The eastern Kosi embankment slithers along the edges of the river, some two kilometres west of Mahishi Mandan Dham, the place made famous by the local scholar Mandan Mishra who challenged Adi Shankaracharya to an intellectual joust.
The embankment built in the late 1950s traverses over 100 km to reach Bhimnagar on the border with Nepal to the North East and down to Salkhua in the south, guiding the Kosi to drain off into the Ganga after passing through Koparia and Naugacchia.
Thousands upon thousands of people of Saharsa are now taking shelter on the embankment, the fear of the apocalyptic floods of August 18, 2008, which devastated the north Bihar plains killing over 350, still fresh in their minds.
The flash flood in the adjacent district of Araria and to the west, in Madhubani and Darbhanga, has been playing on the minds of the people here. For,a slow but steady migration for fear of the unpredictable Kosi has started to occur from this region.
With predictions of heavy rainfall in the terai region of Nepal and in the Kosi region, people fear a fresh flood may threaten their existence once again, as it did so violently at Nauhatta in 1984.
In 1984, the embankment broke at Nauhatta, causing the Kosi to consume hundreds of people in the lower lying villages and sweeping away an estimated 3,000 people and thousands of cattle heads. Then, in August 2008, happened the Kusaha breach.
For the past five days, Kosi has been pounding the embankment at the 74th chain, forcing engineers to man the critical points and keep the embankment from collapsing. Boulders, cement and sand packing continue at the point, where the river hits the embanking, loosening earthwork.
Evan as engineers claim, ‘the situation is not critical’, people are packing their bags and leaving the area. “We half believe them, for when the flood comes, only God can help”, said Amit Anand, a social activist.
Thousands of people who live in villages between the eastern and western embankments of the Kosi are parking on the embankments or pouring into Mahishi and Saharsa town as the water rises steadily. “We have been on the embankment for five days since out hamlets were submerged, but the administration has not even noticed us”, flood victims staying on the eastern embankment said.
For several, bed sheets hung tied to bamboo poles act as makeshift tents, while evacuated cattle, men, women and children live cheek by jowl on the embankment.
Sohan Kumar Choudhary of Ara village, who was evacuated from his village, said, “we need boats to save people, but there is hardly any. Then, there is no food”.
Officer-in-charge, disaster management (Saharsa), Ranjeet Kumar said: “We are preparing to distribute dry food packets among the evacuees”, adding, “the Kosi is not threatening for now.”
There is no way, however, that he can convince villagers who have left Mahishi, Nauhatta, Salkhua, Simri Bakhtiyarpur and Banma Itahari blocks, even as the pressure at point 77.74 km near Balba of Nauhatta builds up.
Madhepura MP, Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav said, “The situation can lead to a major disaster, if the embankment comes down”, while blaming the state for lack of preparedness and maintenance of the embankment.
Water resources department executive engineer (Chandrayan division) Syed Ahmed said the situation was under control. “There is nothing for worry”, he stated.
However, reports said, the situation at point 52.5 km on the western embankment, flanking Darbhanga, was alarming. This point falls under Ghonghepur panchayat in Mahishi, Saharsa. Junior engineer of WRD, Nirmali division, Owais Ahmed, engaged in flood fighting work, admitted the situation was serious.
He, however, added that round the clock strengthening work and vigil had been mounted. “If the Kosi ploughs through here, Darbhanga town and Kushehwar Sthan of Samastipur, will be threatened”, he admitted.