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Conflicts and Collusion around the Kosi Embankments: Building Consensus through Dialoguing

Written by: 
Nivedita Mani

Whether embankments should be used to control floods is a million-dollar question, where there has been a regular history of embankments breach causing huge damages every few years. Not only flood trends but the embankments have created new set of problems and challenges for people living in the area.  Following this, in the Kosi basin, there are critics for either side of the question - for and against the Kosi embankment policies. But largely seen, the Kosi embankments have caused new conflicts and competitions - physically, socially, and economically.

The multi-staged and multi-layered dialogues with these communities in the Kosi Basin reveals that villages subject to river flooding are no worse off than villages considered to be ‘protected by embankments’. In other words, while the people living inside the embankments are the miserable lot, the ones living outside it, are not happy, either because of problems created by embankments.

The socio-political division that the Kosi has made has led to conflicts and collusion among the various groups of people. If seen collectively, the Kosi embankments have brought curse on all its inhabitants, irrespective of their location, resulting in sinking peace and harmony in the area.

Kosi embankments came with some inherent problems which need to be understood with a wider perspective. A river, with humungous amount of sediment load, when embanked, resulted in raising the river-bed level, further demanding the raising of embankments too, which is a practically not-so-feasible option. Further, the water seeping through these embankments, causes acute waterlogging to the extent that it forms a water stream which is now famously termed as the “seepage river” by the locals.

Despite the two sets of tough lives between and outside the embankments, for either category of people, the other side looks greener. This is where the conflicts begin. Following explains the embankment related views of the different categories of communities:

People living within the embankments live a life full of miseries. All they want is that the embankments should be demolished and they should be out of it. There have been incidences where they have even tried to breach the embankments during the flood season.  

Those living close to the embankments in the countryside are in a state of flux. They are the ones who sacrificed their lands for the embankments. Much of their land also became unproductive because of water logging subsequent to the construction of the embankments. In about 1.5-2 kms area of the embankments, no crops can be cultivated. Though the embankments have done no good to them, they still safeguard the structure during the rainy season so that no damage happens, leading to conflicts between the embankment slayers and saviours.

Those who live far away, outside the embankments in the countryside generally favour the embankments as they are protected from the flood waters. But they fail to understand the larger ill-effects of it. The irony is that this category of people outnumber those who are the actual sufferers, haven’t also made any sacrifices but are more vocal in passing judgements, at the cost of other two.

The embankment saga has given rise to confusions, conflicts, collusions and apprehensions in people. To address this looming crisis, GEAG sees a clear need to undertake a participatory, multistage dialogue process on conflicting issues that impede the basin’s sustainable development, essentially with all these categories of people and develop a sense of joint ownership of the process and become stakeholders in identifying new approaches to address these common challenges.

This blog has been contributed by Ms Nivedita Mani as part of a project being led by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group on “Multi-layered Stakeholders’ Dialogue to Build Support for Sustainable Water Resources Management in Koshi River Basin”, supported by The Asia Foundation.