Death on doorstep: Floods may cause famine in Bihar

Credit – Public Resource Org

NK SINGH

Published in Young Indian, 19 August 1971

DEATH in the form of dreadful floods, which is bound to be followed by large-scale famine, is knocking at the doorsteps of Bihar populace.

In its SOS to New Delhi, the Bihar Government has revealed that about 10 million people have been affected by severe floods in 5989 villages in 13 out of 17 districts of the State in an area of 12,331 square miles.

This has broken the backbone of the much-expected Green Revolution.

A little over 90 percent of bhadai crop have been lost in the affected areas, districts of Patna, Gaya, Shahabad, Santhal Parganas, and Palamu in South Bihar and Bhagalpur, Munger, Purnea, Saharsa, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Saran and Champaran in North Bihar.

The mighty flood is likely to cause more havoc in the coming days.

Floods are neither a new nor an unexpected phenomenon for this province. This year, the continuous, heavy, unseasonal and non-stop rains since April last had made the people fearful.

Bihar has never known such heavy rains in April-May. In June and July too, there has been rainfall on an unprecedented scale throughout the State. In some districts the rainfall was two or three times more than normal.

This together with heavy rains in the catchment area of the Ganga resulted in high floods in most of the rivers of this State. Thus, this flood — an annual routine — did not come all of a sudden as the vested interest would try to paint it.

However, what was new was floods in South Bihar, which, till now, was considered safe from this havoc. As for north Bihar, it is used to floods.

The floods have exposed the Government’s failure to maintain an effective flood alarm service, and guard the embankments.

With the rabi crop extensively damaged, the bhadai virtually lost and the poor prospect of kharif, the people and the Government look to the future with dread.

This year, Bihar had bumper rabi crops but most of it was destroyed in the fields due to unseasonal rains. Rabi threshing needs a spell of dry weather but even before the harvesting began, the easterly winds began to blow carrying moisture and rain. Thrashing became difficult, and as rains began as early as April, wheat and barley sprouted in the straw.

Although there is a difference of opinion between the State and the Union Government over the percentage of damage to the rabi crop, it can hardly be denied that it is extensive.

Farmers who expected 200 mounds of wheat could get a hundred and that too of a poor quality. Thus, they lost in two ways: in total yield as well as in price, because damaged wheat cannot fetch the same price as good wheat.

Even where there is no flood, maize and arhar have been damaged or destroyed by accumulated rain water. This is not confined to one or two areas but almost the whole of north and south Bihar, barring Chotanagpur.

The damage has been estimated up to the tune of Rs 150 crores. But the figure is tentative because no accurate assessment can be made until the flood recedes.

Prices have already started shooting up. Even vegetables have become scarce. Not only food but also fodder have to be procured, which has become a scarce commodity.

Agriculture — the backbone of our economy — is still dependent mainly upon cattle. Many would die without fodder to create another problem in the process.

In its report to the Central Government, the Bihar Government has estimated the relief measures to cost Rs 18 crores for the present. (However, it is likely to cost more — the private sources go as far as Rs 50 crores.)

It has requested the centre to make an ad hoc allotment of Rs 10 crores to meet the immediate requirements. The State Government has so far allotted Rs 287 lakhs for relief and Rs 150 lakhs for loans and advances to the district. officers.

But this sum, as the Government has itself confessed, is very meagre. Bihar is on the brink of famine. The bureaucrats in air conditioned offices have so far shown a woeful unawareness of the calamitous situation that is fast developing.

It is not merely the fault of the Government. The political parties and their workers too share the responsibility.

Every year when the floods come, politicians seeking headlines immediately project the real or imaginary woes of the people of their localities (with an eye on future votes). Complaints are invariably voiced about the inadequacy of relief.

But what is forgotten by the political parties, is that their sole aim is to serve the people. In pre-independence days relief in times of natural calamities was provided mostly by private organisations and political parties.

The ‘defection age’ politicians discharge their duties by only issuing statements for personal publicity and telling their constituencies what valiant fighters they are for their causes.

With almost all the crops lost and no reserves left, Bihar cannot feed her people long unless massive efforts on war-footing are immediately made for tackling the problem in all seriousness.

Young Indian, 19 August 1971

Young Indian, 19 August 1971

 

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