Bihar Floods in 1987 – IV – Sitamarhi

Above: Cover photo and map from NIDM report of Bihar floods 2007

Guest Blog by Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra

Till the end of the third week of July, rains in Sitamarhi were normal and whatever flood that normal water could cause was there in the district. But when it stared raining in the fourth week of July then just within three days, on the 27th July, the Bagmati overtopped the Muzaffarpur-Sitamarhi Road at three places and the road communication between the two towns was snapped. The road communication, however, was quickly restored on the 31st July.  On the 28th July, the Bagmati breached its right embankment near Belwa Ghat in a length of 400 meters. A flood regulator was being constructed here for the past many years to divert part of the river flow (50,000 cusecs)and make it rejoin the river downstream thus delaying this portion of the flow by 16 hours when it rejoined the mainstream. Engineers hoped that by so doing they will be able to control the floods of the river to a great extent. The under construction regulator used to get washed away every year during the rains and this was not a new thing that it was damaged this year also. Water coming out of the damaged regulator submerged the villages on the western bank of the river. The rains of the past 4-5 days were enough to flood hundreds of villages in the blocks of Bairgania, Majorganj, Shivhar, Tariyani, Piprahi, Belsand and Runni-Saidpur of Sitamarhi and Katra and Aurai of Muzaffarpur district. The river water had entered the Sub-divisional HQ of Shivhar on the right bank and on the left bank in the block HQ of Belsand and the thana there through the gaps left in the embankment for constructing sluice gates in future.. The water of the Bagmati had entered every house of Sugia, Katsari, Sugia Bazar, Shahpur, Pokharbhinda, and Bisahi etc and it was flowing one and half feet above the Sitamarhi-Muzaffarpur road near Kataunjha where the river crosses this road that was closed for the vehicular traffic. There was a simultaneous flood in the rivers of the Adhawara Group and a causeway connecting the villages Chilara and Parchhaiyan was washed away. This meant that the road connection between Sitamarhi and Sonbarsa block was also lost. The rail line between Sitamarhi and Darbhanga was overtopped at many places and the train services were suspended between the two stations.

After a small gap towards the end of the month the rains resumed on the 31st July and it continued in next month of August. On the 3rd August an embankment on the Marha River in Parihar block of the district got breached that resulted in flooding of many villages including Bhagawatipur and Majhaura. This embankment on the river Marha was a controversial one right from the beginning of its construction this year.  As a part of flood protection work, a 5 km long Birawa Protection Bundh was to be built in Pupri block with funds from Jila Yojana Evam Vikas Parishad. This river enters India in village Bhagawatipur on the Indo-Nepal border. According to a plan of the Minor Irrigation Department, an embankment on this river was built from Bhagawatipur and going in southeasterly direction it was connected to the Barwe River near Bhiswa High School. The canal that was built to connect both the rivers was two km long and 20 feet wide.  Due to change of the direction of the river water many Panchayats of Parihar block like Kanhama, Chandi Rajwada, Naranga, Lakuria, Parihar, Mahadev Patti, Baburban, Sutihari, Andauli and Sardal Patti were flooded. There was a huge loss of houses and agriculture and a lot of land was sand cast. Some 300 families of Kanhama and Bhagawatipur became paupers.  The villagers wanted this canal to be wider but they had to bow down before the expert’s advice. There were many farmers of Kanhama village who’s all the land was rendered useless and that was the result of arrogance of engineers. As the rains set in, the water of the Marha River entered the canal that was dug by the department and it moved in southeasterly direction but suddenly took a turn towards the west and rejoined its parent stream.    Another river, the Hardi spilled its banks and water too was spread all over in the neighboring villages. Many houses were destroyed and Bhadai crop was also nearly lost. Seedlings of paddy remained submerged in water for a long time diminishing the hopes of Agahani crop. Many cattle were also washed away or died. Stored grains came in contact with flood waters and started rotting but the worst was that water entered the kitchen and hearths preventing cooking of food. The flood situation became unbearable in the first round itself. Public had a grievance that the repair works on the embankments were either not done or were incomplete. They used to link it to the incompetence, disinterestedness, lack of foresight, inexperience and greed of the Irrigation Department. (Pataliputra Times-Patna, 5th August, 1987). By this time the flood waters of the Adhawara Group of Rivers had reached Pupri block and most of the Pupri town was under knee deep water.

