Supaul (Bihar): Ignoring the biting cold, Kalkatiya Devi, Sobha Devi and Ramiya Devi, with toddlers in their lap, have been sitting along with the displaced flood and river erosion victims under the open sky for the last three days, staging an indefinite satyagraha. They are demanding relief, assistance and compensation which they haven’t received till date after the floods last year, violating the state government’s own norms.
These women are part of the more than 200 villagers living within the embankments of Koshi river in Bihar’s Supaul district, who began their indefinite satyagraha on Thursday, January 10, for their rightful compensation which has been withheld by District Magistrate (DM) Baidyanath Yadav and against the silence of the top brass of the state government.
Kalkatiya Devi, who is in her late 20s, expressing her anger over the administration’s attitude, said, “We have been protesting peacefully for genuine demands and rights but the district administration has ignored us so far. It has exposed the anti-people and anti-poor stand of the government. We will soon be forced to go on hunger strike.”
Sobha said, “It appeared that the local administration did not bother to protect us from the cold in the night by putting a tent on our head or a fire to warm us. With the help of local people, a small tent was erected on Friday night to protect the women and their toddlers as well as some physically challenged men who have been sitting in the satyagraha.”
Other women like Sita Devi, Phoolkumari Devi and Paro Devi narrated their pain and sufferings by singing folk songs.
“We will continue this indefinite satyagraha cum dharna, till our 11-point demands are fulfilled and money has been deposited in the bank accounts of the hundreds of displaced flood and river erosion victims,” Mahender Yadav, convenor of the Koshi Nav Nirman Manch told NewsClick.
Santosh Mukhiya, another victim said that hundreds of children of his village Khokhaha Goth have been deprived of school education after his village was eroded by river. However, nobody in the administration has been paying any attention to them.
Repeated efforts to contact the DM proved futile as his official staff informed that he is busy and cannot talk.
There are more than 1 lakh inhabitants in 380 villages located between the embankments of Koshi in Supaul. They have been forced to fight for survival for years as government continued to discriminate against them.
Yadav, an activist working among the flood victims in Koshi region told NewsClick, “The district administration had been working against the government’s own norms by not providing relief, assistance and compensation to the flood victims living within the embankments of Koshi. This compensation is the right of the people living within the embankments, not charity and alms.”
According to him, “Flood victims led by the Koshi Nav Nirman Manch have repeatedly approached the DM in the last six months for relief, assistance and compensation after floods destroyed their houses, standing crops and livestock. But nothing has happened so far.” He added that they have reduced the flood victims to a joke, by forcing them to continue living within the embankments.
Several flood victims including Indeshwar Sada, Savitri Devi, Bindeshwari Ram and Patri Devi described the district administration’s apathy to the people living within embankments as insensitive and irresponsible.
Saying that the victims have been neglected by successive governments, he said, “Hundreds of acres of cultivable land are destroyed by the floods every year. They are forced to live within embankments without proper rehabilitation and land. This has become an annual journey when they become victims of nature's fury. Hundreds of houses which were damaged last year are yet to be built.”
What is surprising for the flood and river erosion victims is that different government agencies claim that they have distributed compensation and provided assistance to all, which is however only on paper.
Last year’s flood was less damaging as far as floods are concerned in Bihar as fewer districts were affected due to poor monsoon. The year before, in 2017, devastating floods had claimed the lives of 514 people and thousands of livestock in 21 districts, affecting nearly 17 million people.
Floods and flash floods are not new to Bihar. In 2017, 2007, 2008 and 2004 the state was in the news for suffering the “worst floods ever”. According to official estimates, floods have claimed 6,028 lives in Bihar since 2000.
After embankments were constructed in the early 1950s, thousands of people had been left within the embankments, at the mercy of floods. There are 3789.96 kilometres of embankments in Bihar.