by the Bihar Government , the task remains unaccomplished even after 17 years.
Nepal has shown lack of prompt reciprocation. Nepal has to show the necessary will to find a long-term solution along with India to end this perennial disaster.
Flood protection work
As in the existing India-Nepal Agreement on water resources, the State government is authorised to execute flood protection works up to critical stretches inside Nepal territory along the India-Nepal border.
Though in recent years, all such works have had to be carried out amidst the local resistance.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Water Resources Department, Government of Bihar, was intensively engaged at two levels:-
With local Nepalese authorities
Appeals to the Central government for carrying out flood protection works in 2020.
After sustained coordination between the Centre and the State (Bihar) and expedited interventions by India with Nepal, Kathmandu gave its conditional permission for manpower and machinery operation in the Nepal area of Kosi basin.
Similarly on the Gandak and Kamla rivers (Nepal side), flood related work was carried out.
As per the data shared by the Water Resources Department, Government of Bihar, 4 new flood protection works in the Gandak basin area were proposed before the floods of 2020.
After receiving conditional permission from Nepal, maintenance work of the structure and components of the Gandak barrage (Valmikinagar), top regulator gates, Right Afflux Bund, and three of the proposed works in the Gandak basin were completed.
During the strengthening work proposed on the right marginal bund on the Lalbekia river, the local Nepali administration claimed that the said bund area fell in no man’s land. Although the embankment was built by India 30 years ago and there has not been any dispute regarding its maintenance all these years.
Another important matter to be looked upon is the, Breach closure/protective work of right guide bund of the Kamla weir remains that remains incomplete due to the lack of permission.
When Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited the Jainagar weir site in Madhubani, during the flood season in 2020, sensing the seriousness of the situation, he instructed the Water Resources Department to explore converting the weir on the India-Nepal border into an efficiently operated barrage.
Unlike the past, Nepal’s attitude towards mutual issues with India in general and Bihar in particular (i.e. water sharing, flood control, etc.) has been short of collaboration.
It is the high time to look at key aspects of India-Nepal flood management, with better coordination between the Centre and State Governments.
India and Nepal should restart the water dialogue and bring the necessary policies to safeguard the interests of all the affected people on both sides of the border, due to floods every year.
For a lasting solution to the India-Nepal floods, an intergovernmental panel must be formed with local representation.
Water cooperation, proper infrastructure setup etc should be on the table in the next India-Nepal dialogue, and these issues should be addressed on war footing for the sake of development and environmental protection. By controlling the flooding and using the water resources (priceless asset) for common developmental uses such as hydroelectricity, irrigation and waterways, India-Nepal relations can be strengthened even further.