COVID-19: Bihar flood control works stalled amid lockdown

Several embankment repair and maintenance works hit as workers head back home 

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Thursday 02 April 2020
The Kosi. Source: Wikipedia

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has not only disrupted normal life in Bihar, but has also hit several flood control projects ahead of the monsoon. With workers heading back home due to COVID-19 fears, at least a dozen embankment repair and maintenance projects in the state have come to a standstill.

“All projects related to embankment repair and maintenance have been stalled for now. It is not possible to continue with them in this scenario,” a senior officer of the water resources department told Down to Earth on April 1, 2020.

He added that workers and contractors left for their native villages out of fear of contracting the disease.

The officer added that if work does not resume immediately after the lockdown period ends, it will lead to an indiscriminate delay in flood preparations.

The brass of the department are reviewing the situation and likely to take a decision soon to minimise the effects of lockdown, Dinesh Prasad, superintendent engineer, flood control planning and monitoring circle, said.

Prasad added that the workers lived in close groups under makeshift arrangements. This made it difficult for them to adhere to the union government’s directive of social distancing.

On the other hand, Nepal authorities have disallowed workers to enter along the rivers crossing into Bihar, said Shashi Kant Sinha, executive engineer in the department.

However, Rajesh Kumar, engineer-in-chief in the department claimed that work was moving as usual and that all “projects would be completed on time”.

Another official said the works would be completed by May 15, the deadline fixed by the government for the same.

Some projects related to strengthening and repair of embankment along rivers Koshi, Bagmati and Gandak were progressing in advance stage before the lockdown was imposed.

The department is likely to extend the deadline to June second week, according to officials. The state usually gets its first spell of monsoon rain after June 15. However, in the last few years, it has arrived a little late — between June 20 and 25.

In November 2019, the Bihar State Flood Control Board cleared 122 projects to be completed by May 15. The projects included repairing embankments damaged last year and strengthening them at different vulnerable places.

Experts have repeatdely pointed at poor maintenance of these embankments, which run for about 35,199.86 km along different rivers in the state.

Embankment breaching has led to floods in the past. The state experienced one of the worst floods in five decades when the Kosi breached its embankment at Kusaha in Nepal’s Sunsari district in August 2008. The flood killed more than 250 people and displaced nearly three million people in five districts.

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