Frustration grows in dark Bihar, Govt dragged to court | india | Hindustan Times
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Frustration grows in dark Bihar, Govt dragged to court

india Updated: Sep 26, 2008 01:31 IST
Chitrangada Choudhury
Chitrangada Choudhury
Hindustan Times
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Main teesri mein tha jab hamaara master bhaag gaya. Phir main bhi bhaag gaya

(When I was in Class 3, the teacher stopped showing up at school. Then even I dropped out")."

Farmhand and migrant labourer Bhupender Ram was living, as were over 20,000 families, under a plastic sheet, along a canal since fleeing their flooded villages 35 days ago in what was described as one of India's worst floods.

Ram, in his early twenties, spoke to the Hindustan Times recently. His wife was cooking the family's first meal of the day on firewood: Rice, the grains purchased with borrowed money.

"Officials come, we tell them our problems, they listen and disappear," shrugged Ram. "So what's new?

"There hasn't been a meaningful relationship between officials and the people," said Dr. Manoj Jha, a teacher at Delhi
University's School of Social Work. He grew up in the Kosi region and has been living here as a relief worker since September.

"In the aftermath of a disaster of such magnitude, this basic disconnect is hitting relief operations," Jha said.
Five weeks after the Kosi smashed through its embankments in Nepal, lakhs of people in close to 800 of the 1000 villages are still marooned in varying levels of water.

The state government's minimum relief norms, by its own admission, are being delivered to less than 4 lakh of the 40 lakh flood affected families. Non-government relief workers negotiating submerged areas to reach villages where officials do not care to go, fear preventable killers like diarrhoea or starvation may take more lives.

As the Hindustan Times toured the flood-hit area, it was clear that the disaster has barely stirred the state. Scores of people are living along roads and canals: The government said it did not know how many. People, many children, die each day in the only functional government hospital.

In marooned villages and towns, public representatives — officials, elected representatives etc. — had fled since the floods and not turned up for work since.

The state's Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi told HT a month after the disaster, that his government was struggling to cope. Modi said, "Even God cannot give a timeframe for delivering relief to people...the devastation is so great." Modi's argument does not cut much ice on the ground.

On a recent night, Arvind Kejriwal of the Delhi-based Magsaysay awarded group Parivartan (Change) returned from the marooned Pilua village where 9 people have lost their lives to diarrhoea and an official is yet to visit.

"There is no time to lose," he said, "If relief operations do not acquire an urgency, more lives will be lost."

Kejriwal and other social workers have now moved the Patna High Court—the Chief Justice will hear the case on Friday.

Jha who with his students has been running a primary health camp and an informal primary-level class for children at a 10 km-long canal where thousands of flood refugees precariously perched, waved his hand over their stunted settlements and said, "Even after a month, I am yet to see any organised government intervention."

For now, officials point to the mammoth task they have taken on. "We are feeding one lakh people each day in camps. That is no small number," said Supaul district's highest official Shravan Kumar.

That is a large number. But, as Kumar admitted, that still leaves 7-8 lakh people in his district bereft.

Advocate M Jawaid who will argue the petition said: "We are not saying that the state is not working. But we will tell the court on Friday that its rusted system and old mindset is simply not up to the challenge."

"I would have expected the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to camp in the Kosi region for a month and oversee relief," said Jha. "That would have sent a signal to every official to get serious but it has not happened."