Residents are describing the flood-like situation as a ‘governance-calamity’.

 

NEW DELHI: The massive water-logging which led to a flood-like situation in Patna has put the Bharatiya Janata Party in a tough spot. The party is finding it difficult to defend Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his bureaucrats who have been blamed of not taking any steps either to prevent such a situation despite being made aware well in advance of the weather situation, nor helping the stranded people when the flood-like situation developed. The BJP is an alliance partner of Kumar’s Janata Dal United (JDU) in the state and at the Centre.

While Nitish Kumar and his bureaucrats have tried to pass off the “flooding” as a “natural calamity”, Patna residents say that it was a “governance-calamity” as drains were not cleaned and water pumps not repaired.

Residents were reminded of 1997 when a PIL was filed in the Patna High Court after a similar flood-like situation had developed in the state capital. It was later revealed that the flood-like situation had developed in the capital because the drains and pumps were not functioning. After the High Court intervened and started monitoring the state government, the local officials woke up and bought equipment worth crores and carried out a diligent check of drains till  2009. In 2009, the High Court closed the case as things were found to be in order. However, once the High Court stepped back, the officials again “went back to sleep”, which led to the present situation.

Nitish Kumar’s image of a “Sushasan babu” (a champion of good governance) has been severely dented in the last one week, with Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp flooded with videos of how the common man suffered right under the nose of the Chief Minister and was even deprived of basic things like drinking water in the state capital.

The lethargic attitude of the state bureaucracy can best be understood by the fact that many prominent people, including Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, High Court judges and folk singers Sharda Sinha were stuck in their homes for 3-4 days before being rescued by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team, as the state SDRF was nowhere to be seen. People who were checking the state SDRF website for updates were shocked to see that it was not updated for almost two years.

What also has damaged “brand-Nitish” even more are the incidents, the proof of which have surfaced on social media, highlighting the arrogant attitude of some of the IAS officers who are very close to Kumar and who miserably failed in handling the situation. While Patna was reeling under 4-6 feet of water, the Chief Minister was busy and content in holding multiple meetings with his bureaucrats inside the secretariat. Pictures released of the meeting by the Chief Minister’s Office showed that these bureaucrats were smiling, as they discussed measures to handle the situation in Patna.

The entire state administration and the members of the Chief Minister’s super-Cabinet (as officers close to him like to be addressed as) were on a “silent mode” as was evident from statements made by local MLAs and MP from Patalipura Ram Kripal Yadav, who rued that the District Magistrate of Patna did not speak to him despite his calling him several times to apprise him of the worsening situation in his area.

Nitish Kumar’s penchant for protecting bureaucrats he takes a liking to is a well-known fact for the last 15 years, as a result of which many of the under-performers and inefficient bureaucrats are now occupying crucial posts. This proximity to the Chief Minister has also led to a high level of arrogance in them due to which they often treat the MLAs and MPs as nothing more than a low level messenger of the people.

It was not until Lok Sabha MP from Patna Saheb and Union Minister for Law and Telecom Ravi Shankar Prasad reached the state capital on the night of 29 September, that a semblance of rescue effort began in Patna from the next day.

Prasad, who cancelled his multiple high-level meetings, which included participation in an RSS meet and a meeting with Vodafone global CEO, to rush to Patna, spoke to Union Minister for Coal Prahlad Joshi and sought four  high powered de-watering pumps that are used in coal mines to be sent immediately to Patna from Chhattisgarh.

The 18-member team of men and machines from South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) that reached Patna with powerful pumps, is staying in seven rooms spread across two private hotels as they were not provided with any accommodation by the Nitish Kumar government. This is for the first time that the SECL has been asked to help in a civilian area. Prasad also spoke to Central Water Minister Gajendra Shekhwat and asked him to open all the gates of the Farraka dam so that the water level in the region around Patna could go down. He then spoke to the Defence Secretary, after which two helicopters were given to Patna for distribution of relief material. Later, Prasad spoke to the Cabinet Secretary to seek increased teams of NDRF, which was sanctioned.

Multiple Patna-based journalists said that all these steps could have been taken by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, too, but he was kept in the dark by the bureaucrats who told him that the situation was under control and there was no need to panic.

Rather than doing aerial surveys and take meetings in the secretariat, Prasad, from the next day, started visiting Patna on foot and on boat, reprimanding officers and issuing orders, like using JCB machine to open a clogged drain. This woke up the sleeping babudom of Patna after which even they started visiting the flooded areas. This also “woke up” the Chief Minister who, too, decided to step out on the street.

All the top BJP leaders of the state, realising the anger among the locals and the fact that there was no point in hiding the inefficiency shown by Nitish Kumar and his team, have now started attacking the official machinery for this situation in Patna.

Union Minister Giriraj Singh, while clearly stating that it was because of the inefficient state machinery that the situation became worse, even sought forgiveness from the people for the suffering that they had to go through.

“It is not a failure of the people of Patna,” Singh said. “It is our failure. Residents of the city have reposed so much of trust in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), especially the BJP. We owe an apology to them.” Singh is a BJP Lok Sabha MP from the Begusarai constituency in Bihar.

Nitish Kumar, JDU leaders and officials, however, have blamed excessive rain and failure on the part of the Meteorological Department to issue warning in time.

This was, however, refuted by the Meteorological Department, which immediately re-released a press release that clearly showed that the state government was warned well in time that Patna was going to witness a large amount of rainfall in the last week of September, which ordinarily should have led to the state government taking necessary steps to prepare for it.

The newly appointed BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal, on his Facebook page, too, has said that the situation developed because of an inefficient state machinery and that he will push for taking action against the errant officers. Even Ravi Shankar Prasad on Thursday said that it was the failure of the state machinery, which led to the situation in Patna.

Patna-based political observers say that the BJP, which is an alliance partner of the JDU in the state and at the Centre, was going to pay dearly for the mistakes of Nitish Kumar and his bureaucrats, who for 15 years have ruled the state. “The BJP, too, however has to share the blame as it has been an alliance partner of the JDU in the state for so many years now. Perhaps that explains the anti-government statement that BJP leaders are giving now as they don’t want to share the anger of people over this incident,” a Patna-based professor said.

A local lawyer said: “The BJP cannot escape the blame for this mess. For the last 15 years, the urban development ministry has been with the BJP, the Patna municipal corporation, too, has been with the BJP. What did they do to improve the drainage system? How can they not be blamed?”

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