How sensitive is Nitish Kumar in dealing with flood?

With uncertainty gripping the administration how can one expect the officials and employees to rise to the occasion in this hour of natural disaster.

Image of a submerged highway

One example is enough to confirm how seriously Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar takes flood, an annual happening in the state.

Like a monarch he, on June 19, 2010, announced the return of Rs five crore to Gujarat government which it donated to CM Relief Fund 22 months back, that is after the devastating deluge––‘parlay’ (Doomsday) to use Nitish’s own word. This colossal tragedy occurred after the breach in eastern embankment of river Kosi in Kusaha in Nepal just on its border with Bihar on August 18, 2008.

Thousands of people and cattle were swept away and 33 lakh people were displaced in one of the worst natural tragedies of recent times.

The breach took place because, according to the Justice Walia Commission, the Bihar government engineers undertook the anti-erosion and flood protection work in a shoddy manner and wireless messages were ignored by the government machinery.

Nine years after this tragedy nobody has been punished. But why did Nitish, in a spur of moment, decide to return the amount to the Gujarat government?

During the National Executive meeting of BJP in Patna on June 12-13, 2010 the Gujarat government gave advertisements to newspapers highlighting a photo in which Nitish and Narendra Modi were shown hand in hand. Not only that, the advertisements referred to Rs five crore the Narendra Modi government donated for the flood relief of Kosi victims in August 2008.

Nitish was so upset by the photo that he first cancelled the dinner hosted by him in honour of all the BJP bigwigs on June 12 evening and a week later decided to return Rs five crore donated by the Gujarat government. All this had happened when Nitish was running the government with the BJP. Ironically, the saffron party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani and Modi were put up at the state guest house by the Nitish government.

Though the friendly media tried to initially underplay this incident it raised several serious questions. How can a democratically-elected chief minister, all out of sudden, return the amount when the money was not donated by Modi, but by the Gujarat government to the flood-ravaged people of Bihar. Secondly, how is it that Rs five crore was not spent in 22 months when Nitish himself had complained of shortage of fund for the relief and rehabilitation works. And if the relief money was actually spent, from which account had Nitish Kumar returned Rs five crore to Gujarat.

It was argued that the people of Bihar were insulted by the Gujarat government’s advertisements claiming credit for donating money in this hour of crisis. Whether they were insulted or not is a different matter: what matters more is how can a chief minister throw all the norms to wind and to satisfy his personal ego, use flood money for it?

Weeks after this drama of cancellation of dinner and return of flood money the BJP and JD(U) forgot everything and buried all the differences. Today once again they both are in power. The ones who really suffered were the flood victims.

If the head of any state government plays such a politics with the flood victims’ money, how sensitive will be his officials and subordinate employees in dealing with any natural calamity?

Take another example. In the last week of February this year Nitish, while addressing globally renowned experts on flood in Patna, called for the dismantling of Farakka Barrage. He blamed it for accumulation of silt in Ganga, which aggravates the situation during flood. He even arranged an aerial survey of Ganga for these experts. This was a sheer extravaganza and a publicity stunt as those present in the state on that occasion were aware of the negative impact of Farakka.

Nobody was championing its cause. In fact most independent environmental activists have been highlighting the detrimental impact of Farakka and the way the whole flood situation is handled every year.

Yet they were surprised by what they called ‘fantastic’ demand by an electrical engineer chief minister of Bihar. Where will the rubble and accumulated silt be dumped? How can one ignore the needs of the NTPC Super Thermal Power Station situated there? What about the environmental and social cost? Besides, Farakka Barrage is situated just 16.5 km from the Bangladesh border and its removal would have international ramifications too.

However, in spite of this rhetoric of the chief minister some people conceded that Nitish was at least showing some concern over the issue of flood and doing some early homework.

But five months later when the monsoon actually arrived his government was caught completely unprepared.

While it was raining heavily in north Bihar Nitish was busy swapping horse in the mid-stream. A couple of years after befriending ‘Bade Bhai’ Lalu Prasad, he was reminded of the fact that not only he but his sons and daughters are also corrupt.

For days hardly any work was done as bureaucracy was adjusting to a new reality as it was not just a change of government.

Not only has relief and rescue works affected, the state machinery is clueless about Nitish’s pet  Seven Resolves as his ‘new’ friend and present deputy,  Sushil Kumar Modi, had vehemently been critical of it before July 27. The BJP as well as the media had non-stop been claiming that prohibition has failed in Bihar. What will be the stand now?

With uncertainty gripping the administration how can one expect the officials and employees to rise to the occasion in this hour of natural disaster.

Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. He regularly writes for different prominent newspapers in India.

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