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India's Katrina: Bihar floods -- criminal negligence, not divine deluge (+ emergency appeal)

By Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation

[See below for relief fund details.]

September 2, 2008 -- The regime of Nitish Kumar, which rules the Indian state of Bihar, boasts of ``Bihar Shining''. These claims are now submerged by the cries of ``Bihar Drowning''. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government's claims of ``good governance'' have proved a washout in the face of the floods, and now the Chief Minister Kumar is trying to paint the floods as a ``natural'' calamity or divine ``deluge'' (Pralay).

Nothing could be further from the truth. The flood devastation was highly preventable – and is a direct result of callous negligence of basic flood-prevention strategies by the Bihar and central Indian governments. Despite the fact that every year breaches in embankments cause floods in the state, maintenance and repair of embankments have been rampantly neglected.

Farmers demonstrating against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar over flood inactionIt took the Bihar chief minister two weeks after the first breach appeared in the Kosi River embankment to begin the most primary initiatives for evacuation, rescue and relief. As the Kosi changed its course and flood waters covered entire villages, affecting more than 250, 000 people in 12 districts of the state, the desperate pleas for help were ignored by the Bihar state government.

Even today – in all the flood-affected areas, there is an acute shortage of rescue motor boats and boats, as well as food, drinking water, polythene sheets and other emergency essentials. In India's capital too, the prime minister apparently woke up late to the magnitude of the calamity. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leader and railways minister Laloo Yadav (whose home constituency Madhepura is one of the worst-affected areas) has been fiddling as the floods swallow Bihar. His gesture of donating his ``earnings'' on a TV reality show mocks the misery of the flood-affected people. Of course, that's nothing new. When Laloo Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) party ruled Bihar, he was the one who made the remark (worthy of Marie Antoinette) that floods are good for the poor because that's when fish from the ponds of the rich swim into the homes of the poor.

In the mirror of the Bihar's floodwaters every year, the rot in Bihar 's polity and society can be seen starkly: its nexus of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen for whom the floods are a bonanza; criminalised goons governing and monopolising the structures of rescue and relief; and state repression on protesting people. Even last year, there were instances of police opening fire on protesting flood victims. A few years back, Time magazine had lionised a young Bihar district magistrate Gautam Goswami for his sterling work in flood relief – later it came out that he, along with thugs backed by ruling politicians, had siphoned off huge sums of money meant for flood victims. This year too – the same story is unfolding. Recent reports in papers indicate that thugs are cornering rescue boats for themselves and are snatching and hoarding relief materials.

In the same mirror, we can also see clearly the sordid reality behind the central Indian government's boasts of ``9% growth'', of India being a ``rising Asian superpower'' and 61 years of planning and development in independent India. Chronic hunger and starvation in India , we know, is not due to ``natural'' drought and famine but due to deliberate institutional callousness and skewed priorities. The same is the case with floods too – plans for flood control on the Kosi River have been shelved and sidelined year after year for half a century.

In 1951, the people of eastern Bihar had faced the fury of the Kosi's floods – and as a result, comprehensive plans had been chalked out to tame the floods. In keeping with these plans, a treaty was signed with Nepal in 1954 and the foundation laid for the Kosi Barrage in 1959. But subsequently the other dimensions of the Kosi Project were forgotten and neglected by successive governments in Bihar and the centre. Under the bilateral agreement with Nepal in 1954, maintenance and repair of embankments on the Kosi were the Bihar government's responsibility. Today, in order to explain away its neglect of that responsibility, governments of India and Bihar are seeking to shift blame for the floods onto Nepal.

Hurricane Katrina exposed the underbelly of the US superpower – the mightiest army in the world failed to protect its people; racist callousness of the US government towards the (largely Black) poor of Louisiana was on display; and the myth of corporate ``efficiency'' was exploded.

In contrast, Cuba (David to the US Goliath) did a far more creditable job of protecting its people when the same hurricane hit its shores. The episode proved that in dealing with such crises, it is the priorities of nations and administrations that are more decisive than affluence or wealth. It is concern for and the participation of the common people which is actually effective and ``efficient'', while corporatised governance displays efficiency only in greed and loot. The floods in Bihar prove the same.

As the people of Bihar battle the floods, the first priority must of course be rescue, relief and humanitarian help. But our concern also demands that we take the Bihar and Indian governments to task for their apathy and negligence, so that the yearly recurrence of the tragedy can be prevented. Activists of our party and mass organisations in the affected districts of Bihar are at the forefront of rescue and relief activities. Apart from rescue, relief and rehabilitation, as well as compensation for the flood-affected, we are demanding that a time-bound judicial enquiry be set up to investigate the many instances of negligence by governments in the matter of flood control.

Appeal for relief funds

Dear friends,

Some 12 districts of Bihar -- Muzaffarapur, Supaul, Saharsa, Madhepura, Katihar, Araria, West Champaran, Khagaria, Sitamarhi, Patna and Nalanda -- are reeling under the worst flooding of the Kosi River in the last half century. Millions are affected and many lives lost.

The Bihar government launched rescue and relief operations a full week after the first breach in the Kosi embankment – and even today, affected people remain stranded due to an acute shortage of rescue boats, and are starved of basic emergency necessities like food, polythene sheets, medicine and medical care.

Activists of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation [CPI (ML)] and the All India Agricultural Labourers Association (AIALA) on the ground, particularly in some of the worst-affected areas of Supaul, Araria and Madhepura, as well as in all other affected districts in Bihar, are at the forefront of organising rescue and relief operations. They are organising volunteers and are guiding government agencies and getting them to heed the voices and needs of the affected.

Contributions are urgently called for, ideally in the form of cash to procure food, polythene sheets and medicine. We are conducting a nationwide campaign for flood relief in Bihar. We appeal to you to make your contributions by cheque/draft in favour of “CPIML”. Also indicate that the donation is for “Bihar Flood Relief”.

Please mail your donations to:

Bihar Flood Relief
U-90, Shakarpur
Delhi 110 092, India

Online petition on Bihar floods

In addition to contributing towards the relief effort, please sign the online petition to the president of India. The petition demands a judicial enquiry into the deep-seated and long-standing institutional apathy and criminal negligence of the Bihar and Indian governmentstowards the floods which wreak havoc in Bihar every year.

The URL is:
http://www.PetitionOnline.com/Floods08/petition.html

 

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