People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44

November 01, 2009

For these Congress Vultures,

Floods are indeed a Boon!


N S Arjun

from Kurnool (AP)


HOW low can bourgeois political leaders stoop to steal people's money? This is the question that strikes one after visiting parts of the flood-ravaged district of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh and witnessing the modus operandi of ruling Congress party leaders' loot of money meant for the relief of the devastated people.


As reported in these columns, Kurnool was the most-affected in the unprecedented floods that struck Andhra Pradesh on October 1 and 2, 2009. The lives of over one and half lakh people in the city and over 3 lakh people in the many villages lying on the banks of Tungabhadra and Handri rivers in the district have been totally smashed in the worst ever floods in the last 100 years. Around 2.15 lakh houses were damaged, and of them around one lakh have been totally destroyed. The people lost their everything, including the means to continue their livelihood.


Even after 25 days of the flood havoc, parts of Kurnool city and sorrounding villages resemble a war-torn place. Many houses, particularly mud-houses, are seen in a state of total or partial collapse; layers of sludge and litter dot the streets and roads; the devastation wreaked by the gushing waters �  in some places on the banks of the Tungabhadra and Handri rivers, water flowed upto 20 feet high � can still be spotted with trees uprooted, tin sheds wrecked etc. Not only the crops even the soil has been damaged by these floods. In many places the water sliced the earth upto four feet deep. Farmers were seen burning the damaged crops in order to remove them and repair the soil for future use.


One underlining feature of the government machinery's response to these unprecedented floods has been its almost obscure presence in rescue and relief work. The people were left to fend for themselves. In Kurnool city, tens of thousands of people spent an anxious 36 hours, from the night of October 1 to the morning of October 3 when the flood waters started receding, not knowing whether they will be able to survive the floods. It was left to some good samaritans and some insensitive greedy persons who extorted money to rescue these  trapped people. A total of 45 people died in the floods while around 1.25 lakh livestock perished. There could have been hunger deaths also but for the spontaneous response of villagers from the sorrounding areas, including from the drought-prone Anantapur district, who rushed with tractor loads of food and water supplies. The government pitched in only much later with meagre droppings of food and water packets from the very meagre number of helicopters pressed into service.


This nature of government response continues even today. Twenty five days later, around 20 per cent of flood-affected areas in the city, mainly parts of the old city and other slum areas continue to be uninhabitable. Fourteen persons in these areas have died post-floods due to ill health caused by the nauseating filth all around. Contrast this to socialist Cuba's proud record of dealing with natural calamities where even every livestock is protected from fierce typhoons! As for rebuilding the lives of those shattered by such calamities, the gulf is as wide as between the earth and the sky. The AP state government has decided to give Rs 8000 to each affected house. And by some strange logic, it has been decided that the owner of the house gets Rs 5000 of this amount and the tenant Rs 3000. It is like punishing the tenant for not owning a house! This amount is not even sufficient to remove sludge from the house (workers are demanding Rs 10,000 to clean the house and make it liveable). What about all the things that have perished including the tools of their trade, like for example the iron sets of dhobis, the tailoring machines, the bakery equipment, cycle rickshaws and autos etc. The government, it appears, is of the opinion that giving out Rs 8000 is all it can take responsibility for. Similarly for farmers who have lost their crops and their lands damaged, it is offering a paltry Rs 1800 per acre! They have invested a minimum of Rs 10,000 per acre.





In distribution of even this meagre amount of relief money, the vultures in the ruling party along with corrupt officials have swooped down to work. The two MLAs T J Venkatesh from Kurnool city and Rambhoopal Reddy from the neighbouring Panyam constituency have competed in this operation. The basic modus operandi is as follows:


The district administration has appointed special officers to enumerate the flood affected houses and prepare a list of victims to whom the relief amount of Rs 8000 is to be distributed. The MLAs have made sure that the ruling party corporators call the shots in this exercise. The district administration had announced that a total of 29 wards out of the 50 wards in the city were flood affected. The MLAs intervened and got it revised upwards to 40 wards! And then the ruling party leaders along with corrupt officials systematically began their work of siphoning off crores of  rupees meant for relief. They asserted that even houses where rain water entered must also be given this relief. This has opened the field for corruption. Areas at a height, like ward numbers 36, 27, 21 and 29, where there is no scope of water entering, were surveyed and people living even in second storied houses were listed as victims! The leaders and officials pocketed around half of the amount while the rest was distributed as a largesse to party supporters keeping in view the forthcoming municipal elections.


