January 2, 2009 11:04:26 pm
BY THE time the clock struck three on the afternoon of August 18, 2008, Birpur knew it was truly in a sink or swim situation.
Having inundated several parts of Nepal’s Sunsari district, the Kosi unleashed its first assault in India in this small town in Supaul district, where locals had just hours earlier dismissed any fears of a flood. Birpur was covered with 5 to 10 feet of water for over a month. Now, four-and-a-half months later, it still looks ravaged and shorn of the symbols that made it a sub-division town.
Birpur jail was one of the first casualties of the flood. The 30-foot-high wall of the structure buckled under the furious currents of the Kosi, allowing 27 of its 79 prisoners to escape in August. Other prisoners had to be shifted to Supaul jail. Today, the jail bears a deserted look, the grounds overrun with weeds.
The office areas are empty and the rusted iron bars of the cells have no one under lock and key. The jail administration has left the place lock, stock and barrel for Supaul and the state government has no immediate plans to rebuild the prison.
Barely a few metres from the jail is the now-forlorn civil court, another definitive landmark of the sub-division town. The premises are still surrounded by water and the building has developed cracks in its inner walls because of the constant water seepage. The administration has shifted the court to Supaul as well.
The sub-divisional judicial magistrate court (SDJM) building presents a similar picture. It, too, was shifted to Karjain, 22 km from Birpur. The SDJM court now runs from a panchayat building.
Bal Vikas Kendra, a part of the block office and another one of Birpur’s status symbols, has almost lost its foundation due to the flood. The building can collapse any time.
And while the Kosi Project office might have withstood the fury of the flood, the project engineers who worked here have not come back to work in full strength yet. The chief engineer still carries out his orders from the district headquarters of Supaul.
The flood also swept away hundreds of thatched and mud houses in Birpur, which is now home to about 50,000 people and came up mainly as a Kosi colony after the Birpur Barrage was built in 1963.
While there is no trace left of some homes, several pucca houses have also cracked and collapsed.
The Basmatia Tola area of the town suffered the worst fate, losing over two dozen houses. The current was so ferocious that roads were swept away at as many as 16 places in a 2 km area. Bamboo bridges have now taken their place.
Suresh Paswan, a Basmatia Tola resident, said, “We came back here a month after the flood and tried to rebuild our lives, but we still fear the Kosi.” Jamun Bhagat, on the other hand, has left a message for passersby on his deserted house: “Iss makaan ko dekhte jayiye (please do see this house)”. No one has started reconstruction. Everybody is waiting for word from the state Government regarding new homes for the displaced.
Mithilesh Kumar, a local, said, “Everyone looks up to the government. The survey is still on. People are slowly returning here. After all, all is not lost for Birpur”.
That statement would hold true if the Disaster Management Department succeeds in implementing its plan. Disaster Management Additional Commissioner Pratyay Amrit informed, “A Central team is coming for assessment. We will get a clear picture on house construction within a fortnight. The grant of the Central package would mean that each house would be worth Rs 1.5 lakh.”
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