Dams and embankments in the Ganga-Kosi floodplains, BR, India

Flood control structures and management paradigms have proved to be highly problematic for livelihood security, ecological productivity, and human development especially for marginalised sections of Bihari society, who have been reduced to flood refugees


Controlling river flooding has been a politically sensitive and conflicted issue in the naturally dynamic and abruptly shifting rivers of North Bihar in India [1,2].  With majority of the discussion being focussed on the impacts of engineering structures (dams, embankments, and their operation) on human vulnerability to flooding hazard [3,4,5], a new perspective on ‘flood control politics’ in this region [6,7] has emerged. This perspective has brought to the fore issues of serious conflict and marginality that millions of people face with centralized state and local non-state regimes of power and control, being trapped between embankments and highly exposed to flood risks due to the very structures that have sought to protect them [6,7,8,9,10]. Conflicts today are based on differential access to land and flood protection, blocked access to water bodies for fisheries and aquatic crop resources, and the constant reality of adjusting to displacement-induced poverty and socio-economic vulnerability [7,10,11,12].

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Basic Data
NameDams and embankments in the Ganga-Kosi floodplains, BR, India
SiteSaharsa, Supaul, Katihar, Bhagalpur districts
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Aquaculture and fisheries
Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific CommoditiesLand
Sand, gravel
Ecosystem Services
Construction materials and boats
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsTotal length of embankments in the area: 300 km

Total length in Bihar: 3500 km


Birpur barrage (Kosi Multipurpose Project, 1963): Irrigation project through West and East Kosi Canals (lengths of 91 km and 43.5 km in India and Nepal) and hydropower project (20 MW electricity generation installed capacity), 254,700 ha area irrigated by west canal and 612,000 ha by east canal.
Project Area (in hectares)1,200,000
Level of Investment (in USD)285,714,285
Potential Affected Population1,500,000 to 2,500,000
Start Date01/01/1954
Relevant government actorsGovernment of India, Government of Bihar, Departments of the state of Bihar: Public Works, Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, Fisheries, Water Resources, & Revenue and Land Reforms: national, state, and district-level relief work bodies, local block development officers, district administration and police
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersBarh Mukti Abhiyan, Bihar, 1991

http://www.indiawaterportal.org/source/barh-mukti-abhiyan http://india.ashoka.org/fellow/dinesh-kumar-mishra

Civil society organizations, international forums, academic institutions, hydrologists:

Nepal Water Conservation Foundation, Kathmandu: http://www.nwcf.org.np/

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UNESCO-IHE: https://www.unesco-ihe.org/

Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur,

Prof. Rajeev Sinha. http://home.iitk.ac.in/~rsinha/
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Landless peasants
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationBoycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
State-level discussions, activist writings
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
OtherGreenhouse gas emissions from submerged aquatic vegetation in waterlogged areas may be high
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession
OtherOutmigration for labour and coolie work, associated vulnerabilities related to remittance economy, isolation of families
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Institutional changes
Land demarcation
Strengthening of participation
Local political strife
Development of AlternativesThe Barh Mukti Abhiyan has been at the forefront of constructive and robust critique of ‘hard engineering solutions’ in favour of soft flood control strategies based on local channel diversions and drainage network systems for containing and routing flood water through agricultural areas and wetlands. The Abhiyan’s foundation is based on a belief that the local communities would be self-reliant and achieve better control of floods than what is even possible by current embankment and dam operations [5,10]. The embankments provide a false sense of security to people, but instead can worsen floods by not allowing releases of water (in fact, embankments have been broken down by people in some cases to allow flood waters to find their way) [7,10]. The problem of flood risk for lakhs of people trapped between embankments needs urgent resolution by identifying solutions for better resettlement of affected families. Currently, displaced settlements regularly have to move around, with an interval of about 3 years at any given site. This lack of livelihood security has also led to cases of violent conflict between displaced refugees and settled village populations in the countryside.

Hydrologists have also identified the better management of barrage operations in order to provide ecological flow regimes in the river channel through the dry season, at a steady flow rate. It is argued that the current modified extremes will reduce the intensity with which barrages are compelled to release waters (in a burst, typically) at the onset of the monsoonal flooding season. Managing releases from barrages based on ecological flow (e-flow) regime guidelines would also temper down the ultimate impact of immediate alarm situations that often occur due to extreme rainfall in the Himalayan catchments or with breaches of upstream embankments [28]. E-flow maintainance also involves allocating and using irrigation water with greater efficiency and productive output, improving communication across different sectors demanding water, and decentralized management of canal and groundwater irrigation systems. These solutions are more at a systemic level but their flood management implications are critical.

More proximate solutions include providing aid packages to displaced as well as embankment-trapped villages, better alarm systems (e.g. Flood Management Information System-Bihar), and improved disaster response both on part of the state and civil society.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Several settlements still continue to remain trapped within embankments, and face conflicts from not only the state structures of water management / control, but also local power structures strongly based on caste and class divides, and conflicts that result from entrenched paradigms of water control continue over agriculture, ownership of and access to land and water, and fisheries / aquatic cropping systems. Baghel (2014) accurately points out that despite wide acknowledgment of these problems and risks, governments continue to wholly depend on the same flood control approaches, citing immediacy and the need for more engineering to mend the failures of current engineering. Underlying this rigidity are many factors, right from a rationality that remains persistent despite its chequered but long history, the drive for control of landscape boundaries and revenue, and political strategies and corruption that is based on maintaining risk in societies for continued reproduction of power structures and control.
Sources and Materials

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Embankments Act

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8. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/a-tale-of-two-dams-is-bihars-unprecedented-flood-an-avoidable-man-made-disaster/




4. http://scroll.in/article/672966/why-north-bihar-residents-remain-vulnerable-even-as-kosi-waters-recede

5. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/Birpur-Kosi-Barrage-neglected-for-two-decades/articleshow/4102376.cms

6. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/that-sinking-feeling-5034

7. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130711/jsp/bihar/story_17101501.jsp#.WDfeZoW1nDw

Other Documents

Floods in Bihar Source: http://m.ucanindia.in/news/kosi-river-waters-flood-two-bihar-districts-18439.html
[click to view]

Map of Kosi river Source: http://www.gits4u.com/water/kosi.htm
[click to view]

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ContributorArpita Lulla, Kalpavriksh, [email protected]
Last update17/03/2017