January 1, 2009 12:26:20 am
Three months into the new year, Bihar hopes to put into the past what was one of the worst floods in its history. Work is on to plug the 1.7-km breach in the Kosi at Western Kushaha, which had let thousands of cusecs of water into the state in August last year, bringing in its wake deluge, destruction and hundreds of deaths.
With the Government setting a deadline of March 31, 2009, work is on with urgency, intent and pressure. A team of 72 Kosi Project engineers is at hand, contracted by A Vasistha Private Ltd. A Kosi Breach Closure Advisory Team (KBCAT) under retired engineer-in-chief N Sanyal is monitoring the project.
The work has been divided into two phases. The first closure was of a breach 1,000 metres wide. The second phase will begin on January 15, after water discharge from the breach has been completely closed. A 1,100-metre coffer dam has come up 2 km inside, almost parallel to the breach point.
The embankment, with a base width of 25 metres, has been so far raised up by 3 metres. The final width of the embankment at the top will be 6 metres while its height would be 7.3 metres. The upper portion of the embankanment will have stone chips as cover.
Says Kosi Project Assistant Engineer Mohammed Shakir Ansari: “We have taken soil (silt) from the borrowed area of the river. After every layer of soil, we make it compact with the use of heavy rollers for hours. By the time the second layer is placed, the previous layer has become solid.”
The boulders, placed next to the embankment to cut the impact of the water, would be placed till 1.2 metres inside. “An ‘apron’ of iron-crated stone layer is being extended till 18 metres from the embankment base into the river. It is done to prevent the embankment from scouring. As scouring or cutting takes places, ‘apron’ will go down, working as a protective shield for the embankment,” said the engineer.
Sandbags, with nylon wires, have also been placed inside the river to stop the water flow towards the breach point. Two coffer dams of 400 metres each have been closed. The final dam will be closed by January 5.
Over 1,500 workers, mostly from Nepal, are busy putting sandbags, unmindful of the icy water of Kosi. Pointing out that there was a deadline, Sanam Sardar, one of those at work, said: “It is a great feeling to work for breach closure. We are happy to get employment.”
A few metres away, Sanyal is meticulously keeping a watch on the proceedings. He is confident of completing the work on time. “We are getting results of our efforts. Water discharge in the first pilot channel has gone up by 2,600 cusecs, of the total 5,900 cusecs discharge from the barrage and breach point.” Of three pilot channels, two have been made operational to allow water discharge from the barrage. Asked if everything was going as per KBCAT specifications, Sanyal said: “We have only provided the outline, it is up to the engineer-in-chief to seek compliance of quality control.”
However, one big problem facing the breach closure is frequent labour unrest, an issue A Vasistha Private Ltd is planning to take up with the Bihar Government.
The Indian Government has already conceded the demand of a Nepal workers’ union to raise daily wages for labour from Rs 100 to Rs 125. “We had to deviate from our scheduled rate. We cannot afford stoppages of work and non-continuance of material supply,” said an engineer.
The Nepal workers also insist that Indian workers should not be allowed at the site — a clause in the Indo-Nepal Treaty makes it desirable for India to give preference to Nepali workers. Though the coffer dam has a sizeable number of Indian workers, the breach plug site has only Nepali workers.
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