Bihar Inspector General of Police Ramchandra Khan is an unusual cop. He feels passionately about the Kosi River, and decades of bad plans to constrict its flow. Inspector Khan understands the cause at hand, and is raring to get justice delivered to the people of the Kosi. Khan comes from Jamalpur Parsia, situated in the middle of the Kosi embankments. Himal’s Shanuj V.C talked to the IGP at his Patna office in the Home Department’s Directorate of Prosecution.
- Why are you against embankments, the taming of Kosi ?
The very perception of taming the Kosi river shows bankruptcy of river engineering. I am questioning the application of half-baked science and half-baked development schemes. When the Kosi Project was initiated in 1955, spearheaded by major political parties, approved by the central government, endorsed by Pandit Nehru and the first president of India [Rajendra Prasad], the perception was that it would completely contain the floods. They said it would usher in a green revolution in Saharsa, Darbanga and Purnea districts, that it would create conditions for industrialisation, create a network of communication, rail and road transport systems. Now after more than 40 years, what do you have, have you succeeded in taming the river? Why has a fertile area now transformed into unfertile land? I wouldn’t call the project a failure, but a devastation, disaster, catastrophe. The plan has failed, the rehabilitation has failed, the development has failed. Corruption in Bihar has its genesis in the Kosi embankments.
Science has only devastated the river, narrowed its width to five to seven kilometres, whereas once, from east to west, the Kosi used to flow at a stretch of 200 kilometres. The engineers, planners and scientists have destroyed the Kosi and turned it into dead water. The Kosi lands have now 20 lakh [2 million] trapped within the embankments, we have lost crops, fodder, fisheries and birds. Everything has been destroyed marketplaces, temples, mosques, health centres, schools, everything. The children don’t go to school, daughters find it difficult to get married, gloom is everywhere.
- What then is the solution you have to offer?
Engineers raise this question as a reply. The point is, let us redeem the width of the river, let us not refuse and deny the river its space. Kosi should get back its original route to the Ganga. I want the total liberation of Kosi, I want it to be released, I want to see the original river area. Since science has brought upon this calamity, the solution has to come from science. Flood is after all only surplus water, and the river a drainage system. Earlier we had the means and wisdom to live and cope with water, there were the tanks and ponds which could distribute the waters. Now look at the Ganga in Varanasi, only one side of it is embanked. Maybe a solution lies there.
- You have been known to treat Kosi as a living organism. Did you actually some years ago talk to the river in the presence of thousands of people?
In 1994-95, I entered the Kosi area and visited 60 villages. It was an emotional moment. Thousands of villagers followed me, even the Muslim women came out. I got talking to the Kosi, I read out poems to her, I did a shruti to the river, many wept. I said to the Kosi, “Come back to us. We don’t want grace, just give us back your water.” The Kosi was never a river of sorrow, it gave us birds, fish and cattle. It was our real mother. Now we have been uprooted, four to five generations of people living in the Kosi area. In the floods of 1986, my family lost around 5000 books and manuscripts, which had been collected over a period of 300 years.
- What is your future plan of action?
There should be a total re-examination of the Kosi Project. The science and planning that have gone into it till now have been inimical to the people. The people have been totally denied their human rights. In 1999, if our voice continues to be unheard, I will lead a mass-scale agitation, I won’t leave the issue to politicians and fake NGOs. I will go to the Human Rights Commission, write to each MP saying that false science must golock, stock and barrel. We do not need your roads, your packages. I will not settle for anything less than the abrogation of the Kosi Project.