Tragedy upon tragedy

It appears that the god has turned unkind to the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand. The stars are inimical. The north Bihar was yet to emerge from the Kosi devastations that had devoured village upon village some two years ago, when tragedy upon tragedy overtook the people. The last year’s drought conditions had made the life more difficult. Survival of village-town people in the affected zones was at stake. To make good the losses, at least partially, the farmers sowed maize crops in large areas. They took money from private money-lenders as the government credit system and banks had failed them. The maize crops had luxuriant growth. On harvesting, however, the maize had no grains. The bolt from the blue was so hard that a few farmers committed suicide. As if this was not enough, a twister developed and tornado hit the areas hard. More than 100 people perished and houses in mile upon mile were destroyed in a span of one hour or so. The high velocity storm has caused extensive damage to nearly 100,000 houses and snapped power and communication lines besides uprooting hundreds of trees and killing at least 10,000 cattle in Araria, Purnia, Kishanganj, Katihar and Supaul districts. The government machinery was caught unawares and adequate rescue and relief measures could not be taken in time. Not to talk of reaching succour, the Bihar Disaster Management Minister was out of the state, while the people suffered.

As if this tragedy was not enough, the littoral villages of the mighty Ganga River too had to face Nature’s wrath of unprecedented dimensions. Underground water in over 1,500 villages in 13 districts of Bihar has alarming arsenic content. As a result, many children were born blind. Villagers are suffering from many diseases in the affected areas. The government, no doubt, has woken up to this new situation. But, the bureaucratic pace is so slow that that the affected people might not get any help before problems assumed alarming dimensions. The need is to cut asunder red-tapes. But, the PHED minister is doing almost nothing beyond making announcements and promises. He is reportedly busy in managing his cards in the party than finding time to mitigate the people’s sufferings. And, in Jharkhand the nature’s bounties are signing death warrants for the poor and downtrodden people. The red powder emanating from the iron ore mines is playing havoc. Legal or illegal mining operators are reported to be violating safety norms with impunity. The situation has reached such a dangerous point that the life expectancy in the iron ore belt has come down just 45 years, much below the national or state average. Things are drifting inch by inch. To cap it all, the Jharkhand government is still unmoved. The minister and officials have not gone beyond promising steps to stop illegal mining. There is no adequate arrangement for treating the ailing population. The Union government is also doing precious little to mitigate sufferings of poor and illiterate tribals, who are dying a lingering death.

The main point to ponder here is as to how the state governments could afford to be oblivious to such calamitous situation. Do not the governments and ruling parties swear in the people’s name, day in and day out? Mere achieving miraculous growth and shouting from rooftops about ‘sushasan’ would not help. The growth benefits must be allowed to percolate down to the grassroots level. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also admitted of this paradoxical situation. Time has come when the governments see the ground realities and act fast to bail people out of the tragic situation. The Union government must come to the rescue of beleaguered Bihar with adequate financial help. It is tragic that the Kosi deluge was declared by the Prime Minister as a national calamity. He promised a special bail out package. But Bihar is yet to get the package even after two to three years. The state needs concrete help and not mere lip service.