PEOPLES OF ORISSA, WHO COULD DEFEAT THE FLOOD, WOULD ALSO DEFEAT THE PRECIPITATORS

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Held ‘unprecedented’ by all watchers, the flood that submerged roughly 5,500 villages in 18 out of 30 districts of the State, damaged / destroyed paddy crops in around 4.35 lakh hectares of land, overwhelmed more than 45 lakhs of inhabitants, afflicted at least 10 lakhs of domestic animals, devastated around 1.6 lakh residential houses, extinguished life of at least 55 persons and put prominent places like Puri and Banki cut off from the rest of the country dragging everybody into a condition of chilling alarm for around a week, has started receding.

Embankments have been washed away in at least 91 points and roads and highways running in the affected areas are severely damaged.

Meretricious tears of politicians of all hue have started flowing down in eagerness to attract attention of peoples in utter despondency, the year being the harbinger of the general elections. They in their nefarious stratagem have already started focusing on each other’s lacunae in reaching the affected peoples. Now with decline in deluge, political attacks and counter-attacks on arrangement and management of relief, reconstruction of roads and repair of embankments and renovation of crop fields etc will grip the scenario.

Politicians in power and Officialdom are as agog as blackmarketeers at the prospect of fetching fortune out of the misfortune of the affected people. Every natural calamity, in fact, brings them fortunes. Audit reports present rampant proofs.

But what I saw during these days amidst the affected peoples? I saw in them the strongest possible determination to defeat the devastation. Clouds were vomiting hissing torrents, river systems were gushing out pernicious currents. Their homes submerged, peoples were trying to keep their families and friends and pets safe, on any elevated or higher place including embankments. The government was dead to them. No official relief, no official sympathy. No food to take, no water to drink. No official functionary reached the victims in any of their makeshift shelter camps before receding of flood. Rescue operation was abysmally meager. Tele communication channels had failed. Connectivity had collapsed. Defying such disadvantage, peoples were guarding the embankments where they were camping and were trying to save the embankments from apprehended breaches sans any help from any official.

In the midst of such misfortune in a shelter-camp under the Athgarh Block, I saw a few comrades of legendary freedom fighter -cum- Communist leader late Braja Kishore Pattanayak and a few members of the Konark Ceramics Shramik Congress under leadership of Pabitra Mohan Majhi and Benudhar Lenka were encouraging peoples to defeat the difficulties and to use their inherent stamina to withstand hunger and thirst and to continue nurturing the more severely afflicted ones in that camp. And, peoples were really defeating the difficulties. They had no faith in the government. They were not expecting that the government would come to their rescue. The only thing they were sure of was that it is they who alone will save their own families and dependants and pets and whosoever had taken shelter there with them at the moment. I saw the same determination everywhere I went vis-à-vis the same scenario of official apathy and administrative failure.

I was sad that the State had become non-existent to the victims of the calamity. Loss of peoples’ faith in the state is more devastative than the floods. The misrule that mars Orissa under Navin Patnaik is responsible for this.

When the weather forecasters were issuing warnings that a depression-generated-catastrophe may soon engulf Orissa, the State Secretariat was made denuded of Ministers. Under the Rules of Business, the Ministers are the chief executives of their respective departments and under the constitutional framework, they are individually and collectively the controllers of administration. But, there was not a single minister present in the Secretariat to guide the executive into action when the catastrophe gripped Orissa. The Chief Minister and all his Cabinet colleagues were busy in electioneering for Municipal ward members! So administration remained rudderless during the most crucial and clamant time notwithstanding Navin taking a few meetings for flood stocktaking. On the other hand, being apprised of the flood situation by officials in those stocktaking meetings, Navin failed to grasp the serious nature of the deluge or willfully neglected the issue as is seen from the fact that the sleeping machinery of the State could not rise to the occasion and reach the victims.

One cannot say no for sure that the catastrophe was not intentionally created. Post-flood repair of roads and embankments as well as procurement of relief materials is known as the most lucrative source of secret income for engineers and bureaucrats who eventually share portion thereof with political bosses under whose umbrage they enjoy the opportunity of looting. This loot is carried out usually through ad hoc estimates and faltered execution.

Mark the phenomenon.

Navin Patnaik government has declared that the damage due to the flood is of the tune of Rs.2454 crores implying that at least this much money is required to tackle the instant problem.