Buried Mosque under river sand Sitamarhi 2009

Buried Mosque under river sand Sitamarhi 2009

Terror of the rivers of the Adhawara Group slowly encircled the blocks of Pupri, Bajpatti, Sursand and Nanpur and hundreds of villages were trapped in the floods of these small rivers. On the 7th August, waters of these rivers had engulfed at least 60 villages in the Pupri block where flood water was wandering freely in a depth of 3 to 10 feet. Flood water entered the office of the Public Health Department on the Pupri-Janakpur Road and also submerged the pump house of the water supply structure resulting in disruption of water supply to the town.  All the roads connecting Pupri from the outside world were broken or submerged in flood water. There was water in 25 Panchayats of Bajpatti and the situation of Sursand and Nanpur was no better either. By this time Sitamarhi was disconnected by road from Janakpur Road, Saidpur, Choraut, Madhawapur, Sursand, Madhubani and Bajpatti.

The breach due to Bagmati at Belwa Ghat could not be contained and it was getting widened day by day and the flood water was free to occupy newer places at will. The local people believed that this was not only the case of breach of the regulator at Belwa Ghat, it was a clear indication of the Bagmati changing its course as most of the river water was passing through this route now. The river was carrying with it all the ammunition to destroy the blocks of Shivhar and Tariyani. According to a statement made by the collector of Sitamarhi on the 6th August in a press conference, some 200 villages spread over 16 blocks in the district were hit by floods that had affected a population of about three and a half lakhs. The Lakhandei that flows through the town of Sitamarhi started filling the lower areas of the town on the 9th August and the bridge on the river located in the middle of the town near Mahisaul Chowk was threatened with erosion. There was water on the rail line connecting Samastipur to Narkatiaganj and train services were suspended since 3rd August on this route.  Classes in Goenka College were suspended because flood water had entered the premises of the college. Even otherwise there was a strike of college teachers in the State since 4th August and no teaching work was done since then. Just before the beginning of September, the old stream of the Bagmati, the Manusmara had started submerging the remaining portions of the Riga and Belsand blocks. Dumra area of Sitamarhi town that houses most of the Government offices and staff quarters had flood water entered in each house and the situation there was too pathetic. There were gaps in the left embankment of the Bagmati in the Belsand block in the villages of Kansar, Bisaul and Belsand and ring bundhs had to be constructed there. This work was incomplete and flood water was entering villages through these gaps and submerging them. Flood victims had only one complain almost everywhere that the flood situation was alarming and the Government was merely completing the formality of distributing relief.

                In the meanwhile, on the 18th August, Burhnad embankment breached near Hirauli village and that aggravated the flood situation in already flooded Pupri town. This town had heaps of garbage spread all over and the rains added to its putrefaction. Various rounds of floods made this stinking garbage float all over the town. Another river of the Adhawara Group breached its embankment near Rampur village and that resulted in slumping down of the Circle Office of Nanpur block. Many Panchayats of Riga block were inundated with the spilling waters of the Manusmara and Lakhandei. Nearly 90 per cent of the crops were lost in these two blocks because of floods this year. Bathnaha block was also facing similar situation.

Bihar River Basin Map (Source: http://fmis.bih.nic.in/index.htm)

Bihar River Basin Map (Source: http://fmis.bih.nic.in/index.htm)

The rains that had set in Sitamarhi district on the 24th-25th July continued uninterrupted for about a month and the period between 11th-12th August was the worst. Most of the embankments along the rivers breached on these dates and there was chaos everywhere. Voices of ‘Bachao-Bachao (Save us)’, ‘Bhago Bhago (Run)’, ‘Nav Lete Aao (Come with a boat)’, ‘Doob Gaya (Sinking)’, ‘Ghar baith gaya (The house has collapsed)’, ‘Bhains bah gayee (the buffalo has been washed away)’ etc were heard from all directions. This situation remained for a week. There was no electricity in the towns on the 12th August and all the activities were at the mercy of nature. Raghunath Jha, the local MLA of Sitamarhi, reached the town after braving many hurdles and the Minister of State for Revenue, responsible for flood relief in Sitamarhi, Jitan Ram Manjhi, arrived here on the 18th August. Former Chief Minister of Bihar, Karpoori Thakur, had taken a tour of flood ravaged Sitamarhi earlier. These visits accelerated the pace of relief with the help of district administration. Manjhi visited the blocks of Belsand and Runni Saidpur on the 18th August, Bajpatti, Parihar and Nanpur on the 19th August and Parihar on the 20th and ordered immediate opening of cheap roti shops all over the district and repair of roads to restore road communication.

