Why Madhya Pradesh loves a bloody good flood

Its earning potential far outweighs other catastrophic events like earthquake, cloudburst or cyclone.

 |  6-minute read |   22-07-2016
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The Madhya Pradesh Assembly was scene to some chaotic developments on July 21. The Opposition led by the Congress was taking on the state government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and an all-around ruckus rose in the House.

And at the centre of it was the poor common man – this time afflicted by the flood fury!

And by its essential byproduct - the designs of bureaucratic corruption!

The issue in point was the distribution of adulterated and rotten wheat sacks to the flood victims. Reports said some wheat sacks of 50kg contained as much as 20kg soil.

The news had come from a state which has a popular chief minister who has been consistently elected by his constituency and is now in his third consecutive term.

stoneys_072216014444.jpg A stony harvest.

It's a flourishing business – the relief and rescue work in the aftermath of annual spells of drought followed by Monsoon floods – the annual pilgrimage for bureaucrats and politicians who see them as the opportune channels to siphon off money.

Journalists like P Sainath have devoted their lives to rural reporting, especially on farm suicides, droughts and agrarian crisis. A book written by Sainath, Everybody Loves A Good Drought, makes for pithy and informed reading. It shows how droughts have become big money spinners for the governing machinery and its appendages dependent on it.

Also read: Uttarakhand cloudburst: Has the state not learnt any lessons from 2013?

He writes, “A great deal of drought ‘relief’ goes into contracts handed over to private parties. These are to lay roads, dig wells, send out water tankers, build bridges, repair tanks – the works. Think that can’t total up to much? Think again. The money that goes into this industry in a single year can make the withdrawals from Bihar’s animal husbandry department look like so many minor fiddles. And the Bihar scam lasted a decade and a half. The charm of this scam is that it is largely ‘legal’. And it has soul. It’s all in a good cause. The tragedy, of course, is that it rarely addresses the real problems of drought and water scarcity.”

The above paragraph from his book is enough to sum up the malaise of corruption that has deeply corroded the drought management system in our country. His book says the drought victims call the drought relief bounty "teesra fasl (the third crop)", a harvest that never reaches them.

Floods fall in the same category – the annual ritual of harvesting illicit wealth.

Also read: Uttarakhand floods 2013: What led to Kedarnath disaster

The 2013 Uttarakhand floods disaster killed thousands. The rehabilitation process is still not over. But see the crass apathy of the bureaucratic machinery. Those tasked with relief and rescue efforts were busy minting money, submitting forged bills and manipulating relief figures.

While thousands died and several still were displaced and in imminent danger, the Uttarakhand officials were busy in ordering lavish foods in hotels that they claimed cost Rs 7,000 a night. This and many more shocking details have emerged in many RTI replies.

The information clearly shows how the data were manipulated for personal gains – Rs 200 for half a litre of milk, diesel bills for two-wheelers, issue of relief material to the same lot of victims, et al.

Also read: One in four persons now affected by drought. When will Modi sarkar wake up?

In the season of annual Monsoon floods, first it is about manipulating resources in the name of checking immediate human crisis elements like arranging shelter and food for the victims. In the immediate aftermath, it comes to controlling a looming epidemic because of the stagnant water that carries dead carcasses and other pollutants.

The rapidly rising floodwater presents a golden opportunity to push for anything - no tender or negotiation. The rush to keep supply lines sustained sees cheaper relief material and medicine being pushed at higher costs. Floods, in that sense, provide a better opportunity to money vultures than droughts. Post this comes the phase of rebuilding infrastructure – roads, bridges, railway tracks, embankments – and here the big money lies.

Contracts are given to the parties and we all know how it is done.

We all, every year, think about this basic question – that why can't the administration lay out a stronger layer of concrete that would last for at least four to five years? We all know the answer – corruption. Every year, new tender is floated and fund is released to the contractor carrying the work. And it is a good deal for everyone – from government officials to contractors. Money changes hands. The process is repeated year after year, sometimes season after season.

Also read: Drought-hit India needs a water-sensitive food trade policy

And the practice goes far back in time. In fact, a 2007 report by the Financial Times, quoting commentators and media reports wrote, “Even flood prevention mechanisms, such as river embankments and sluice gates, are deliberately left unmaintained. Every time they are washed away, it means more money for the contractors, technocrats and politicians.”

The 2007 Financial Times report was based on reports of corruption that was siphoning off money that should have ideally gone to the victims of the 2007 floods that had affected India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Stories of manipulation and corruption in the 2008 Kosi floods of Bihar are yet another eye opener.

Also read: Politics, not drought, is choking Bundelkhand's common man

Floods present a similar opportunity, like drought – or in fact any natural calamity of massive scale. But what makes the floods or droughts a big opportunity for money-minded vultures is their geographical spread and regular frequency. Their earning potential far outweighs other catastrophic events like earthquake, cloudburst or cyclone.

These are localised in nature and thus are limited in scope. And even then we find our Google searches inundated with news reports about corruption and manipulation in their aftermath - replete with stories of human misery.

Big projects, big money. Small projects, small money. Simple! If everybody loves a good drought... "that" everybody loves a good flood as well!


Santosh Chaubey Santosh Chaubey @santoshchaubeyy

The writer is a journalist working with India Today TV.

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