Nothing could be further from the truth. The flood devastation was highly preventable – and is a direct result of callous negligence of basic flood-prevention strategies by Governments both at Patna and Delhi. Despite the fact that every year breaches in embankments cause floods in the State, maintenance and repair of embankments were rampantly neglected. It took the Bihar Chief Minister two weeks after the first breach appeared in the Kosi embankment to begin the most primary initiatives for evacuation, rescue and relief. As the Kosi changed its course and flood waters covered entire villages, affecting over 25 lakh people in nearly 12 districts of the State, the desperate pleas for help were ignored by the State Government. Even today – in all the flood-affected areas, there is an acute shortage of rescue motorboats and boats, as well as food, drinking water, polythene sheets and other emergency essentials. At the Centre too, the Prime Minister apparently woke up late to the magnitude of the calamity. And UPA leader and Rail Minister Laloo Yadav (whose home constituency Madhepura is one of the worst-affected areas) has been fiddling as the floods swallow Bihar. His gesture of donating his ’earnings’ at a TV reality show Paanchvi Pass mocks at the misery of the flood-affected people. Of course, that’s nothing new. When Laloo Yadav’s RJD ruled Bihar, he is the one who made the remark (worthy of Marie Antoinette) that floods are good for the poor because that’s when fish from the ponds of the rich swim into the homes of the poor.
In the mirror of the Bihar’s flood waters every year, the rot in Bihar’s polity and society can be seen starkly : its nexus of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and middlemen for whom the floods are a bonanza ; criminalised goons governing and monopolising the structures of rescue and relief ; and state repression on protesting people. Even last year, there were instances of police firing on protesting flood victims. A few years back, Time Magazine had lionised a young Bihar District Magistrate Gautam Goswami for his sterling work in flood relief – later it came out that he, along with thugs backed by ruling politicians, had siphoned off crores of funds meant for flood victims. This year too – the same story is unfolding. Recent reports in papers indicate that thugs are cornering rescue boats for themselves and are snatching and hoarding relief materials.
In the same mirror, we can also see clearly the sordid reality behind the Central Government’s boasts of ’9% growth’, of India being a ’rising Asian superpower’, and 61 years of planning and development in independent India. Chronic hunger and starvation in India, we know, is not due to ’natural’ drought and famine but due to deliberate institutional callousness and skewed priorities. The same is the case with floods too – plans for flood control on the Kosi river have been shelved and sidelined year after year for half a century. In 1951, the people of eastern Bihar had faced the fury of the Kosi’s floods – and as a result, comprehensive plans had been chalked out to tame the floods. In keeping with these plans, a treaty was signed with Nepal in 1954 and the foundation laid for the Kosi Barrage in 1959. But subsequently the other dimensions of the Kosi Project were forgotten and neglected by successive Governments at Bihar and the Centre. Under the bilateral agreement with Nepal in 1954, maintenance and repair of embankments on the Kosi were the Bihar government’s responsibility. Today, in order to explain away its neglect of that responsibility, Governments of India and Bihar are seeking to shift blame for the floods onto Nepal.
Hurricane Katrina exposed the underbelly of the superpower USA – the mightiest Army in the world failed to protect its people ; racist callousness of the Government towards the (largely Black) poor of Louisiana was on display ; and the myth of corporate ’efficiency’ was exploded. In contrast, Cuba (David to the US’ Goliath) did a far more creditable job of protecting its people when the same hurricane hit its shores. The episode proved that in dealing with such crises, it is the priorities of nations and administrations that are more decisive that actual affluence or wealth. It is concern for and participation of common people which is actually effective and ’efficient’, while corporatized governance displays efficiency only in greed and loot. The floods in Bihar prove the same.
As the people of Bihar battle the floods, the first priority must of course be rescue, relief and humanitarian helping hands. But our concern also demands that we take Governments at Patna and Delhi to task for their apathy and negligence, so that the yearly recurrence of the tragedy can be prevented. Activists of our party and mass organisations in the affected districts of Bihar are at the forefront of rescue and relief activities. Apart from rescue, relief and rehabilitation as well as compensation for the flood-affected, we are also demanding that a time-bound judicial enquiry be set up to investigate the many instances of negligence by Governments in the matter of flood-control.