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Wild elephants are seriously obstructing the Bihar government’s flood protection measures in the Kusaha area of Nepal, about 12 km north of Birpur, a border town in Supaul district, which are crucial for the well being of vast areas of north Bihar.
For, it was in Kusaha that the eastern afflux bund (embankment) on the Kosi river had been breached in August 2008, causing widespread devastation in five districts of north Bihar as well as in some parts of the Himalayan country. The catastrophe had claimed almost 500 lives and affected over three million people.
Officials engaged in flood protection measures said elephants inhabiting the nearby protected forest zone frequently came out of their abode and blocked the mobility of men and machinery deployed by the Bihar water resources department (WRD), alongside the afflux bund.
“These elephants cause damage to anti-flood structures like spurs, which have been built to deflect strong current of water and minimise the river’s impact on the embankment,” said a source overseeing the flood protection measures.
The wild elephants have also been demolishing camp offices set up by the department to protect the 32 km long eastern afflux bund, constructed on the upstream of the Kosi. The structure has been built to check the increased level of water caused by the construction of Birpur barrage on the river.
On June 14, the elephants went on the rampage and damaged the camp offices at Madhuban and Kushaha areas in Nepal. “Free movement of wild animals in the Kosi project area in Nepal is indeed a matter of concern and we are taking steps to contain the menace,” said principal secretary of the WRD Arun Kumar Singh.
To facilitate the unhindered movement of the department’s field engineers and machinery on the bund, the WRD has created road diversions at many places, so that if elephants block the main road, the WRD personnel can take these diverted routes to reach their destinations.
The Nepalese government has also installed solar power fencing alongside the protected forest zone to prevent the animals from entering the nearby villages. The solar powered wires provide mild shock to the animals, when they came in contact with the fence.
However, despite the steps initiated by the WRD as well as the Nepalese administration, the elephants remained a serious threat to the embankment, said the department’s officials.
Notably, rodents had significantly contributed to the breach in the embankment in 2008. They had cut the metal wires used in the structure causing extensive damage to it, which had gone unnoticed till the embankment had caved in.
The Indian government was so worried about the free movement of wildlife in Kushaha that it had strongly raised the issue at the 8th meeting of the Indo-Nepal Joint Committee on Kosi and Gandak Projects (JCKGP) last year. It had appealed to the Nepalese delegation to take immediate measures on this count, or else it would be very difficult to carry out anti-erosion and other flood protection activities.
“Wild animals, especially elephants, are creating havoc and they need to be controlled either by patrolling or other suitable measures,” the Indian delegation had said at the meeting of the JCKGP. As part of security measures, the Indian side had reiterated the need for deployment of permanent armed police force (AFP) at Rajabas and Kushaha. It insisted that round the clock patrolling should be conducted in the area throughout the year for the safety of the Kosi project facilities.
Moreover, the WRD is much more concerned this time around as the Kosi is heavily inclined towards the afflux bund at Rajabas area of Nepal and attacking the spurs attached with the embankment. “The situation demands utmost vigil and it can’t be possible unless there is unhindered mobility of men and machinery all through the embankment,” said officials.
According to additional secretary, disaster management department (DMD) Anirudh Kumar, the Kosi breach had affected over three million people in five north Bihar districts – Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Purnia and Araria. “The Bihar government had demanded about Rs 14,000 crore from the centre to compensate the losses. However, the state received only Rs 1,000 crore, he said.