Will Nitish return flood relief money with interest in future?
The date June 19, 2010 may haunt Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he makes an aerial survey of flood ravaged districts of north Bihar as it was on this day that Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar––who may be with him during his trip––returned Rs five crore donated by the government of Gujarat to the CM Relief Fund for the victims of Kosi flood of August-September 2008.
The move followed Gujarat government’s advertisements, which appeared in newspapers of Bihar, claiming how it donated money for the flood victims of the Kosi region. The advertisements appeared on the eve of the National Executive meeting of the BJP in Patna on June 12-13, 2010 in which an old photograph was also published showing Nitish and Modi hand in hand. First Nitish, on June 12 cancelled the scheduled dinner to all the BJP bigwigs, including Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, and a week later returned the flood money.
While snubbing his (the then) Gujarat counterpart Nitish said: “The Gujarat government’s claim (on flood relief) is uncivilised and against Indian culture. Nobody claims of bestowing favours on those who face tragedy caused by natural calamities.”
His JD(U) colleagues followed in denouncing Modi, though the party was running government in alliance with the saffron outfit.
Exactly nine years later Bihar has faced almost a similar type of tragedy. The Prime Minister has now decided to visit Bihar, but when the flood water has already receded.
After all when the then PM Manmohan Singh made an aerial survey on August 28, 2008 the entire Kosi region was completely submerged though the embankment in Kusaha in Nepal on its border with Bihar had breached on August 18. The magnitude of that year’s flood was so devastating that water could start receding only in the first week of September.
The announcement of Narendra Modi’s trip came only after deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi on August 21 said that he had ‘requested’ the Prime Minister to make an aerial survey of the flood affected districts. This prompted RJD chief Lalu Prasad to quip whether he had become the chief minister of the state. SuMo also urged the BJP-ruled states to help Bihar.
History is repeating itself in Bihar, but with some difference. Now like Manmohan Singh in 2008, Modi, as the Prime Minister of the country, may announce help to Bihar to overcome devastation caused by the flood. But there always exist a lurking fear that in future Nitish may return it when in any election rally in future Modi speaks that he had helped Bihar during flood.
The moot question, which hardly any friends in the media asked is how can a chief minister return a money donated in August 2008 in June 2010? Was it left unpsent for 22 months and that too when the Nitish government had repeatedly been complaining of shortage of fund for rehabilitation works? If this Rs five crore was actually spent then from which account––and how––was the fund returned by Bihar to Gujarat? After all it was not the money of any CM. It was donated by a state government to the people of another state.
Similarly, the BJP ruled states, in spite of an appeal by Sushil Modi, may think a number of times, before donating to Bihar under Nitish Kumar. The non-BJP ruled state governments may not dare to donate as they know that if Nitish can return the money of good friends in the saffron camp he may return their donation with interest in future.
The political drama enacted in the name of flood by Nitish and his BJP friends is an important reason for administrative uncertainty in today’s Bihar.
Union ministers from the state are taking least interest with people of Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh’s native place in East Champaran district complaining before the media that they had rang him up a number of times but had not received any response.
So far 2008 man-made flood is concerned nobody has yet been punished. The breach in Kosi embankment took place because, according to the Justice Walia Commission, the Bihar government engineers undertook the anti-erosion and flood protection work in a shoddy manner and wireless messages were ignored by the government machinery.