(Bihar Times) It is amusing to see the politicians from Bihar fighting over the crumbs when state itself is down in the dumps. People are left to the mercy of god as their representatives are busy scoring virtual non existent points. It is surprising that none of them are ready to rise above the petty bickering to stake claim to this historical opportunity of being a real statesman dedicated to protecting the interest of the state.
Well! if some one stands up and say that yes the buck stops here then he is only going to go up in the eyes of people of Bihar manifold. But no one seems to realize that. No one is there to say that I own up to the misery caused to the people of Bihar and it would be my endeavour to provide the deliverance for them.
I would not advocate that people of Bihar loose out on the strong leaders whose word carries weight. It would be nobody's case to have dumb leaders. However, I am dismayed by the fact that these strong leaders have also failed to keep the states interest protected. Perhaps not knowing that by doing this, they are harming their own interest much more.
It is a shameful fact that all of the big central projects are on hold even when Bihar has such a strong contingent in central cabinet. DRDO project has been hanging in balance, so has been Barh thermal power project. Even the NHDP III projects had been on standstill till sometime back. Then there is ensuing battle over the railway projects between the two sides. In all this, no one has any time to think about the DPR work of Sapt Kosi High Dam and Sun Kosi diversion project. That's why we have this deluge.
Even the blame game in regards to Kosi has gone too far. If any of the party feels that it has done its duty then it should provide evidence that it has taken all the necessary action to highlight this impending danger before the embankment collapsed. Did any one go on hunger strike or on protest march to highlight the impending danger, either against the state government or against the central government? I am sure none of the political parties in state can claim to have done that in the first place. Then why is this hullabaloo about looking for a scapegoat in this matter. None of the political parties has highlighted the problem of the embankments in last 20 years. Nor any of them have done anything to implement any long-term measure for safeguarding the embankment beyond mere patch work. Worse both state as well as central administration were incapable of assessing and predicting this worst kind of scenario like changing of river's course on breach of embankments. Irrespective of who ruled the state, response to this problem would have been same and indeed has been the same. Someone with a good understanding of Kosi and intricacies involved in managing this international river would have seen this happening. Only through some super efficient intervention by highly resourceful administration could have averted this problem for now. Sadly Bihar does not have luxury of the same. This squabble over who caused what will only make the nation and international community loose whatever little sympathy they have for the suffering people of the state. After all nobody would wish to help people who are hell bent on digging their own grave. It would be better if all the sides stop pointing fingers at each other. It is indeed a natural calamity which could have been delayed but not entirely prevented in the prevailing scenarios. It could have been much worse at higher flow pressure of over four lac cusecs.
It is time to learn from this massive devastation to do the things the right way in the coming future. First thing to take up, in the immediate aftermath of this Relief and rescue operation undergoing right now, would be to start up the reconstruction and rehabilitation work. Large number of dwellings and public buildings has to be reconstructed or repaired. Then there is large scale damage to infrastructure which has to be undone now in a meticulous fashion. There have been seeds of learning in all this devastation which need to be incorporated in planning for a better future. Additionally, government will have to plan for future preventive measures and will have to design mitigants assuming the worst case scenarios. These preventive and mitigating actions are most likely to be staggered and can be categorized as short term measure, medium term measure and long term measures.
Reconstruction and rehabilitation effort will require massive investments. The figures suggested by state administration of Rs 9,800 crores may not be even adequate for reconstruction and rehabilitation operation. If one were to go by the precedent of Tsunami Reconstruction and Rehabilitation operation then the cost of dwelling units at Rs 1.5 lacs ( RS 1.25 Lacs adjusted for Inflation) a piece for reported 3 lacs houses destroyed in the flooding would come to a total of Rs4,500 crores ( However, if one were to go by affected families then number of dwelling units shoots up to 6 lacs and the cost will be then Rs 9000 crores towards dwelling units). This cost per house was estimated by World Bank for TN (for Pondicherry cost estimate was INR 1.75 lacs a piece) and includes layout and other utilities development as well. A further 10% addition in these figures would be required towards public buildings like community centers, schools, health centers, public offices and likes. Thus, going by these two reconstruction activity headings this figure would be either Rs. 5000 crores or Rs.10, 000 crores.
