Bihar: Distressed Farmers Living Within Koshi River Embankments Demand Land Ownership
Patna: Rajender Yadav, Ashok Shah, Rajendra Thakur, Md Sadrul, and Maha Devi, all distressed farmers living within the embankments of the Koshi river in Bihar’s Supaul district, share one thing in common: they want ownership of their farmland submerged in the river, known for changing its course of flow and shifting regularly, and against the government move to take ownership of such land through a land survey.
Thousand of farmers, who have been fighting for survival for years within the embankments without basic amenities like schools, health centres, and safe drinking water, have decided to adopt the Gandhian model of struggle - Satyagraha for a Jan Andolan (peoples' movement) to force the government to ensure ownership of their farmland submerged in Koshi river. Besides, they want the government to provide relief and compensation to victims of floods and erosion, fulfill the guarantee of basic facilities for them, and the abolition of tax on 4 hectares of farmland because of silt and floods within the embankment.
Fearing the loss of ownership of their farmland submerged in Koshi, farmers have been protesting against the provision of the land survey that any land submerged in the river will be surveyed as government land.
Their fear is not baseless. As per the rules of the Bihar Special Survey and Settlement Act, 2011, the land along the glow of the river and between the embankment belongs to the state government.
Yadav, Shah, Thakur, Sadrul and Devi, who along with hundreds of others attended Kisan-Mazdoor Mahapanchayat in Supaul on September 25 have got a boost for their struggle with Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patekar joining them and assuring them that a proposal to support Koshi farmers struggle will be brought in next meeting of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha. It will take the issue of protesting Koshi farmers before the countrywide farmers and will extend support to them.
She has announced her solidarity with victims living within the embankments of Koshi and to take their genuine issues and demands to people outside.
"It is not proper on the part of the state government to claim ownership of land submerged in the river because the land will reappear as the river has been changing its courts of flow and farmers will cultivate for livelihood. The government should change this provision of the land survey that land submerged in the river belongs to the state,” said Patkar while addressing them at Mahapanchayat that was organised by Koshi Nav Nirman Manch (KNNM).
The survey of land within the embankment was part of the stateside land survey that started in 2020 and was supposed to be completed by 2023. But because of protests against land survey between embankments by farmers and likely problems during monsoon, the administration postponed it to May 2022. The controversial land survey between embankments is likely to resume next month and farmers have made up their minds to intensify protests to save ownership of farmland.
Koshi river experts admitted time and again that changing the course of Koshi is not new and regular shifting of its flow results in floods, inundation of new areas, displacement and submergence of farmland.”Koshi is an unpredictable river. What it will do next year, no one can say. This river has been changing its course for ages and shifted to a large extent during the last few decades as official records suggest,” Ranjeev, a river activist told NewsClick.
According to many of these farmers, Koshi is flowing in their farmland currently but it was not earlier. If the land survey identifies this submerged land as government land, they would lose their ownership of the land when it reappears.
They have pointed out that land survey is posing a threat to their ownership of land submerged in the river due to the change of its course even though they have been paying taxes and have official records of it.
Mahender Yadav, the founder of KNNM, which has been at the forefront, told NewsClick that the issue of land ownership is directly linked to livelihood within the embankments of Koshi and needs the urgent attention of the Mahagathbandhan government.
"When changing the course of the river is submerging farmland regularly and farmers are hapless about what to do, the government should come forward to change the rules of land survey for ownership of such land to farmers. It will be a big relief to farmers living within the embankments," he said.
Mahendar said the pain and misery of those living within the embankments of Koshi are not known to outsiders. They have been facing damage and devastation caused by annual flooding, erosion, and displacement that badly affects those living within the embankments.
There are 380 villages within the Koshi embankment on the Indian side and 34 villages in Nepal. They were given rehabilitation on the embankments but the 'land for land' policy was not adopted for them. They were supposed to live in the rehabilitation sites and cultivate their land located within the embankments. The KNNM has been mobilising farmers, who have been forced to live within the embankment for years and have become victims of floods and erosion year after year.
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