24 days after the flood, a visitor from Delhi
As Rahul Gandhi tours Bihar’s flood-ravaged areas on Wednesday, Hindustan Times suggests 10 things to do to ease the suffering and ensure transparency. By Neelesh Misra. Special Coverage: Sorrow of BiharUpdated: Sep 11, 2008, 17:18 IST
1 Spending should not just be honest, but be seen to be so. Details of spending of the couple of thousand crores of rupees in aid should be monitored alongside, not later, and uploaded on the Internet by a team from the state office of the Comptroller and Auditor-General should audit funds spent every week to prevent theft of taxpayer money.
2 The Nitish Kumar government has very effectively used ex-servicemen in the past to improve the state’s crime scene. To monitor the flow of material aid – everything from tents to powdered milk, four retired brigadiers or senior officers from Bihar, preferably from the Master General of Ordnance branch that specializes in such functions, should be appointed pro-tem relief commissioners in each of the four worst-hit districts.
3 The national association of ham radio operators, and police ham operators in other states, should be requested to station themselves in district headquarters and visit affected villages on day trips on motorboats to provide the most valuable commodity missing in remote areas – communication. They can assess where help is needed, and it can be reached there quickly in a sharpshooter approach.
4 The local health apparatus has collapsed as in many parts of India. Auxilliary nurses should be ordered to report to district/block headquarters and be dropped off in marooned villages every morning, and picked up in the evening.
They should provide health, but more than that, simple home-made capacity building – how to make ORS from water, sugar and salt to prevent diarrhea, for example.
5 Hundreds of schools have shut down. School children above Class VIII through college should be invited to become volunteers at relief camps in their own schools, with a certificate of appreciation from the government at the end of the tenure.
6 People in India and overseas want to donate and help but are shy of doing so, unsure whether money donated to the government will reach the right hands. To overcome this concern, the CM’s Relief Fund should upload on the internet details of individual donations and what purpose they were used for – with help from the National Infomatics Centre (NIC) and the local PIB unit.
7 The state police are nowhere to be seen in the field.One of the reasons why lakhs of people are refusing to leave their villages is the fear of thefts when they leave. Policemen – perhaps three per village -- should be dropped off on the last motorboat ride of the day and spend the night there, enabling the families to be evacuated and leave one able-bodied member back. Policemen should be given special allowances.
8 Men and women from the Home Guards and the Territorial Army should be deployed at relief camps, especially in the villages, to help make relief distribution more organized. They can prevent relief vehicles from being mobbed and organise lunch and dinner lines.
9 To conserve precious batteries in these times, marooned villagers do not listen to songs, or health programmes – all that most hear is the regional news bulletins of All India Radio. The local news should improvise – it should become the vehicle for snippets of crucial information that will save lives -- like boiling water before drinking, how to avoid malaria and precautions with food.
10 Despite all the criticism of the local administration, it is also a truth that they are under-resourced and overstretched. Officials have not slept for days. The state government should rush in officers from other parts of the state to help – in large numbers, and rotate them for the tough task ahead.