Sitamarhi had face three waves of floods this year. The first was in the end of July followed by another flood in the second week of August and the last towards in the first week of September. The Government had issued a warning of likelihood of floods again on the 3rd September and the apprehensions came true. There was a sudden rise in the levels of the Bagmati on the 6th September.  This last flood in the Bagmati thoroughly crippled the morale of the farmers as the gaps in the embankment of the Bagmati at Belwa Ghat were still open. Shivhar Sub-division suffered most due to this flood as it ruined the efforts of restoring normalcy. Relief distribution was already in doldrums and the flood victims had little hopes that the Government will come to their rescue. Both the crops of Bhadai and Agahani had vanished. Houses had fallen in thousands and a huge chunk of agricultural land was sand cast. Never before in the history of Sitamarhi so much loss of public property was seen. Many people had to die because the flood protection works were not taken up in time. Hit by floods the victims had to take shelter on Machaans or higher places with their cattle and belongings where there was no guarantee for food or fodder. End of rains was not in sight for weeks. There were many villages where relief grains or food could not be reached till the middle of September. Boats were in short supply and electricity was missing for most of the times. Many villages were wiped out from the scene due to erosion. Surviving pucca hoses had a thick bed of mud on their floor. Existence of roads in the post-flood period was of little consequence for the commuters. Administration had restored the Shivhar-Sitamarhi link some how but Shivhar-Muzaffarpur, Shivhar-Piprahi and Shivhar –Lalgarh road was smashed into smithereens and was beyond repairs unless the flood water had receded thoroughly. When the roads were not there and the boats were in short supply, the relief could obviously be not reached to the flood victims. Plight of the flood victims can only be imagined under such conditions.

Anger pitched high among the people who suffered floods due to breach at Belwa Ghat. Ever since the Bagmati embankments were constructed and Belwa Ghat was identified as the site for the regulator, breaches there had been an annual feature. Despite expenditure of crores of rupees on the Belwa Ghat, the plight of the residents of Shivhar Sub-division was pathetic. Hundreds of villages of Shivhar Sub-division and dozens of villages of East Champaran had to face the annual ordeal without fail every year. This saga was repeated every year with the connivance of engineers, contractors and administration combine and the people were made to watch the game helplessly. Even in this year nearly half a million rupees were spent by the department at this location but without any positive result. Most of this money was spent on the establishment and the remaining on the futile exercise of flood control. Maintenance of embankments is a money spinning device with a scope of lot of manipulation. The breach in the Marha embankment was the talk of the town that occupied headlines in newspapers. Lot of money was swindled in the construction of these embankments and their aftermath, the reports said.

Many public meetings and demonstrations were organized by the flood victims at the Circle Offices like Riga, Bajpatti and Sursand etc demanding declaration of famine in the flood hit areas. These demands also included distribution of relief on a larger scale for a longer time, immediate repairs of the roads, free ration till the harvest of the Rabi crop, waiver of loans and issuance of fresh loans/grants for house building and agriculture and opening of hard manual labor schemes to generate jobs for the labourers. Disagreement with the reports of official loss data due to floods was also on the agenda.  These demonstrations were organized mostly in the month of September and had backing of many opposition parties.

According to official sources 972 villages in 16 blocks of Sitamarhi were hit by floods this year affecting a population of 16.83 lakhs and 97,000 cattle. Floods spread over an area of 1.39 lakh hectares and crops were lost over an area of 1.14 lakh hectares. Houses destroyed in the floods were 82,758 and 55 persons together with 89 cattle lost their lives. Total losses due to floods were valued at Rs. 35.6616 crores.

Dr. Dinesh Kumar Mishra, Convenor – Barh Mukti Abhiyan, D-29 Vasundhara Estate, NH-33, PO: Pardih, Jamshedpur 831020, Jharkhand, India, E-mail: dkmishra108@gmail.comMob: +919431303360

Blogs in this series:

1. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/bihar-floods-of-1987-i/

2. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/bihar-floods-in-1987-ii-east-champaran/
3. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/bihar-floods-in-1987-iii-west-champaran/

4. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/bihar-floods-in-1987-iv-sitamarhi/

5. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/bihar-floods-of-1987-v-district-khagaria/

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