Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bihar's sorrow

Northern part of Bihar is swarming with reporters and media personnel. With the who’s and who’s of print media and the electronic media converging on the swollen banks of Kosi, the might of the sorrow of Bihar and the plight of those affected by it is now being witnessed by everyone.

Before 18th of August no one including me cared about what was happening in Supaol or Saharsha. It is nothing more than perhaps the law of our society that only in times of extreme sorrow that the poor hogs the limelight. And then also the affected victims have to share their 10-15 days of ‘fame’ with the politicians who are one among the first to reach such places.

In the past too, old women were swept away, children died of snake bites and man drowned, but who cares for a few numbers. In the end it is all about the eye catching numbers; huge number. In the present case the 29 lakh people that were affected was too big a number to give a miss.

As soon as Manmohan singh after a ‘quick response’ that took 10 days to come, declared the flood a national calamity, all hell broke loose. The flood affected regions of Bihar which till then were ‘immune’ from the presence of even a reporter from a local news-channel suddenly found itself facing familiar faces of our vibrant media. You name them and they were there.

No one can take away the fact that the media did and is still doing a commendable job of covering the calamity ,but the point is that is presence of ‘huge numbers’ the only criteria for making a news a national news?

Reporters after reporters are taking great pains and efforts to visit the areas that are still out of reach for the state officials. Heart rendering footage has become the order of the day. Some have taken great pain to cross over to the other side of Nepal and dig out stories on how the breach occurred due to the negligence on the part of the irrigation department. They also declared that the breach was a result of long period of negligence and the breach didn’t take place overnight. Agreed that the breach developed over a period of time. But why wasn’t the breach brought in the public when it was still in its initial stage?

Its not that the dam was kept out of bounds for the journalist, it’s just that at that point of time it was not worthy of being shown on the national television. Who would have watched a ‘eroding dam’.

Post the ‘national calamity’ declaration things have changed. Now even a glitch in a minor embankment is making news. I guess the top management of the media that moves and shakes in Delhi have their own idea of a news-worthiness.

Calamity or no calamity, politician are flowers that bloom throughout the season. The Below the belt remarks that have been coming from the political leaders of Bihar has highlighted the sad plight of the level to which the leaders can fall even in the worst of time. Not even the catastrophic effects of a swollen Kosi, could stop these leaders from indulging in political war at a time when they should have been attending to the rescue of the millions that have been affected by the raging Kosi.

The political game that ensued saw Nitish Kumar calling himself an unsung hero and terming Lalu, a dramatist, who was moving around the flood affected areas with a train of TV reporters. Lalu replied back and declaring that Nitish has lost his mind.

After Kosi river broke all barriers and flooded 15 districts of the state, affecting more than 29 lakh people, it took 10 long days for the union government to decide that this time it was not ‘just another regular flood’ that affects Bihar every year but a national calamity.

Then came the initial statements of no politics in time of sorrow. But later the whole nation stood witness to the troika of Lalu Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar engaging in political statements and counterstatements over fixing the responsibility for the floods.

Initially it was Lalu who started the fistfight when he announced in a press conference that the state government had failed to pay heeds to the instructions from the Centre and had not repaired the Kosi barrage. Pointing out to the callous attitude of the state officials he came out with documents that pointed out that the walls of the barrage was breached a day after the State chief engineer (Irrigation) had reported that all barrages were in good condition.

In reply, Nitish came out with a set of his own documents in which it was said that the state government had been regularly corresponding with the centre and asking them to take the issue of repairing the barrage with Nepal.

Paswan too joined in and rapped Nitish for failing to take timely actions to plug the breach. In between all this, the plight of the victims was forgotten and they were left to themselves. Even now many are still stranded and marooned and fighting a loosing battle.

Old timers point out that in a way the 15 years that preceded this government is also to be blamed for this failure of government machinery. During the earlier rule, the whole of the state machinery was left to stagnant and officers found themselves being molded in a way that required them not to venture out in the fields but to stay in the comforts of their offices. The same disease continues to plague some of the current lot.

Till last year the engineers of the water resources department were punished by the DMs in the flood hit areas. Whenever any breach occurred in the embankments the concerned executive, superintending or chief engineer was instantly arrested on the orders of the DMs and sent to jail. But now it seems that, Nitish who is an engineering graduate, has realized the bureaucrats too are at fault.

The CM suspended district magistrates of Supaul and Saharsa districts for Negligence in flood relief work. He was so infuriated with the officers that he ordered on the spot transfer of the two DMs when he visited the flood affected areas.

He also sent three of his cabinet colleagues in the worst affected areas with direction to stay there for a fortnight and not come to Patna. Three senior IAS officers from State Secretariat were also sent as special DMs in the three worst hit districts to monitor and supervise the relief and rescue operations.

Nothing can absolve Nitish because as a CM he was responsible for the state machinery but the bureaucrats too have let down the chief minister.After the flooding the Bihar chief minister was told by his officers that Nepal was responsible for the floods in Bihar as the embankment was breached from their side. Later the foreign minister of Nepal Upendra Yadav denied the charge and claimed that dam in Nepal was still intact.

Such was the mismanagement that rescue boats and rescuers had to wait for six hours for supply of diesel as the BDO of the concerned district was busy with the PMs Program. Then came a statement from a senior official of the state disaster management asking the flood victims not to come to Patna, and return back to their submerged homes through the same special train that had brought them to the capital.

The fury of Kosi continues unabated but for these representatives of people it has boiled down to who gets the maximum accolades in this time of sorrow. And not surprising it’s Lalu, accompanied by the ever swelling entourage of reporters who is winning hands down.

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