(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 14 , 2008
A Man-Made Disaster
N K Shukla
THE devastation caused in the state of Bihar due to Kosi flood cannot be termed as a natural calamity since it is totally a man-made disaster brought upon by the negligence of the politicians in power, the bureaucrats and the engineers responsible for the maintenance and repairing of the embankment on the river. Today more than 40 lakh people are virtually under siege, surrounded on all sides by water. They have lost their houses, all their belongings, tens of thousands of livestocks and everything they built labouring hard for decades.
At the time of writing this, seventeen days have passed when Kosi breached its embankment at Kusaha in Nepal above the Bhimnagar-Birpur barrage, inundating the districts of Supaul, Araria, Madhepura, Saharsa, Purnia and parts of Khagaria and Katihar before entering into river Ganges near Kursaila. Lakhs of people in these districts are still battling to save their lives. They are desperately waiting for boats or helicopters on their roofs, some are clinging on to trees or whatever they can lay their hands on. “Callous, criminal and disgusting” are the words that come to mind to describe the response of the both the state and central governments. The prime minister got time to make an aerial survey of the affected regions only after ten days of breach in the embankment. Though he declared it a "national disaster" the rescue and relief operation has still not picked up momentum. The state government started with only a few hundred boats and three helicopters while the dimension of the devastation requires tens of thousands of boats and at least one thousand helicopters.
Nobody can think that the government of India is so poor in resources that they cannot provide required helicopters and motor boats to save the lives of the people in flood-affected areas. Though it is difficult to count the number of dead in this Tsunami-like flash floods many are assessing that it could be in thousands. A similar or more number of cattle would also have perished. There is now the danger of outbreak of epidemics like diarrhoea and other diseases in the relief camps due to lack of proper sanitation, medicines, food, water etc.
This disaster is being called a man-made disaster because both the state and central governments did not take proper steps to repair and maintain the embankments of Kosi and other rivers before the monsoon set in despite clear indications of the dangers of not doing so. It may be recalled that Kosi has a history of changing its course, moving from Purnia to Darbhanga borders and again back between the width of 150 km. Seven rivers of Nepal merge in Kosi before entering into Bihar part of India. Therefore it is also called as Sapt-Kosi. As per the Indo-Nepal agreement of 1954 the responsibility of maintenance of embankments and barrages is that of government of India and Bihar state government. Accordingly, every year the government of India and government of Bihar provide for a substantial amount in their budgets for these maintenance works. But seldom does the work is done. And the money is looted by vested interests by showing the work as completed on paper. Since every bundh and barrage has its limited period of life, this neglect by officials has resulted in a big tragedy. Moreover, with Kosi river emerging out of Himalayas, it brings in a good portion of sand and silt along with it. The negligence of the responsible government agencies resulted in the silts not being cleared for years together. All this caused the obstruction in the path of the river Kosi due to which it has breached the embankments and changed its course towards those areas where it was flowing around 200 years ago. The newspapers reports reveal that the chief engineer of Bihar, Satyanarayana, had sent a number of letters and telegrams to the responsible government officials in Patna about the erosion and threat of breaches much before it actually occurred. But nobody took the notice of those letters and telegrams. A high-level enquiry is needed for fixing the responsibility for this disaster and the huge loss of lives and property.
CPI(M) RELIEF WORK
Caders of CPI(M), All India Kisan Sabha and other mass organisations are running relief camps in the flood-affected areas. And in other parts of the state, vigorous street collection of cash and relief materials is being done by the Party and mass organisations. Avadhesh Kumar, Balram Yadav, MLC, Vinod Kumar Jha, Ganesh Manav and other leaders supervising these relief camps. The Party state committee has appealed to both the central and state governments to give up their lethargic attitude and mobilise all the required resources to organise rescue and relief operations on a war footing to save the lakhs of marooned people. History will not forget those who are responsible for this man-made disaster and also to those who are not rising to the occasion in providing their share for rescue and relief .
(September 4, 2008)