Flood Matters : Orissa Governor Echoes The Opinion Of Orissamatters

We were the first to observe that more than the lackluster operation of relief, a Judicial Commission of Inquiry is essential to fix up responsibility for the flood that devastated the State in the month of September.

And we were alone, till, taking the cue, a few days later, the Congress party moved the State Governor with a demand for an Inquiry into the cause of the flood.

Governor M. C. Bhandare called for a report from the Government that he wanted to be based on investigation by an independent committee into whether or not the water mismanagement of Hirakud dam factored the flood.

And the State Government on October 12 refused to constitute any such probe committee under assertions that the State has already a technical team headed by the Engineer-in-Chief (EIC) of water resources department that looks into implementation of the Rule Curve for the reservoir and in its opinion, there was no mismanagement of the Hirakud dam that could have caused the flood.

The answer has failed to satisfy the Governor, who has in the meantime visited various flood-hit areas and gathered victims’ views as to how the flood was avoidable had administration been careful and concerned.

To media, the Governor has given vent to his dismay and has stated that the reason of the flood needs be determined through an impartial body of investigation so that steps may be taken to save the State from recurrence of such devastation. “Any fair inquiry by an independent body is very necessary so that we take the necessary preventive measures,” he has stated.

We thank the Governor for his honest observation and maintain that the cause of the flood needs be determined through a Judicial Commission of Inquiry for fixation of responsibility on functionaries whose negligence to and mismanagement of the river system has done the devastative damage to our people that can never be recovered.

As we have said, the culprits need punishment, not leniency.

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RESPONSIBILITY FOR FLOOD BE FIXED THROUGH COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

The way people of Orissa have been pushed into unfathomable health hazards and loss of property in flood that has kept majority portion of the State inundated for almost a month, necessitates action against persons in power by fixation of responsibility through a judicial commission of inquiry. The culprits deserve severe punishment and no leniency.

The current flood is not yet estimated in terms of loss caused to Orissa; but the one that was not yet over is officially estimated to have caused a loss of Rs.2121 crores on the basis of inputs received from the field officials in 19 districts. This estimation prepared by the Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) Orissa reveals that 116706 houses in 4897 villages under 102 blocks and 21 urban bodies are inundated wherein personal life and properties of the people are irrecoverably affected. The damage caused to official structures and projects is no less horrifying. When all the departments have not been able to estimate their loss as yet, the Water Resources department has an estimated loss of Rs.728.58 crores in the front of embankment, canals, minor and lift irrigation projects. The Panchayatiraj department shows its loss at Rs. 442.27 crores whereas to the Rural Development Department the damage hovers over Rs.372.64 crores and to the Works department, the amount of loss is Rs. 226.07 crores. According to the SRC, the relief measures cost the exchequer about 162.77 crores. Added to this the damage caused by the current week’s deluge – when the calculations complete – would be so menacingly massive that Orissa will take years to recover.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is expecting the Central Government to come to its rescue by posting enough funds to tackle the devastation. What amount should be the Central Government grant is not relevant. Relevant is the fact that the people of Orissa are fighting a flood that could never have been so severe had the Government run by Naveen Patnaik been a bit responsible.

The officials admit that water holding capacity of the Hirakud Dam is reduced by almost half due to negligence of the State to dredge out the silt deposits. As far back as in 1995, a remote sensing survey conducted by Central Water Commission (CWC) had revealed that the total water storage capacity of the Hirakud dam had come down by 27.25 per cent due to siltation. The subsequent study in 1996-97, interpretable as verification, had confirmed the same further focusing on the alarming reduction in water holding capacity of the Hirakud reservoir. Even a state government study revealed that every year 12,000 acre feet of silt gets deposited in the reservoir. Of the 53-km upstream spread of the reservoir, 50 km has been silted up, says the report. Yet the government run by Naveen Patnaik has done nothing to stop siltation and to excavate the silt to enhance the Dam’s water storage capacity. It has ignored the massive increase in siltation that the heavy industrial and constructional activities going on in Chhatisgarh cause to Hirakud reservoir. It has failed as a watchdog. And, resultantly has ruined Hirakud’s primary aim of controlling flood in the State’s largest river system.

A massive population of the State is perishing under an unprecedented deluge, not because of spate in the rivers, but because of uncared for embankments that were too week to withstand the kicks of the spate. Every life lost so far in the flood is because either of overflow or of breech in the embankment. When, thus, responsibility needs be fixed for official failure to keep the flood under control, the havoc played upon people’s lives by the State Government after flood hit them, needs to be investigated into.

