Mother Ganges lashes back in Bihar

With three major river systems joining the Ganges in Bihar, flow improves markedly compared to that between Narora and Allahabad.

The Ghagra, Gandak, and Koshi come down from Nepal and flow into the Ganges downstream from Varanasi restoring some of the glory of the Ganges.

The regular floods, almost a yearly occurrence, routinely deposit silt which makes both banks of the Ganges in Bihar highly fertile and arable. People are also into cattle rearing.

Experts say unplanned embankments and infrastructure like bridges over the rivers are breaking up the river into channels — some of them are diverted up to 1.5km away from the original course.

Despite the deliberate exploitation, in the form of unplanned development and the river being subject to abuse, most people comfortably escape guilt putting it all down as “whims of Mother Ganges.” They say it must be what the holy mother wants or it would not have happened since the Ganges is a significant Hindu deity.

According to Ravindra Kumar Singh, vice chancellor of Nalanda Open University: “In addition to unplanned development, the role of Farakka barrage is also significant for floods in Bihar.”

“In addition to unplanned development, the role of Farakka barrage is also significant for floods in Bihar.”

He explained that sedimentation had clogged parts of the river because the regular flow was obstructed.

Pointing to the on-going construction, Patna resident Imran Khan said the government was now building the Patna Expressway where the river used to be since it has veered 1.5km away. “Even 15 years ago, people would rent boats here to cross the river. Now the river has dried up completely.”

A boatman Surendar Yadav, who has been in the vocation for the last 35 years said there were dolphins in the area.

He said the river started to break up into channels when the government started construction of the expressway along the collectorate ghat in Patna. “Not only that, bridges on the Ganges have also broken up the river into channels.”

With the river shifting its course away gradually, there are shoals at the heart of the Ganges which in turn are being exploited by sand traders.

Dr Sinha said although the people of Bihar, including the governor, had decided against embankments in 1937, for its obvious ill effects, the decision was overturned about 20 years later in an independent India when embankments were all the rave.

By 1990 embankments covered 6.8 million hectares up from 2.5 million.

“So, we are playing with nature, and nature is taking its toll. The government has yet to stop building embankments. Rather it is still pumping money into these projects.”

He explained that the river had become too shallow with high levels of silt deposit. This was basically due to reduced flow. Without the strong current, the river could not push the silt downriver and that was why the riverways were getting clogged upriver from Farakka.

Together, these have given rise to intense flooding taking a severe toll on people, livestock and crops.