Waiting for succor …

There is a battle going on … between the State government of Bihar and the Centre. On the issue of Central assistance to the State for the rehabilitation of the Kosi flood victims. If we remember, the Kosi floods of August 2008 had displaced 30 lakhs people and destroyed over 3 lakh homes, and laid thousands of acres of fertile land silted and barren.
The current issue being fought over is the size of the Centre’s rehab package – 1,010 crores as against the 14,000 + crores which was asked. The figures are mind-boggling.

The post-Kosi floods situation was heart-rending. Millions of people – children, old, disabled, women and men were marooned for over a month. In December, when we visited, the water was still flowing and hadn’t entirely subsided. That picture itself was frightening. And the hard winter was still not upon the people, who lived in make-shift, non-existent homes.

What was immediately evident was that Bihar had a major, major problem on its hands. The problem was a double-edged sword – there were no homes to shelter and no land to cultivate, which translated into no food and no money to rebuild. With no other alternative livelihood options around (the area is almost entirely dependent on agriculture), the people were just starving. Their only option was State-assistance. The State government valiantly put up relief shelters. But seeing no way opening up, closed down the shelter within a couple of months. The people were sent back to their villages – villages which were still under water, quite often inaccessible, and with no option of earning a day’s food.

There was silent panic all around.

One would expect that the State would galvanize itself and provide the basic assistance that the people needed. Being very much rural, majority of the homes are built with bamboo, thatch and other natural materials. People needed quick, simple homes (that cost not more than Rs.10,000) and quick options for making a livelihood.

But the Bihar government was negotiating with the Centre for a BIG package. The figures being bandied around were for 2.5 to 3 lakhs per home with additional funds for land reclamation and infrastructure building. The argument being if Tamil Nadu could do it, so can Bihar. What was forgotten was the scale – 50,000 against 3,00,000 homes.

The issue was that the State had yet to utilize its funds lying unused under the Indira Awas Yojana. With an additional package from the Centre, the State could get back on its feet. NGOs and people were pushing for solutions that were workable.

It is July 2009 now. The hard winter is past. The monsoon is now upon the people. And the State and the Centre are still embroiled in a battle of what it should get and give. While the people have emptied the villages and have moved and migrated in search of a life. For whom will the State rebuild? Who will get the rehabilitation package?

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