With the danger of flood looming large in the Kosi belt along Bihar-Nepal border, the Bihar government today ordered forcible evacuation of people living in the space between the river and its embankments in nine districts of the state.
The move follows the discharge of 1.25 lakh cusecs of water after the Nepalese Army conducted two low-intensity blasts to partially remove the landslide debris blocking Bhote Kosi, one of the tributaries of Kosi. The release of water has raised the water level in the river in Bihar.
"We have invoked the provisions of the Disaster Management Act to initiate forcible evacuation of population living in the danger zone of Kosi. So far we have evacuated 16,800 people, but over 60,000 are still present between the river and its embankment," Disaster Management Department (DMD) Special Secretary Anirudh Kumar told reporters.
"Our latest estimates show 4.25 lakh persons living around Kosi in the state could be affected if the river swells drastically. We are trying to move all of them," added Kumar.
The landslide and the ensuing damming of Bhote Kosi, a major tributary of Kosi has occurred at Jure in Sindhupalchok district of Nepal. The place is located north of Kathmandu and around 260 km from the Bihar-Nepal border.
The DMD Special Secretary said 15 companies of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), four columns of Army and four companies of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) deployed in Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Khagaria, Araria, Madhubani, Bhagalpur, Purnia and Darbhanga have been asked to lend help in evacuating people.
Supaul has been made the headquarters of the evacuation, relief and rescue operations. The state government has opened 120 relief camps for human and 17 camps for cattle to accommodate the people being moved.
The displaced persons are also being provided shelter in schools and colleges located on high ground. All the camps and shelters have food, sanitation and medical facilities.
"The situation is under control so far and there is no need to panic. We are prepared to face any eventuality. Four Air Force helicopters have been kept ready at Bihta airbase to launch evacuation operations," Kumar said.
"Another 17 helicopters belonging to various armed and paramilitary forces are on standby in the neighbouring states," Kumar added.
The Bhote Kosi was blocked on Friday after a massive landslide cut loose huge portions of mountains which fell on the river. Around 25 lakh cusec of water has accumulated there as a result and the Nepal government is trying to blast it since then.
The Bihar government had issued a high alert yesterday and ordered evacuation of people living in the low-lying areas close to Kosi, saying a 10-metre high wall of water could sweep down the river after the accumulated water becomes free.
The DMD Special Secretary said Indian experts are helping Nepal Army in blasting away the landslide debris in a step-by-step manner so that the accumulated water is discharged slowly.
"If the entire blockage is blown away at one go and 25 lakh cusecs of water is discharged all of a sudden, it will bring a deluge in north Bihar," he added.
Meanwhile, NDRF Director General (DG) Mehboob Alam has arrived in Bihar. He is stationed at the force's state headquarters at Bihta, around 40 kilometres from the state capital to monitor and supervise the situation.
NDRF Deputy Inspector General S S Guleria said five more companies of the force will be flown to Bihar from Bhatinda in Punjab to bolster the evacuation and relief operations going on in the Kosi region.
Guleria said all NDRF teams working on the ground are highly trained in flood rescue work and providing pre-hospital medical services to the people.
He also added that 25 satellite phones have been provided to various forces engaged in the evacuation and relief work for facilitating smooth communication between them.
The state government is keeping its fingers crossed that a repeat of the Kosi disaster 2008 does not happens. A breach in Kosi embankment at Kushaha in Nepal on August 18, 2008 had brought one of the most disastrous floods in Bihar.
The river changed its course, killing hundreds of people and displacing around 30 lakh people. The incident also brought wide scale destruction of over 8 lakh acres of agriculture land.