People living on either side of the Koshi barrage are now losing sleep over the fact that the official life span of the barrage has expired. That said however, it would be far-fetched to expect the reinforced concrete structure to crumble overnight. Half century is a long time but not long enough for any edifice of that magnitude and strength to age beyond redemption. Nonetheless, it is such a structure whose collapse, should the doomsdayers come out true, would unleash elemental force that will wreak havoc on life and property in its wake. Moreover, it is never a nice feeling to rely on a barrage and a bridge insecure in the knowledge that its working life has officially ended. But there is no denying that the barrage, which also serves as a bridge, provides the lone vehicular transport link to and from the east on the Mahendra Highway. Should anything happen to this bridge, the traffic on the East-West artery would come to a halt, throwing life out of gear in Tarai. That is an unpleasant scenario.
The foundation stone was laid in January 14, 1955, and the barrage was completed the following year. Though the river banks were embanked and the needful done to contain inundation, the problem worsened in the years thereafter. The rate of siltation was phenomenally high because of which the river bed gradually started rising. As a result, inundation occurred in unprecedented scale. Thousands of bighas of land is under water or converted to a marsh on the Nepali side and thousands have been displaced in the process. Also, with the river bed raised, the enormous pressure of water the structure holds is largely thrust on the upper half of the barrage, even though the water volume it holds now is comparatively lesser than in its heyday. All these practical problems have exposed the structure to forces quite unforeseen or ignored at the time of construction. Therefore, the concerns that have arisen are valid and they cannot be brushed aside.
India has proposed a high dam as a solution. While it is for Kathmandu and New Delhi to work out the best possible method to solve the problem, the issue of siltation will have to be dealt with as early as possible. The rate of siltation remaining the same, an even taller dam presents a greater threat to the people living in areas adjacent to the barrage. Environmentalists have also long cried foul over ecological damages the barrage poses as it bars fish from migrating upstream as well as downstream. The barrage, for sure, is ageing at an unprecedented rate. Because any mishap caused by breakdown in barrage can lead to a huge humanitarian disaster, it is time to seriously think in terms of a pre-emptive solution to fend off the inevitable.