And in Bihar Ganga is virtually dead

Soroor Ahmed


When last week a frustrated and distraught girl, while attempting to commit suicide, jumped from Mahatma Gandhi Setu which bridges Patna and Hajipur into river Ganga she survived as the boatmen and divers on the bank swung into action and fished her out. The panic-stricken girl gave her rescuers the phone number of her father, who later came and took her to home. What should be the moral of the story? Is Ganga not even worth committing suicide now perhaps during the dry season. But the lucky girl did not die of heart attack or did not got hit by some hard object either though the height of the bridge once the longest in Asia is quite considerable.

While the report released by Swiss-based organization WWF on the eve of World Water Day on March 22 suggested that Ganga is among the ten big rivers facing extinction the truth is that in Bihar many experts have even started writing obituary of the river, which was once considered as a life-line to the people. Barring a couple of months of monsoon, in rest part of the year one can even wade through to reach the northern bank without getting neck-deep in trouble.

Pix: Manish SinhaTo perform post-cremation dip the Hindus now often prefer to boat across to the northern bank of the river as it has shifted northward. Similar is the situation during the festival of Chhath. Often we come across the news of boat disaster during the Chhath. What today flows along Bihar's capital, Patna, and other cities in the non-monsoon months is a narrow, shallow stream of dirty water fit for anything but drinking and bathing. The drying up of Ganga is attributed to the disproportionate use of waters by the upper riparian states, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the storage of water from its tributaries by Nepal, and the 1996 Ganga Waters Agreement with Bangladesh.

All the other towns situated along the southern bank of Ganga are facing severe drinking and irrigation water shortage. In the historic town of Munger, for instance, the Ganga virtually ceases to exist during the summer. Even in Patna, one can find several islands emerging in the middle of the river. The water table in all these districts has gone down considerably.

There has always been a generally feeling in the ruling and social circles that Bihar has over the years been cheated in the distribution of water. If the trend continues for another four decades, they calculate, Ganga would literally cease to exist in the state, save during the monsoon.

Pix: SujataThe Ganga in Bihar, according to experts, is in as bad shape as the Yamuna is in Delhi. May be it is not so contaminated. But that is because the state has fewer industries. The fall in the waterline started decades ago. The Ganga Waters Agreement of December 1996 drove the proverbial last nail in the coffin. Under the agreement, water from the Farakka barrage situated almost on the Bihar-West Bengal border is to be released for Bangladesh and the Haldia port during the lean season. The waters so released are not only of the already dry Ganga but also of its North and South Bihar tributaries such as Kosi, Budhi Gandak, Mahananda, Kamla, Balan, Bagmati, etc.

The four barrages over Ganga in UP, and the several others on its tributaries (such as Yamuna) in Haryana, have reduced the flow of water in dry months. The barrages in UP are situated in Hardwar, Narora, Tehri and Kanpur. The last was constructed only a few years ago, despite protests from Bihar.

The Ganga, which bisects Bihar, has political, social and economic importance. It is rather ironic that Bihar has to face such a situation, despite being the most flood-prone state in the country. About 76 per cent of population of North Bihar lives in easily flooded areas. And this is because there is no proper water storage facility in the other parts of the state. Almost all the rivers, be it of North or South Bihar, submerge in the Ganga.

Bihar has two types of rivers. The snow-fed ones, which after originating from the Himalayas in Nepal, hasten downward to the North Bihar plains to meet Ganga. These, especially Kosi (which means curse), Kamla-Balan, Gandak and Budhi Gandak wreak havoc during monsoon every year.

Secondly, there are dozens of rain-fed rivers which, after rising in the hills of Chotanagpur in Jharkhand or even south-eastern Madhya Pradesh or Chhatisgarh, criss-cross the South Bihar plains to fall into Ganga. They remain without water for most of the time. That is the reason why the South Bihar always remains drought-prone.

