A Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), who thought on his feet and acted quickly, was able to save hundreds of villagers from drowning in the Balia district of UP.
Over 2 million people from over 1,000 villages in Bihar have been affected by devastating floods this monsoon season, forcing 1.7 lakh people to take shelter in 179 relief camps set up in various affected areas. The Ganga and Ghagra rivers in the central Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand regions have also breached the danger mark.
Recently, a small village called Bairiya in Balia district was alerted that it was in danger of being flooded. However, a ring dam built on the Ganga in Dubeychapara district, although over 60 years old, had been protecting Bairiya and about a dozen other surrounding villages from this calamity.
Repairs to the dam were ongoing because the force of the water was building up, but the structure itself was expected to hold up.
On August 26, SDM Arvind Kumar of Balia received a call from one of his officials that the villagers in the area had abandoned repairs and were running away from the work site because the dam was about to collapse.
Arvind Kumar quickly got into his car and drove to Bairiya, getting there at 2 am. He had to use a boat to get to the dam’s repair site, where he witnessed panic and confusion firsthand. The first thing he tried to do was to restore some calm by letting people know that he had heard the water level was falling upstream near Allahabad.
He then made announcements, asking the villagers to evacuate their homes and climb to higher ground near the national highway.
Arvind Kumar had his staff wake up the local boatmen to help rescue the people. He paid the boatmen from his own pocket to get diesel and other essentials needed for the purpose.
While arranging for help, Kumar noticed several geo-bags lying at a construction site near the dam. Geo bags are synthetic bags made from polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene and are used to protect hydraulic structures and riverbanks from severe erosion and scouring.
All Arvind Kumar realized he needed now was manpower to place these bags on the dam in such a way as to prevent water from entering the village.
When he found no one around him willing to come forward to help, he started to lift the bags himself and place them where needed.
Watching him do this, some workers started to come forward. Elderly people from the village also started helping. Slowly, about 100-150 people made a human chain to pass the bags to each other and, within an hour, there were around 400 people trying to save the 3.5 km long dam.
“The elderly people started helping me first. I could see the fire in their eyes. They would do anything to save their houses. Someone asked me to stop as there were 400 people working there already. But I was no longer just the SDM of the village. I felt like one of the villagers trying to save his home,” said Kumar.
Once the situation looked under control, Arvind Kumar called the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team at Navranga, 8 kms from Bairiya. The team responded quickly and took over the rescue effort of evacuating villagers. However, many of the able-bodied villagers continued to work at the dam repair site, keeping the structure intact for another 36 hours before it finally collapsed due to the damage that had taken place on the other side.
However, thanks to the efforts of the SDM and the locals, everyone had been evacuated safely by then.
A follower of APJ Abdul Kalam, Arvind Kumar belongs to a poor family of Banaras and has struggled a lot during his life. His friends would gather money to somehow pay his college fees so he could complete his education. Arvind was 28 years old when he started his job as SDM of Balia in July last year.
Kumar has been working for the upliftment of the villagers under his jurisdiction ever since then.
He was so moved by the manner in which they came together to stop the dam from collapsing that he said, “I was overwhelmed by their response. They worked with such dedication and trust after seeing me pick up the bags and work with them.”
The villagers, on their part, are thankful to have an SDM who is so concerned about their welfare.