Skip to main content

Embankments, construction projects along rivers 'devastating' farmers' life, livelihood

Bharat Dogra* 

Reports from Bihar have pointed to the building up a movement of flood and erosion affected people of Bihar against denial of promised relief and rehabilitation. In addition longer term issues of the injustice done to people caught between embankments on two sides are also being raised.
Although the emphasis of the movement is more on people living within embanked areas of Kosi river, people in many embanked areas experience similar problems. Those whose land has been eroded by river suffer the most ( some of them lose not just farmland but even their home) but but are denied satisfactory rehabilitation ( or even any kind of rehabilitation) in most cases.
This writer had conducted a survey in same flood prone villages of North Bihar a few years back at the peak of the winter season. The aim of this study of flood affected people was to find out to what extent they had received the benefits of relief and rehabilitation in the intervening time of about 3 months or so. What I found in one settlement after another was a very sad story of a large number of flood affected people having to face the cold wave conditions in badly damaged huts and with very little protection and food.
In recent decades whenever some of the most destructive floods have been reported, it has also been mentioned in most cases that an embankment has been breached or huge volume of water has been released from some dam. Embankments are of course built as a flood protection works but when these breach then destruction is much greater than in earlier times when the embankment did not exist.
Large and medium dams are more likely to be planned as multi-purpose projects with flood-control likely to be only one of several objectives, perhaps a less important objective compared to others like hydel power generation and irrigation. If such conditions develop that very huge amount of water has to be released then again destruction is much higher than the moderate floods with which several generations of farmers had learnt to co-exist.
Floods caused by embankment breaches and large releases of dam water are certainly more flashy and destructive. Then there is the additional problem of duration of floods. Earlier floods tended to drain away rather quickly as the natural drainage paths were on the whole quite clear. Now on the one hand several kinds of construction obstruct the drainage path and on the other hand embankments have created quite a messy situation.
Hence flood waters may remain in a village for several days, even weeks, disrupting the farming schedule. In addition this prolonged waterlogging leads to the spread of several diseases, sapping the strength of farmers and other villagers.
In North Bihar several heavily embanked areas have been reporting many problems due to the increase in waterlogging which emerged after the obstruction of the natural drainage by embankments. As a result of this large-scale waterlogging the productivity and diversity of farming here have come down significantly.
When we speak about the problems of farmers in flood-prone areas we are actually speaking about farmers affected by all these three conditions — floods, waterlogging and river erosion. River erosion doesn’t get much attention at the national level but in places like Malda and Murshidabad in Bengal, Bahraich, Ghazipur and Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh, in a very large part of Assam it poses a serious threat to the survival of several villages as menacing rivers tear apart or gobble huge stretches of farmland every year.
In the case of many embankments flood protection is actually provided for a few years but during this period the channelized river cannot deposit its silt over a wide area as before and so the river bed continues to rise eventually threatening to breach the embankment. The embankment can also be raised but the raised structure may be weaker.
When the embankment is finally breached the resulting flood from the river flowing at a much higher level than before is extremely destructive. Of course the embankment can also breach much earlier due to poor construction, and complaints of corruption in construction and maintenance are quite common.
Secondly, there is the issue of the farmers trapped between the river and the embankment. In most cases they are not rehabilitated and hence become permanently exposed to much more difficult floods than before.
Thirdly, the water comes from catchment areas into the river is now blocked by embankments from entering the river, and hence contributes to creating large-scale waterlogging at many places. Of course partial engineering solutions ate available for such problems , but in reality these are generally not implemented efficiently and so waterlogging problem remains.
Official circles protect more dense and prosperous settlements from floods at the cost of nearby villages and their farmers
Many embankments in practice are not flood control structures but rather flood transfer structures, as quite often while one area is protected the pressure may increase elsewhere. This leads to many disputes when people of one village may cut embankment at one place to relieve the pressure of flood water on their village but this may lead to increase flood flow in another village. 
This can lead to violence and tension. Since the priority in official circles is often to protect the more dense and prosperous settlements, this may lead to efforts to save cities from floods even if this is at the cost of nearby villages and their farmers.
Similarly, the actual experience of the operation of several dams time and again has been very different from the promise of providing protection from floods. Time and again several villages along with their farmers and crops have been devastated by water released from dams. Villagers and sometimes senior politicians and even state governments have in addition complained from time to time that they did not get advance warning.
Such examples indicate how life and livelihood of farmers over vast areas can be affected very adversely by various construction projects having far-reaching impacts over which they have no control.
In the case of large scale construction of embankments often local opinion is ignored as powerful persons including those with political connections benefit from contracts relating to the construction, repairs and maintenance of embankments year after year.
All these factors point to the need for giving much more attention to immediate relief and rehabilitation certainly, but in addition also to evolving a better approach to reducing damage from floods and erosion in a participative way, based on evidence-based approach of identifying the real causes of high and in many places increasing damage from floods. The importance of this has increased all the more in times of climate change.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now; recent books: “Planet in Peril and India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming”, “Healthy Food”, published by Vitasta

Comments

TRENDING

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

Attack on Gaza: Western media 'went out of the way' to obscure, protect perpetrators

By Sonali Kolhatkar*  Israeli forces killed more than a hundred Palestinians and wounded more than 700 on February 29, 2024 during a distribution of food aid in Gaza city, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 30,000 since October 7, 2023. The food aid massacre was straightforward in its deadliness as armed Israeli forces aimed weapons at desperate, hungry Palestinian civilians and killed many of them. It was also plausible within the context of who has firepower and who doesn’t, and wholly consistent with Israeli atrocities, especially those committed since October 7, 2023.

Living standards in 'model' Gujarat worse than major states: Govt of India document

By Rajiv Shah  Amidst raging controversy over whether the latest Government of India’s “Household Consumption Expenditure Survey 2022-23 Fact Sheet: August 2022-July 2023” suggests that India’s poverty levels are actually down to 4.5 to 5%  during the decade-long Narendra Modi rule, a state-wise breakup in the 27-page document shows that “model” Gujarat’s average consumption expenditure is far below most of the so-called developed states.

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Not livable in summer, Chitrakut PM-Awas houses 'push' tribals in moneylender trap

By Bharat Dogra*  Those who are in-charge of implementing the PM-Awas scheme of rural housing can rightly take pride in what has been achieved in Dafai hamlet (Karvi block, Chitrakut district, Uttar Pradesh). All the Kol tribal families here are extremely poor and vulnerable. In a rare achievement, almost all of them have received housing assistance under PM Awas. 

Stressing on standardisation, efficiency, capitalists 'intensify' workers' exploitation

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The productivist ideology lies at the core of the profit-making pyramid of capitalism. It perpetuates a relentless cycle characterized by busy schedules, workplace tension, an imbalance in work-life equilibrium, and a pervasive sense of alienation. 

Development? This tribal hamlet in Chitrakut has no toilets, no electricity connections yet

By Bharat Dogra*  As we moved away from the starting point of the Bundelkhand Expressway and a famous pilgrimage site into a side-road, the hills of Chitrakut here appeared to be more and more isolated. Another turn, and we appeared to have reached almost a dead-end. However it is here that over 80 households of the Kol tribal community have been living for a long time.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

WTO 'loses legitimacy': CSOs shut out of normal participation in MC13 at Abu Dhabi

By Deborah James  Given unprecedented repression of participants, the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) at Abu Dhabi should not continue until historical and international standards and human rights for participation in global governance are restored.