The Madhya Pradesh legislative assembly house was scene to some chaotic developments yesterday. The political opposition led by the Congress was taking on the Madhya Pradesh government led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and an all around ruckus was in the air.
And in the centre of it was the poor common man – this time afflicted by the flood fury!
And by essential by-product of it – the designs of bureaucratic corruption!
The issue in point was distribution of adulterated and rotten wheat sacks to the flood victims. Reports said some wheat sacks contained as much as 20 kg soil in a pack of 50 kg.
The news had come from a state which has a popular chief minister who has been consistently elected by his constituency and who is now in his third consecutive term.
Well, it’s a flourishing business – the relief and rescue work in the aftermath of annual spells of droughts followed by Monsoon floods – the annual pilgrimage for bureaucrats and politicians who see them as the opportune channels to siphon off money.
We should be thankful journalists like P. Sainath who devoted their whole life to rural reporting, especially on farm suicides, droughts and agrarian crisis. The book written by Sainath, ‘Everybody Loves A Good Drought’, makes for a pithy and informed reading. It shows how droughts have become big money spinners for the governing machinery and the appendages dependent on it.
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 are in the same category – the annual ritual of harvesting illicit wealth.
It’s not that P. Sainath was the first person to write on such issue. And as long as the human apathy goes, there will always be the concerned souls exploring our hinterlands to tell their stories who are left on the margins to die. Yes, but P. Sainath gave us a seminal book, an event to talk about, a reference to go back, again and again.
We are yet to see such a consolidated work on floods – because floods, at times, prove a better milking cow than droughts for corrupt officials.
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 in minting money – submitting forged bills and manipulating relief figures. While thousands had died and many more thousands were displaced and were in imminent danger, the Uttarakhand rescue officials were busy in ordering lavish foods in hotel accommodations that they claimed cost them Rs. 7000 a night. This and many more shocking details have emerged in many RTI replies. The information obtained clearly shows how the data were manipulated for personal gains – Rs. 200 for half a litre milk, diesel bills for two-wheelers, relief materials to the same lot of victims again and again and so on.
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 carcass and other pollutants. The rapidly going up floodwater presents a golden opportunity to push for anything and everything – no tenders, no negotiations. The rush to keep supply lines sustained sees cheaper relief materials and medicines being pushed at higher cost. 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-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.
And the practice goes long back. 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.
Floods present a similar opportunity, like drought – or in fact any natural calamity of big scale – but what makes floods and droughts big opportunities for money minded vultures – are their geographical spread and regular frequency. Their earning potential far outweighs other catastrophic happenings like earthquake, cloud burst or cyclone. These are localized in nature and thus are limited in scope. And even then we find our Google searches inundated with the news reports of 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!