On the 29th of February 2012 the National Consortium on MGNREGA, in collaboration with the Department of Rural Development, Government of Bihar, organized a state level consultation on Leveraging MGNREGA for Flood Control at Patna. The consultation was held at the Samvad Bhawan, Chief Minister’s Secretariat, Desh Ratan Marg, Patna
The consultation was organized to focus on the status of MGNREGA implementation in Bihar with special emphasis on the state’s flood prone districts. A report prepared for the Consortium by Samaj Pragati Sahayog in collaboration with Megh Pyne Abhiyan, entitled Leveraging MGNREGA for Flood Control: A Case for Policy Reform in Bihar, was released by the Chief Minister of Bihar, Shri Nitish Kumar. Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Rural Development, Government of India and Dr. Mihir Shah, Member, Planning Commission, Government of India, were guests of honour. Other dignitaries present on the occassion were Shri Nitish Mishra, Minister for Rural Development, Government of Bihar, Chief Secretary of Bihar, Principal Secretary, Rural Development, Government of Bihar and Principal Secretary, Water Resources, along with a host of senior GoB officials. The consultation was attended by more than 200 delegates from civil society and PRIs.
Shri Santhosh Mathew, Principal Secretary, Rural Development Government of Bihar, welcomed the guests and participants on behalf of the Government of Bihar. Shri Pramathesh Ambasta made a presentation on the report and gave a brief introduction to the work of the Consortium. He said that the report brings out the fact that:
- It is estimated that there are 39 flood prone districts in India of which 15 are located in Bihar (GoI, 2006). A Planning Commission special task force (Planning Commission, 2008) concluded that almost 41% of the total cropped area in Bihar was flood prone, and noted that there is not much scope for improvement in yield due to water logging, poor drainage and water management, recommending urgent government investment in measures like drainage and desilting of rivers.
- The traditional response to floods in Bihar have been to control them through construction of embankments to contain rivers. However, despite the proliferation of embankments, especially in the post-independence era, the flood-prone area has increased manifold.
- Related to floods is the problem of waterlogging. This occurs because of the rise of underground water table close to the surface, and water collects in topographical depressions due to insufficient drainage. Over time, encroachment of the drainage channels or obstruction due to construction of roads, railway lines and embankments have caused a near collapse of this drainage system, thus compounding the problems created by floods. The traditional response mechanism of growing water intensive crops such as sugarcane to bring down the groundwater table has been given up because of the non-remunerative nature of such agriculture, especially in a situation of low, uncertain and expensive power options for such irrigation.
- MGNREGA funds, could potentially be leveraged to rehabilitate at the very minimum, the drainage and chaur system of Bihar. Simultaneously such funds could be leveraged for deepening and desilting of the main drainage channels where flooding occurs. Such a strategy would mean a reorientation of flood-proofing strategy from an “one size fits all” embankment-centric strategy to a more location-one where drainage systems are carefully designed and undertaken as per local needs. This would require a complex and huge task of social engineering across several panchayats which are mutually inter-connected, involving Gram Panchayats, line departments and civil society organizations. While such a strategy would generate employment in the construction phase, it would also raise the productivity of agriculture and thereby create further opportunities for employment and livelihoods in rural Bihar.
- However, an examination of the MGNREGA performance in Bihar shows that this potential is far from being realized. While expenditure and overall employment generation in the state under MGNREGA has risen from between 2007 and 2011, the composition of this expenditure reveals that flood control or management remains a very low. While rural connectivity has capture more than 50 percent of the expenditure on MGNREGA in the state, flood control in comparison has remained a minuscule 2.53 percent. In flood prone districts such as Khagaria and W. Champaran, the share of MGNREGA expenditure on flood control has remained 1.2 percent and 0.8 percent respectively. A reorientation of such expenditures towards flood control in such districts could represent a win-win situation for the state.