Bihar, a state which houses 10 crore citizens of India, retains the third position in the list of most populous Indian states (Census 2011). According to the SDG index report (2019-20) published by NITI Aayog, India has considerably improved its Composite score from 57 in 2018 to 60 in 2019, still Bihar stands as the worst performer in the index. As Bihar continues to be among the most poverty stricken states in India, persistent flood,the degrading state of affairs and subsequent lack of national concern for the people of Bihar has led to a daunting situation.
Every year Bihar is ravaged by life threatening floods with millions getting ‘severely affected’ which includes a loss of livelihood, livestock, agricultural crops and uprooting and the displacement of agricultural communities of North Bihar. North Bihar is a densely populated region with a majority of population involved in agricultural activity. This part of the state receives its waters from Himalayan river and hence is prone to recurrent floods. Frequent floods and lack of effective policy measures to mitigate the loss have further pushed the state into the web of poverty, distress and acute financial crisis. The Economic Survey Report 2020 published by the Bihar Government highlights that during the July 2019 floods the state incurred a substantial crop damage as a result more than 5 lakh hectare of agricultural land could not be sown. This not only has adverse effects on the communities deriving livelihood from agriculture but also has severely affected Agriculture sector’s contribution to the state’s GDP which has drastically fallen from 35.8 percent in 2000-01 to 19.7 percent in 2017-18. This years floods have caused destruction in northern parts of Bihar with more than 30 lakh people getting affected and thus contributing to Bihar’s already grim situation of fighting coronavirus with flooded hospitals, speculation of spike in cases and a further spread of the disease.
Bihar was the first state to launch a 15 year Disaster Risk Reduction Roadmap in 2015 to reduce economic loss caused by disasters by 50 percent and loss of lives by 75%. As the state celebrates its fifth anniversary, not much has been done to overcome the loss.
Since 2015 the number of deaths caused by floods has seen an upward slope with a cumulative of more than thousand deaths. In fact during Bihar 2017 flood, over 1.30 crore families were severely affected. While the government might be blamed for its lack of graded policy response to rehabilitate, mitigate and prevent damages but what is also worth noting is how the apathy of Bihar fails to be a part of prime time TV debates. A heavy downpour of rainfall on the streets of South Bombay, Bandra and Worli is covered by the national media with great enthusiasm but the voices of lament from Bihar go unnoticed.
The floods in Northern Bihar are not something new and are repeated every year. While the legacy and lessons of battling floods might be passed on from one generation to the other what doesn’t seem to be passed on are effective measures to control these floods. In the last 2.5 years 2200 trees have been cut in the state’s capital , Patna itself. Trees constitute the first line of defence in our battle against natural disasters and their indiscriminate cutting makes the region more prone to floods.
While Bihar has already banned tree felling on 22 June 2019 but this order came under the purview of the Forest Conservation Act, which is legislated by the Central Government. In order to ensure a holistic and sustained development of the nature and curb deforestation it is imperative that the state ensures the enactment of its own Tree protection Act similar to other states like Maharashtra and Delhi. For instance in Delhi axing a tree is difficult because of Delhi Preservation of Trees Act which has been in place since 1994. Since north Bihar gets gripped in the cycle of floods every year it is important that the government ensures less housing along the embankments and ramps up efforts to ensure minimal loss. North Bihar constitutes a major proportion in the state’s food bowl. It is crucial that the government draws up a decisive plan to battle floods every year and be proactive rather than reactive. Our approach to fight the floods needs to move beyond our borders and ensure environmental cooperation as well as early warning systems with Nepal to fight the increased frequency of floods due to climate change, primarily because heavy rains in Nepal are one of the major reasons for the current situation.
Lastly, the disparity in regional development needs to be minimised and the nation needs to be move forward together because the economic status of Bihar, its minimal contribution to the National GDP , and low per capita income are some of the major reasons which make us uncharitable towards its current situation and hence it loses spot from the national television. Backward states need to be provided with adequate aid and assistance to fight the natural disasters which every year make their situation worse and altogether force them to begin from the start.
A rejuvenated action policy also needs to be formulated on a national level for states like Bihar , Assam, Meghalaya etc, which are more prone to natural disasters so as to make sure that the Indian response to the increasing threats because of climate change is well equipped, evaluated and systematic.
And also to ascertain the fact that The government carries out its duty of rehabilitating the affected individuals primarily the destitute, poor and deprived section of the society and not merely leave them unescorted and hence compelling them to rescue themselves in their self-made boats.
Written By- Sehaj Singh
(Sehaj is a first year student of B. A. (Hons) Political Science at Kirori Mal College.)