20 months of despair

Little help for people from the Bihar government since Kosi changed course

 
By Alok Kumar Gupta
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Victims of the 2008 Kosi flood in Bihar are awaiting compensation. They cannot farm because their land is full of fine silt. Officials in the flood-affected districts say villagers complain because they don’t understand the formalities—they need to furnish a first information report (fir) and death certificate to claim compensation. If villagers do manage to get these documents the officials’ explanation for delay is paperwork. Till that gets sorted the flood victims continue to suffer.

Mahendra Sharma of Bharatpur village in Supaul district, one of the five districts that was under 6-10 feet water for over a fortnight in August 2008, died of starvation in January 2009. Two journalists in the region reported the incident to the state’s human rights commission, which probed it and asked the government to pay Rs 2 lakh to his widow Raniye Devi in April last year. Sharma’s wife and two sons have not got the money yet.

Laxmi Mandal, from Gheewara village in Supaul, has not got the Rs 1.5 lakh compensation she is entitled to. Her husband Bumshankar was washed away in the flood, she said. “His name was in the payee list. But we have no idea what happened,” said Mahendra Mandal, Bumshankar’s neighbour.

After 20 months, four out of 41 families in Supaul’s Triveniganj block, five of 35 families in Basantpur block and nine of 19 families in Pratapganj block have got compensation. And, with farming not possible, making ends meet has become difficult for the farmers.

Silt seven feet deep
The state government announced it would give Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000 to farmers to remove silt. But here too the government defaulted, said Abu Mohammad of Jhakarghad village in Supaul. His 1.4 hectares is in six-feet-deep silt, which he wanted cleared. He filed six applications for compensation, which went unanswered. “Officials blame me for showing wrong land papers,” he said, pointing to his grandchildren in tattered clothes.

In Parmanandpur farmers removed truckloads of silt and dumped it at the edge of their land. “Months of hard work resulted in some yield, but only a quarter of what we used to get earlier,” said Jeetulal Mehta, a farmer. The fields cannot retain water anymore, he added.

Of the three layers of silt—coarse, middle and fine—coarse is good for fertility, middle supports cultivation to an extent and fine is bad for crops, said D K Mishra who researches on the Kosi river independently. “Fine silt at the bed of a river or embankment spreads to the closest region of a breach. That is the reason Supaul and Saharsa districts went barren. Districts such as Katihar, further away from the source of the breach that caused the flood, got coarse silt and had bumper crop,” he added (see ‘Course correction’, Down To Earth, October 15, 2008).

It is not easy to remove silt. As per farmers’ estimations, two inches (0.16 feet) of silt on about an acre (0.4 ha) would mean eight tractor-trips and six months of labour. “Not just that, the land needs to be dug three to four inches for farming,” Mehta said. Bihar announced a scheme in which a farmer would get a discount of 50 per cent if he or she bought a scrapper—a machine that removes silt.

“My application is pending for the past eight months. There is no response, forget about cash,” said Satnarayan Mehta from Supaul. He owns two ha of which nearly 70 per cent is covered in silt. The cash promised for reconstruction of houses also did not come by.

The villagers of Birpur block recently protested at the block development office. The police responded by firing (see ‘Kosi victims run riot’, Down To Earth, March 15, 2010).

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