New Delhi: Deputy chairman of Bihar’s planning commission N.K. Singh says the Bihar flood, caused after the Kosi river breached its embankments, was a result of decades of negligence by bureaucrats of politicians. The influential Rajya Sabha member of Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), adds that the state has demanded around Rs9,000 crore from the Union government for reconstruction efforts. In an interview, he talks about the importance of next two-three months in terms of relief and rehabilitation. Edited excerpts:
Is the worst over?
We can’t say, we hope the worst (floods in Bihar) is over, but we have to remain vigilant. Perhaps till the first week of October we cannot lower our vigil.
But people are beginning to return (to their villages from relief camps). Is the government not stopping them?
If the people want to voluntarily go back and make efforts to rebuild their lives, I don’t see any reason why, in the absence of anything happening, we should prevent that.
What are the estimates for the reconstruction projects?
For agriculture, there are nine components totalling Rs827 crore. For rebuilding of a national highway, state and district roads, we need Rs1,305 crore and then Rs1,000 crore for rural roads.
After the flood: N.K. Singh, deputy chairman of the Bihar Planning Commission, says that around Rs8,922 crore will be needed for various relief and infrastructural efforts for damages caused by the Kosi breach. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
For closure of (embankment) breach, it is Rs734 crore. (At least) Rs426 crore is required for irrigation canals and Rs48 crore for minor irrigation.
Education, including reconstruction of elementary, secondary schools and colleges, is put at Rs164 crore; rebuilding health infrastructure at Rs47 crore; urban infrastructure at Rs600 crore; rural housing for 300,000 homes at Rs1.5 lakh each; food godowns at Rs155 crore.
(At least) Rs65 crore needs to be spent on ensuring drinking water supply, and renovation of community buildings requires Rs38 crore. The total adds up to Rs8,922 crore.
You believe the river has changed its course?
It is more than a belief. Satellite imagery and even maps downloaded from Google in 2004 suggest that as a result of the 1979 landslides, the river morphology has substantially changed, moving away from the western embankment towards the eastern embankment.
The pressure on the eastern embankment started increasing as the centre of the river shifted... The first thing is the Kosi high-level committee (set up in 1972) should have suggested a different nature of work to coax the river back to its original course.
What was the Bihar government doing? It has five members in the Kosi high-level committee.
These are not failures of one day or episodic failures, they are not flashes in the pan. You have to look at what happened systemically over a long period of time and what went wrong.
But the committee has been asked to look into what the Bihar government did between 1990 and 2005. That was predominantly during former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s rule.
I don’t think it was designed for that. But, generally speaking, a 15-year horizon is a long enough horizon to look into what went wrong. Curiously, it could have gone a little more back into time.
But 15 years is a long enough period, by that way it includes two-and-a-half years of the current regime. It is not as if he (chief minister Nitish Kumar) has excluded his dispensation from the terms of reference.
You say the morphology-altering landslides happened in 1979. Why was nothing done?
This is not one of the glowing areas of India’s foreign policy success. When I was in the finance ministry, the World Bank chaps were quite keen to pick up the project (Kosi dam) but the external affairs ministry poured cold water saying this was a bilateral issue where India and Nepal enjoyed a special relationship and involvement of the World Bank would internationalize the issue... I hope (Nepal Prime Minister) Prachanda’s visit ensures the stalled initiatives of Indo-Nepalese diplomacy really gets off to a credible start.
The Kosi started eroding the embankment on 3 August and continued doing so till 18 August, when the breach happened. Why did the executive engineer sitting there do nothing?
He was not just sitting there. There was huge obstruction in multiple ways for enabling him to carry material into Nepal. There was a flurry of telegrams and letters from the administration here to our representatives in Nepal and to the administration there.
(Nepalese) customs was not allowing the materials to go in and there were some issues regarding not being able to find labour.
I am told that in the final days there was a phone call at very senior levels between the Bihar govt and the ministry of external affairs.
The Nepalese foreign minister has been the first one to admit this.
How big an election issue is this? Will this replace national issues?
In terms of elections, two districts are severely affected and two more are marginally affected. That is four parliamentary constituencies out of 40.
It is not like 40 districts are reeling under this... What we are able to do in the course of next two-three months in terms of relief and rehabilitation is important. This (relief efforts) is not normal, Bihar is not used to it... It is important to look credible and sincere.