Thursday, August 28, 2008



By Manuwant Choudhary

Ten days after the river Kosi breaks an embankment in Nepal drowning half of Bihar, India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh undertakes an aerial survey, but now the sight of the helicopters only angers starving flood victims who have swum to safety on their own onto roads, bridges and railway tracks.

They want food.

They want drinking water.

And they want boats.

Boats to rescue the lakhs of people marooned and drowning in the torrents of the Kosi.

Just three army helicopters drop 1800 food packets everyday, most of which falls in the water. A TV cameraman said, “While this makes good television and the world sees the government making efforts to help its people I could see nothing reaches the starving people.”

He said, “Imagine 1800 food packets for 2 million people?? And yesderday none of the helicopters could take off and remained stranded at Purnea due to bad weather…”

An hour of hiring a helicopter costs Rs. 1 lakh, so imagine if this money was spent on food and boats, instead of a joyride for politicians who believe their only job is to survey the misery of their own people.

And they do this to see themselves on television.

So this evening on television you will see your Prime Minister in his spotless white pyjama-kurta and blue turban looking down from his chopper window and returning to New Delhi to address a presser and he will say how serious the government is.

The Prime Minister should have watched the flood scenes on television and acted 10 day ago.

But in flooded Bihar mashed rice or choora costs Rs.100 per kilo, milk is Rs.150 per litre and a Rs.3 buiscuit packet for Rs.20 but that’s only if they are available.

The starving have no money.

I spoke to a housewife in Madhepura Sapna Bose whose telephone just doesn’t stop ringing. All distress calls. She says, “People call us frantically from Alamganj and other far away places. They say please help us. The waters are rising. Get us out of here, please..”

“I feel so helpless. I have no boats. The government says there are a 160 boats in Madhepura so I tell them to look out for the government boats and they reply that all day they saw just a single boat. How can 2000 people get onto a single boat?”

“The truth is that the District Magistrate has kept two boats for himself and every officer in-charge of flood and relief has a boat parked outside their homes, keeping it there so that they can escape if the waters rise further.”

Even the electricity is gone now. The water is rising steadily in Madhepura.

There is a red alert asking people to leave Madhepur also.

There are fears that if the Raja Bund at Inarva in Araria gives way then it will be disastrous for Madhepura as well. It will become the belly of the river Kosi.

The Bihar government says there are 44 relief camps in Madhepura giving Kicchdee but on the ground there are few relief centres. And no effort to get people out from Madhepura yet.

India’s railway minister Laloo Prasad has announced eight special trains to get people out but so far people do not know whether it has actually begun operations.

Madhepura is still linked to the Bihar capital Patna by road so the other option would be to take thousands of buses and get people out to relief camps in Begusarai and other districts not affected by floods.

But the government is sleeping.

I asked Sapna how many people must have died, and she replied, “From the calls I get I think at least 15,000 must be killed already because people tell me they now just see dead bodies floating in the water.”

While the chief minister Nitish Kumar calls this a catastrophe, his governments Disaster Management Department puts the death toll at just 10. (as available on the Disaster Management website)

Says Sapna, “Now I just give people who call me the DMs telephone number (06476 222741 and one of the Disaster Management officer 222086….because they have the boats.”

Most shops are shut in Madhepura town because of the red alert and a few open did try to sell in the black-market but people attacked them and were forced to sell at normal price till stocks lasted.

But when disaster struck on August 18 the Madhepura government employees were on a strike after their District Magistrate Rajesh Kumar assaulted an employee.

The strike continued even when water was entering the town. Its only at the intervention of the citizens that the strike was called off.

Can such a government help people in distress?

Some marooned people even now do not want to leave their homes. Bihar is not safe even in normal times.

Says Sapna, “Those who escape the flood fury after putting a lock on their homes hear within a day that their entire house has been robbed.”

Robbers have just taken over flooded Bihar.

“Yes, the richer people like professors have taken up rented rooms and flats in Purnea or Patna or are leaving to stay with their relatives. But the poor have no where to go.”

A bus journey from Madhepura to Purnea would cost Rs.20 normally, now they cost Rs.200. But even the rich do not have even 20 rupees. All banks are shut.

There is also a feeling of discrimination. People feel more relief is going to Supaul which is the constituency of the water resources minister Bijendar Yadav.

Says Sapna “But people in Supaul are also very angry with Bijendar Yadav and blame him for the floods…since he gave the job of embankment repair to a relative who did not do his job…”

The anger has begun to ferment. In ten days several government ministers and officials have been attacked.

Now there is news that the Bihar government officials are still not being allowed to repair the embankment in Nepal and have returned empty-handed. The Nepalese want India to first give relief and compensation to villages flooded in Nepal, before they will allow work to begin.

But what really happened on the night of August 18?

When the embankment gave way at 10 p.m., it is said within minutes all 55 sluice gates of the Bhimnagar Barrage were opened releasing all the accumulated water into Bihar.

Well, I am not an engineer and water management is not my field of expertise but it is common sense that those who manage such things have failed. And the government is not telling us why?

While Bihar drowns the Maoist Prime Minister of Nepal Prachanda sleeps on his NRS 1,10,000 new imported Chinese bed.

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