It’s a race against time for 25-year-old Jahane Alam to save his mud house from the ravaging Mahananda river that has already swept away several dwellings of Mirchantola village. Alam’s house, which was once in the middle of the village, is precariously dangling from the edge of the river bank. As the gushing waters swallow chunks of the river bank, a desperate Alam, with the help of other villagers, dismantled the tin shed and bamboo walls.
“I have asked a fellow villager to make a temporary arrangement where I can keep my belongings. After that I will think of where life takes me,” said Alam, who was working at a construction site in Punjab until the pandemic-triggered lockdown came into effect. A few metres away from his house, the local Jama Masjid could not survive the ferocity of the Mahananda.
Mirchantola is one the 25 villages in Amour Vidhan Sabha constituency in north Bihar that has been braving floods and massive land erosion over the past few years. This year, in Mirchantola alone, 100 families have been uprooted. Many of them ended up at temporary shelters and relief camps. One such camp has been organised at the local school. “We have taken shelter in this school. Those who own land in upper areas have set up temporary homes in their own land. We don’t own any land. We have not got any help either,” says Dev Lal, a daily wager.
Annual flooding wreaks havoc
What makes this region flood prone is a web of five rivers – Mahananda, Kankai, Baqra, Parwan and Mechi. Every year, incessant rain and floods inundate these villages and affect sources of livelihood as well. Md Ekramuddin of neighbouring Palankaf says those who lose their land to the river are left with little choice. “When flood waters recede, they can grow only watermelon. The entire region is becoming a single crop economy,” he said.
Four kilometres south of Mirchantola, Kankai river – a tributary of the Mahananda – has submerged a part of Surjapur village. Around 40 families, mostly landless labourers, have taken refuge on the mud road on the east bank of Kankai. Among those who lost their home is 27-year-old Ummati. “We don’t own any land. My husband visits Punjab every year during the harvest season. He earns around Rs 12,000-14,000 in those two months. He works on farms here the rest of the year. But this year has been really bad. There is no work,” a pregnant Ummati said with a wry smile that belies the agony and pain her family is going through .
Wary of the upcoming winter season, she said, “It is already scary to spend the night with children here in the camp. If we don’t get rehabilitated soon, it will become very difficult to spend the winter here.”
Sitting on a narrow patch of the Asja Purab Tola Eidgah, which was eventually swept away in flood waters, 65-year-old Abdul Lateef says erosion at the Mahananda has intensified in the last half-a-decade. “We lost everything to Mahananda over the years. We had agricultural land but own none at present. We moved to a dry and safer place, but even that is in danger now,” he said. With the Eidgah already under water, the village is fast losing its graveyard also.
Speaking over the phone, Congress MLA Abdul Jaleel Mastan, who has represented the Amour Vidhan Sabha constituency six times, says non-availability of land to rehabilitate these uprooted families is a problem. “As per the policy, the government will pay for 3 decimal of land for each of these families. But the problem is there is no land. Also, there is a huge difference between the government fixed rate and the current market,” he said.
Though he was evasive when asked about the steps he has taken to stop erosion of land, he said makeshift measures of bamboo embankment are not effective. “The state government has no policy to address the problem,” he said.
During floodings of this scale, the entire region banks on a single road that runs from north to the south. Though the National Highway No 31 is just a few kilometres away towards the east, there is no bridge over the Mahananda that could make communication easier. “There are no roads or bridges from west to east,” said Mastan.
Mohammed, younger brother of Lateef, said politicians make tall promises but deliver nothing. From being sarcastic, his tone changes to hopelessness, when he added, “We lost everything in our lifetime. How will our children survive?”
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