In 'Weaker section' colony, the Congress leaders went to the extent of hiring people from neighbouring villages at Rs 200 per person to pose as 'victims' and collect the benami money, which was then pocketed by the leaders. As many parts of the city continue to be uninhabitable, genuine victims locked their houses and left to other places. Such people's money has also been siphoned off. This method of loot was adopted in other towns of the district which were affected. In Nandyal town, it is estimated that Rs 4 crore of relief money was thus eaten by these vultures. Even a prominent pro-Congress daily highlighted this affair in the town leading to the administration declaring that they will conduct an enquiry. Eminganoor was slightly affected in the floods but this town has seen significant distribution of 'relief' money.  Overall, it is estimated that around 30 per cent of the Rs 60 crore distributed so far has thus been siphoned off. Even as the genuine victims reel under the utter devastation of floods and wait for the meagre relief being provided by the government, the Congress leaders are every evening soaking in 'flood money'.





The CPI(M) has  conducted a maha dharna on October 26 in front of district collectorate office demanding a Rs 1000 crore special package for relief and rehabilitation to the flood victims in the district. Thousands of people attened this dharna which was addressed among others by Party central committee member M A Gafoor, district secretary T Shadrak, Party leaders Prabhakar Reddy, Pulla Reddy and Nirmala. The leaders castigated the government for running away from people's problems. They raised the following demands: giving at least Rs 25,000 to all affected people; Rs 50,000 loan with half subsidy to all small traders; interest-free loan of Rs 5 lakhs to traders repayable in 5 years; Rs 50,000 to dhobis, tailors, haircutters, fishermen, carpenters etc who have lost their tools of trade; amount for repairs of autos, two and four wheelers; Rs 1.2 lakh to those who have lost their homes; Rs 1 lakh personal loans at 6 per cent interest rate to all salaried persons in private and government sector; free supply of essential commodities for three months through PDS to all flood-affected people; waiving of electricity bills for next three months in affected areas etc.


The CPI(M) cadre, led by its top leaders, had also plunged into relief work, particularly sanitation in the affected areas. In contrast, the local Congress MLA T J Venkatesh was completely absent. A few words about this MLA. He is an industrialist-businessman-politician with self declared assets of hundreds of crores of rupees. He owns chemical factories, a 5-star hotel and a hospital. There are charges that he built this business chain with money siphoned off from Rayalaseema Paper Mills, which led to its closure, against which the CPI(M) led a heroic agitation. He was elected once as MLA in 1999 on TDP ticket and when he lost in 2004 to CPI(M) candidate M A Gafoor, he immediately switched party and joined ruling Congress party to protect his interests. He won in 2009 on Congress ticket. There is so much of resentment among the people against this MLA that when he finally dared to move out of his 5-star hotel and visit Poola Bazar area, the people chased him away by throwing sludge at him. The anger is because for the last two weeks, he has been busy in securing huge insurance amounts for his factories, hotel and hospital, which have been affected only slightly. He has deserted the people who voted for him.


Given this scenario, and in order to divert the anger away from him, this MLA has undertaken a dangerous campaign against CPI(M). He has distributed a notice on his letterhead in CPI(M) areas which were not affected by floods saying that relief money to people of the area has been given by the government and they must apporach the local corporators. With knowledge about adjoining areas Congress corporators distributing 'relief' money, people in CPI(M) corporators areas too began to demand such money. Around 200 non-affected people attacked the house of CPI(M) corporator Chalapthi demanding money. The Party has condemned this dangerous tactic of raising the base emotions of the people and demanded that the MLA declare to whom this so-called relief money was given.


It is not just T J Venkatesh who is callous about the sufferings of the flood-affected people. The remaining ruling party MLAs also seem to follow the same path. A group of irate villagers of R Konthalapadu village squatted on the road when a huge convoy of central team to assess the flood damage was proceeding towards Sunkesula dam. The team led by a joint secretary in ministry of home affairs, D Dipti Vilasa was forced to disembark and tour the village on the banks of Tungabhadra. Asked about their problems, an old lady angrily  said everyone, including their MLA Murali who just drove past their village without seeing their fate. Water flowed at 20 feet height in this village and the terrified villagers are now seeking relocation of their entire village. Given the track-record of the administration, the villagers would be lucky if they are indeed moved out before the next flood season!