Almost two million of the total 4.7 million hectares of land in South Bihar have no irrigation facilities. Thus, the towns and villages situated on the southern bank of Ganga have been more hit by the fall in Ganga waters. Old timers say that the river is at its narrowest in the last 50 years.

The snow-fed rivers of North Bihar may not have become water-starved had the Central government paid proper attention. During the lean season, farmers of Nepal would obviously use more water and would allow less water to flow into Bihar. And whatever water comes down from the Himalayan neighbour, the port of Haldia or Bangladesh claim it. And in monsoon a totally contrasting development takes place. Rain water on the lofty Himalaya would flow down through these hundreds of rivers and wreak havoc in North Bihar.

The problem, thus, is that the Union government, while negotiating with the neighbouring country, never took into account the cause of Bihar. The December 1996 agreement with Bangladesh was signed when H D Deve Gowda was prime minister and I K Gujral the foreign minister. The Then Bihar's Water Resources Minister Jagdananad Singh, had lodged a strong protest over the agreement, but nobody bothered to listen.

To further the cause of Bihar, it was planned that the MPs from the state would call on the President. But except for a handful of parliamentarians none took much interest. While in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, politicians cutting across party lines took united stand on the Cauvery issue, in Bihar the issue fell a victim to politics. Similarly in water dispute over Sutlej the politicians of Punjab and Haryana?cutting across the party line?remain united.




Many thanks to Mr.Ahmed for an article for genuine cause.


I thank Mr Saroor Ahmed for Writing up such a good article which hits the roots of one of the core problems of our state.

It reminds me of my childhood when we used to hear that the level of water has 'Ran Away' and even the bore wells could not work to water the fields. How depressing it was for us to think and feel what would happen to our crops and subsequent financial repercussions. Every farmer felt the extreme pervasive helplessness and hopelessness. Continued exposure to such feelings later on resulted in mass exodus to bigger cities.

Until I read the ideas of our President Dr Abdul Kalam I had no hope left regarding the future of harvesting in South Bihar. The suggestions of our president are based on his studies in the South Indian states where the water situation is even worse than Bihar. They are managing it in the south so why cant we manage our water resources better?

We sincerely hope that the current government takes measures to improve the situation. As rightly pointed out by Mr Saroor Ahmed water management should be a cross party issue and all the political parties should do their bit for making water the highest priority.

Perhaps this would be the best gift for the less lucky people of our state. Primary job of a government is providing for the basic the necessities.

It would be very useful if our journalists report on the current developmental steps being taken/followed in our state. News about water management would perhaps help the like minded people unite and pressurise the politicians to actively engage in core developmental causes.

Dr Ajay Kapoor , UK


Over exploitation of Ganga water by upper riperian states-west UP/Uttaranchal

Last year in the month of may I was going from Delhi to Haridwar by road , passing through the famous prosperous westen UP. It was the month of Baisakh, the peak summer season. being native of rual Patna district where starting from the month of chaitra one can hardly see any green patch,only wide spread of parched grey land and the fields barren-after harvesting of rabbi crops-,with occasional patches in the close vicinity of the villages which grow few bigahas of GARMA DHAN.but even the acerage under garma dhan is shrinking of late given high diesel and other input costs costs and non remunerative paddy prices. but the scene in the western districts of UP was allmost like ASSARDH only thing missing were the black monsoon clouds. The fields were lush greens with the canals -big and small -swollen with water and irrigating the fields. allmost every plot of land was having variety of standing crops.I became curious and was suprised.Water was every where to irrigate the fields that too in peak summer.You take a peasant of cenrtal Bihar to this part of the counrty and he will be shocked beyond belief that one can have this much of water for irrigation in BAISHAKH and JETH .Friends bihari farmers can reap harvest of gold if they are provided even 1/10 of this assured irrigation facility.It appears that the whole of Ganga water is meant only for this part of the country. We in Bihar have to carry only the burden of the river.

KAUSHAL KISHORE.( Kharbhaia / Fatuha / Patna) New Delhi.


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