However, the above figures do not account for rehabilitation of the people by restoring their livelihood nor does it take into account the cost towards restoring the infrastructure. The experience in this flood will highlight the need to have both NH-106 and NH -107 as four lane concrete cast highways with adequate drainage provisioning. This will cost around Rs. 4000 crores going by the rate of Rs 12 Crore per KM estimated for similar highways in Bihar. Another Rs. 1000 crores would be needed to account for the cost for the required major bridges. This funding of Rs 5000 Crores can either be provided by MORTH from its own resources or has to be incorporated as cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation operation. Executing agency for the same could still be NHAI. This NH upgradation is required for the twin purpose of ensuring connectivity under extreme flood severities and also to provide temporary shelter in all such emergencies.
Besides, state government will have to also spend around Rs.1000 crores on its own MDRs and SHs. These should also be made of concrete in these flood plains of Bihar. Rural roads can be adequately covered through the increased PMGSY funding to the tune of another Rs 1000 Crores.
Also in case of railway it is quite imperative that railway stations in the flood plains are redesigned. These railway stations should be put up at artificially raised levels so as to keep these stations above flood levels for all the visualized cases with a sufficient margin. The entire railway station including the track portion should be built on stilts. Even the platform and amenities of the station should be designed to act as an emergency relief centers. Adequate capacity water storage tanks, large number of toilets and completely covered platforms, as observed on some of the suburban routes in Mumbai, should be set up in the flood prone regions. Also such stations/ halts should be planned keeping in mind the dependent population size, distance and convenient approaches. This can be budgeted for in the cost of planned/ under progress new tracks or even in the case of upgradation of the existing meter gauge tracks to broad-gauge tracks.
Then there would be need for strategic dredging of the rivers to keep them mainstream and away from attacking the embankments. Same can be better accomplished by declaring the important rivers like Kosi, Gandak, Ghaghara as national waterways. A good investment is required also to restore the irrigation facilities and water bodies. Same should be either provided for in the proposed funding or better if it is provided for by the water resources department. This can also be partly provided for under the NREGA scheme.
Rehabilitation effort should also focus on providing for better institutional infrastructure to enable the skill development of the people of this region. Additionally, the Kosi region also needs to have at least one central government sponsored medical college hospital and an NIT to counter its perennial educational backwardness.
A comprehensive rehabilitation will be impossible without reducing the overdependence of this region on subsistence agriculture. This also calls for setting up some big and medium sized industries apart from the usual small ones. Perhaps, Ministers from Bihar in union cabinet can lend some helping hand by locating some seed industry in this region. After all, Bihar boasts of union ministers of Railway, Heavy Industries, Steel, Chemical & Fertilizers. In this regard, a 'Special Development Zone' status with suitable tax breaks to facilitate industrialization, as proposed by Prime Ministers Task Force on Bihar, is also very much necessity.
A simple comparison with TN should make every one see how TN ( and AP before that) has been pushing its agenda through the union cabinet. TN's total central investment in major projects as per MOSPI data stands at INR409 billion, way above around INR 289 billion each for three other states sharing the second third and fourth position respectively. Then TN has got much more external funding through multilateral agencies than states like Bihar. Even the road Infrastructure approved for upgradation to 4 Lane status for TN stands at 3261 as against 1750 Km approximately in case of Bihar. TN is home to over 45 central research and academic institutions, spanning various ministries, as against fewer than 10 for Bihar. It has a good number of central nodal and apex offices unlike Bihar. All these central institutions are source of a huge indirect money transfer to certain specific. In fact TN got even Sethusamundaram like controversial project sanctioned as a National Project with a funding of over Rs 2500 crores. Then there is this example (see annexure) of Government of India borrowing and funding the entire Tsunami Reconstruction Program even when center was controlled by Mr. Karunanidhi and state was in the hands of Ms. J Jayalalitha. Such examples are galore.
It is high time that politicians from Bihar learn a thing or two. By keeping the state underdeveloped they themselves can not prosper. Politicians in TN, Karnataka and Maharashtra have benefited much more than what politicians of Bihar can ever dream of. Please let Bihar develop itself first.
Dr. Raghuvansh Babu it would be good if you heed to the advice of Dr S C Jha. Aage aapki marji.
* Consultant and Research Analyst