People walk along the bank of the Hatinala, an overflowing stream from Bhutan, during the recent
flood at Banarhat; 
(below) irrigation minister hold a meeting in Siliguri on Friday. Pic: Kundan Yolmo

TT, Siliguri, July 29: Irrigation minister Rajib Banerjee today said he would seek the Centre’s intervention to form the “India-Bhutan joint river commission” so that floods caused by rivers or streams originating from the Himalayan country could be mitigated in north Bengal.

The demand has come after three north Bengal districts were flooded by rivers originating from Bhutan in the past two weeks. North Bengal development minister Rabindranath Ghosh today pegged the total loss from the floods around Rs 1,000 crore.
“There are 72 rivers and streams which originate from Bhutan and flow through north Bengal (in the districts of Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar and Cooch Behar). There had been incessant rainfall in north Bengal but the flood was caused by these rivers. There is no barrage in any of these rivers in Bhutan, as a result of which several areas in north Bengal are flooded,” Banerjee told journalists at Uttarkanya here after touring the flood-ravaged areas.
“Last year, we had taken up the issue with Union water resources minister and emphasised the need to form the India-Bhutan Joint River Commission to mitigate the flood. Some infrastructure like barrage should be built in Bhutan through bilateral talks. However, the Centre has not taken any initiative. Again, we had to face the same situation. After my return to Calcutta, I will speak to the Union minister again. I would also request the chief minister to take up the matter with the prime minister,” he added.
Asked if the joint river commission would help check the flood, a senior official of the state irrigation department said: “Formation of such a joint body comprising representatives of two countries can help in the exchange of information on flood and rainfall on a regular basis. Also, there can be regular discussions on the aversion of inundation in areas downstream the Bhutan rivers, that is north Bengal. We can place proposals like construction of barrages and water reservoirs in Bhutan and at some locations of north Bengal to regularise the flow of water. If the joint river commission is formed, it can largely help in resolving the problem.”
Another important issue, the official said, is deposition of dolomite dust and pebbles, boulders and even trees from Bhutan on the river beds in north Bengal.
“Bhutan does dolomite mining near rivers. Throughout the year and particularly during the monsoon, the rivers carry heaps of dolomite dust, boulders, pebbles and even trees and they get deposited on the riverbeds in north Bengal. Because of this, riverbeds become higher and banks are breached, inundating large swathes of land,” said the official.
He said there would be dolomite deposit on the land because of the inundation caused by the Bhutan rivers. “Agricultural land or tea plantations become unsuitable because of the dolomite deposit. If the joint river commission is formed, we can take up these issues with Bhutan.”
India and Bangladesh has a Joint River Commission. Through the commission, flood forecasting data on rivers like the Ganga, Teesta and Brahmaputra are shared during the monsoon, enabling Bangladesh to shift people to safer areas.
The irrigation minister also said his department had taken up the repair of damaged stretches of embankments along many rivers. “We are doing the repair right now. But we need a permanent solution,” he said.
Some major rivers which originate from Bhutan and flow through north Bengal include the Jaldhaka, Diana, Kaljani, Torsha, Leesh, Ghish and Raidak and streams like Hatinala, Dudua and Basra. Even the streams swell and become like rivers during the monsoon and flood the localities along their banks.
Minister Ghosh, who was also at Uttarkanya today, said the total loss due to the flood was around Rs 1,000 crore.
“Assessment of losses is still going on but whatever information we have so far indicates a total loss of Rs 1,000 crore. In total, around 66,000 people were affected” Ghosh said.