Patna: Boat makers are doing brisk business in Bihar as floods have affected a huge population settled across almost the entire north districts criss-crossed by a number of mighty rivers originating from Nepal or China. A significant population stays on “floating homes” for close to three months every year as a result of flooding which has become an annual event.
With floodwaters inundating vast swathes of 16 districts out of the state’s total 38, affecting more than 6.66 million populations, demand for boats has suddenly gained momentum. As such, the villagers use boats for every purpose — from carrying house goods and fleeing for safety to meeting Nature’s call in the flooded plains.
Villagers say they feel safe when they have a boat in their possession as government arrangements have been scarce during floods or by the time the help reaches them, everything is destroyed or washed away by the floodwaters.
Villagers living in five districts of Bihar bordering Nepal have the compulsions to keep boats as mighty rivers like the Kosi, Mahnanda, Kamla-Balan, Bagmati and Gandak have been causing massive floods once the rainy season starts.
“Keeping a boat is our compulsion. As such, we live on boats for three months in a year as hissing Kosi causes flood fury every year. We feel safe and secured if we have a boat,” said Nirmal Kumar from Supaul, one of the districts badly affected by floods.
Many villagers said they prefer boats to cars as they have been their only “lifeline” during the flood time. “We are no longer dependent on government help; we have arranged sufficient numbers of boats on our own,” revealed Amit Kumar, another villager from the district.
The boat manufacturing business has thrived in the region since the Kosi started flooding every year, the worst being in 2008 when it flowed through more than a thousand heavily-populated villages located across five districts of Bihar for months, claiming many lives and damaging thousands of homes. This happened after the river breached its mud embankment at Kusaha in Nepal.
“We have received good orders for boats this year as the area has received heavy rainfalls causing flooding,” said Ram Lakhan Mistri, a boat maker. He has received orders for six smaller boats for personal use though many people have been buying big boats too for commercial use. According to Mistri, a smaller boat costs something between Rs30,000 to Rs50,000 while bigger boats which can accommodate 100 people at a time and fitted with a motor costs between Rs300,000 to Rs500,000.
Keeping in view the seriousness of the flood situation, the authorities have deployed 33 teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) to help the villagers in crisis. The maximum deployment has been made in five districts but their main role is to just rescue the masses stuck in their flooded homes and not to carry the goods of the flood victims.
The trouble for the flood victims this time is that they also have to follow the COVID-19 protocol which not only requires covering their faces with masks but also maintaining social distancing. This has forced the victims battling hard for spaces as they can’t stay together. Bihar is one of the few states badly affected by COVID-19 which has not only claimed 388 lives but also infected more than 68,000 villagers so far.