General Elections 2019

Nobody cares for Bihar's drying rivers in poll season

Most of the state's 600 rivers have either dried up or are on the verge

 
By C K Manoj
Last Updated: Tuesday 02 April 2019
The Falgu river in Gaya, Bihar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Falgu river in Gaya, Bihar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons The Falgu river in Gaya, Bihar. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Environmentalists are shocked over the drying rivers of Bihar failing to get the attention of political parties even during election time.

According to officials, there were once some 600 river streams in Bihar which nursed its human population. But now, most of them have either dried up or are on the brink of losing their existence.

River experts said in the past, these river streams had not only boosted the economy of the region but also recharged ground water. But today, the scene is very pathetic on the ground. The perennial river streams have now become seasonal, with a majority of them getting dry once the rainy season is over.

Such streams were earlier being used by locals for irrigation purposes and also fishing, which fetched them handsome money, they say. The saddest part is that the common men too are not raising the issue owing to lack of awareness while the political parties have picked up only those issues which fetched them votes.

According to them, there are over 100 rivers such as Lakhandei, Noon, Balan, Kadane, Sakari, Tilaiya, Dhadhar, Chhoti Bagmati, Saura and Falgu which are virtually on the brink of death. Of them, the Falgu river which flows through the Hindu pilgrim town of Gaya, especially deserves mention.

More than two millions Hindus descend on this pilgrim town every year to offer oblations to the wandering souls of the ancestors. But the river now stinks with sewage water.

A serious campaign to draw the attention of the government has simply failed, prompting the citizens to seek intervention of the court. “The river has been the lifeline of several districts of south Bihar as most of the water pumping stations are installed along the banks to extract underground water yet this river has never been an election issue,” said river activist Braj Nanadan Pathak.

Pathak has filed a public interest litigation in the Patna High Court, demanding removal of encroachments and dismantling of constructions on the river bed. According to him, some 2,500 families have encroached upon the river bed and constructed homes.

The dried Saura river in Purnia also deserves special mention here. “It was like London’s Thames which flowed through the middle of Purnia town; but now, it is totally dried up and is being used as a garbage dumping ground,” said Akhilesh Chandra, an activist who has launched a campaign to save the river.

“We have been regularly campaigning to bring the matter to the notice of the political parties and the government; but this changes during election time as other issues dominate the poll scene. The saddest thing is that political parties do not think drying rivers to be a vote-catching issue,” prominent river expert and convener of Ganga Mukti Aandolan Anil Prakash told Down to Earth.

Prakash blames fast-occurring urbanisation, obstruction of river flows, siltation in river beds and their encroachment to be behind the death of Bihar’s river streams “Once, there were some 600 river streams or small rivers in the north Bihar region alone all of which flowed throughout the year. But now, a majority of them have dried up or are on the verge of fading into history,” rues Prakash.

Another river activist Ranjeev Kumar said population pressures and development, apart from the ecological disturbances have done a lot of harm to the state which was once blessed with hundreds of rivers streams but is now battling out for survival. “Encroachment on river beds and ongoing constructions are squeezing rivers. There is a serious need to bring the issue in public debate but sadly, no political parties look interested,” said Kumar.

Another river expert Dinesh Mishra who headed the Barh Mukti Abhiyan, is disappointed at the way neither the political parties not the common citizen have tried to make dying rivers a poll issue this time or before though it concerns everyone.

“The problem is that nobody is discussing this issue. They will land in serious trouble if there is drought in case of no or scanty rains which we already are facing,” said Mishra who studied from IIT, Kharagpur.

According to him, the situation is doubly alarming this time in the sense that more groundwater is being tapped compared to the recharge rate. “The situation is very desperate and concerning right now with the river streams drying up very fast but there is no serious debate whatsoever,” Mishra said, adding the people must know the fact that the monsoon has gone erratic in recent years and it must be their duty to conserve water.

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