How has the government arrived at this figure? No survey of the damage has been taken up. Government functionaries have not visited any village and have not done any spot inspection. The government has not determined the quantum of damage done to roads and embankments. How has it arrived at the monetary tune of the damage?

Obviously the government is not sure of the volume of damage and not serious in its approach to repairs.

Visit the official website of the government. You won’t find any details of the flood that has devastated the State. As on today, the only update that you would find belongs to 21st September. Mark it and study it and see for yourself how colossal is the government’s callousness.

It is a matter of grave concern that out of the present 91 discerned breaches, 51 points are awaiting repair since last year’s flood. Engineer-in-chief of irrigation department has admitted that the proposal for their repair is pending with the Government. And whose government it is and who is holding the files of embankment repair? It is Navin Patnaik, the Chief Minister, who holds the water resources portfolio also.

The government has failed to repair and maintain the embankments. On the other hand, blue-eyed boys of administration, the contractors, have been helped to lift sands from the riverbeds by trucks for which they often chop off upper layers of embankment to level the same with roads to facilitate easy movements of the trucks. Thus the embankments are further weakened and flood water jumps over such leveled embankments precipitating breaches.

The way embankments in Orissa have been damaged during Navin’s regime and the way the embankment repair proposals are pending with the government since the flood of the preceding year in the department held by the chief minister himself is enough to generate a suspicion that perhaps the possibility of swindling more money if more damage is done has encouraged the official functionaries including political bosses to slough over the urgency of embankment maintenance.

The administration, of course, is prompt in shifting responsibility for the deluge to the depression-induced downpour. We will search for the reason of depression in a separate article. But as we see, deliberate mishandling of water in the Hirakud dam has precipitated the deluge.

The Hirakud dam was conceived primarily for flood control. Power generation and irrigation were the two secondary aims. Water supply to industry was not at all in the scheme of the system. But Navin’s love for unscrupulous industrialists has been a factor of storing water in Hirakud beyond the recommended level oblivious of the adverse effect that would have on flood control.

Before Navin’s emergence in Orissa’s political play ground, flood control being the primary aim, it was decided to keep enough space in Hirakud to accommodate the water flow that rains would inject into it. Accordingly a formulated was finalized and enforced in respect of Hirakud.

Watching the current flood, Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People has held the Hirakud Dam authorities responsible for the disaster that has now ruined the peoples of Orissa.

“The Hirakud dam operators have kept the water level way above the rule curve recommended for the dam in 1988, ever since August 1, 2008, when the rule curve for current year comes into operation. Had the dam operated in a way to keep the level below the recommended level, the current flood disaster could have been avoided,” he has said.

Remarkably, a senior IPS officer of Orissa, Arun Kumar Upadhyay, currently Deputy Inspector General of Police heading the State Police Academy has preferred a letter to Water Resource Secretary Arabinda Behera, stressing on how wrong steps of administration guided by electioneering in urban areas has precipitated the disaster. He has advised for criminal trial of the persons that have individually and collectively wrought this havoc on human life in Orissa.

“A minimum margin of 5 feet below danger level of 630 feet has to be kept (maximum allowed level is 625 feet) (in Hirakud reservoir). But authorities waited till voting that started on September 19 for municipal elections and allowed the level to reach 629.80 feet. Democracy does not mean that life of people loses its value after casting their votes,” Mr. Upadhyay said in his uniquely emotional but constitutionally duty-linked timely letter.

Considered ‘Flood Control Cushion’, the Hirakud water management concept has culminated in a formulation that stipulates that on August 1 every year, the maximum water level at Hirakud dam should be 590 feet. But the actual water level on that date was as high as 607.5 feet. On August 13, the water level should have been stymied at 606 feet, but in blatant contravention of the concept, the authorities had allowed the water deposit rise up to 618.5 feet. At no point of time the water level should have exceeded 625 feet; but on Sept.19, it was allowed to reach 629.80 feet. The Chief Secretary and the Departmental Secretary had either deliberately kept this position hidden to the Chief Minister when he took the stocktaking meetings or they had apprised the Chief Minister of this position but he deliberately sloughed it over. As a result, peoples perished.

Peoples of Orissa, born fighters, who have withstood many a natural calamity, have defeated this current catastrophe created, as such, by Navin’s misrule.

Now it is better for Navin to know that unless as the Chief Minister he acts promptly to fix responsibility for this man made disaster and initiate discernible penal prosecution against the official functionaries who have played with human life, it would be assumed that he himself is the villain in this foul play and peoples will avenge the damage by any means they like.

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