It would be wrong not to say that the Government has failed to come to the rescue of flood victims. Rain was not under the control of the Government; but preparedness for flood certainly was. The Government has failed. Government relief boats have not reached the marooned people. One cannot imagine how devastative is drinking the flood water by marooned people who for weeks were / are devoid of food. Lakhs of people, by being forced to drink the flood water, have gone into the grip of new dangers to their lives. People have died as the State has failed to come to their rescue. Absence of adequate boats is the reason of the officials not reaching the marooned people. The political leadership needs be made responsible for this devastation. And, this needs a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate into the real reason of rivers overflowing their embankments and causing so many breeches and damaging so much lives and properties.

DON’T MISRULE, QUIT; J.B. ASKS NAVIN

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Orissa’s senior most active politician and Leader of Opposition Sri Janaki Ballav Pattanaik has asked Chief Minister Navin Patnaik not to continue misrule but to quit office, as it is clear that lack of sense of responsibility on his part has pushed the peoples of Orissa into the labyrinth of current catastrophic calamity of flood coupled with chaos and confusion in relief operation, which has multiplied the misery of the victims by hundreds of times.

Echoing expert observations that failure to honor the curve rule in force in management of Hirakud Reservoir level has caused the catastrophe, J.B. alleged on September 28 that Navin is a political fluff, who doesn’t know how to safeguard peoples’ interest vis-à-vis a recalcitrant set-up of bureaucracy. As a result, a pattern of administration – incompetent and corrupt – has raised its ugly head in Orissa culminating into perishing of peoples in man-made floods like the present one.

Despite being the minister in charge, he neither has studied the Hirakud water level maintenance formulation nor has ever monitored the water management on the officially adopted matrix as a result of which there was no compulsion for the executive to put priority on the flood control cushion the dam was equipped with and eventually as more water than the permissible storage had accumulated on the reservoir rendering it practically impossible to retain any further, the area authorities were compelled to open up as many as 46 gates surging out unprecedented flow into the already swelled delta system precipitating the devastation, he alleged.

Citing the Phulapal breach on the southern embankment of river Bhargavi as an instance, J.B. alleged that when this particular embankment has not been treated with a single bucket of dressing towards its maintenance during the decade, the cause of breach on other embankments could safely be attributed to the same pattern of negligence.

The current man-made deluge is so devastative that an incompetent and misleading person like Navin may make the situation bleaker if he remains in power to mishandle the post-flood restoration works. So, he should quit, J.B. quipped.

AT LEAST 8 LAKH PERSONS YET MAROONED: GOVT. ADMITS LAPSES IN PREPAREDNESS

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Secretary G.V.V.Sharma of the revenue department that handles the relief operations confessed on September 25 that at least 8 lakh persons in 825 villages are marooned as yet with no road connectivity to reach them. He admitted that boats are the only means to send them the badly needed food and drinking water; but they are almost unavailable.

The state has only 1500 boats tat are absolutely inadequate to serve 45 lakhs of flood-hit people in 6000 villages in as many as 19 districts, Nuapada having entered the list of inundated eighteen.

Though the weather has improved and discharge from Hirakud has remarkably receded, in the Mahanadi delta continuous surge of overflow has hammered out 52 new breaches pushing newer areas into the fold of flood.

It is baffling to note that the state government is groping yet in dark about the breaches.

Notwithstanding Sharma putting the figure at 143, officialdom takes the figure to be 240 whereas sources in the water resources department put the breaches above 1000.

Sharma admitted that no relief has reached so far at least 41 thousand victims of the disaster.

True picture of the devastation is yet to emerge.

ORISSA’S FORMER ELECTRICAL C.E. ASKS NTPC TO STOP SLOUGHING OVER THE STATE IN CONTRIBUTION TO RELIEF FUND

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) that has direct and heavy commercial interest in Orissa has ignored the State in contribution to relief funds whereas its Chairman-cum-Managing Director (CMD) Sri R.S.Sharma being a Behari, the Central Public Sector Company has given Rs. 10 crores to provide relief to the Bihar flood victims.

As the fact is not known to many in Orissa, Shri N.N. Mahapatra, former Chief Engineer ( Electrical ), Grid Corporation of Orissa Ltd., has tried to rouse the sense of corporate responsibility of Sri Sharma through a mail he has memoed to Shri S.N. Banerjee, Executive Director, TSTPS, Kaniha, Shri K.K. Sharma, G.M, TTPS, Talcher and Shri S.K. Kar, DGM (Commercial), NTPC, Bhubaneswar.

Mahapatra’s mail being just and proper and timely and self-explanatory, we endorse it in its entirety and reproduce the same here below for reference and onward action of our esteem visitors.

Mohapatra writes:

My dear Sharma Ji,

I have gone through your speech at the 32rd Annual General Meeting held on 17.09.2008 at New Delhi where inter alia I have noted as under :

“ Our heart reaches out to the hapless victims of the ravages of Kosi river in Bihar. Your Company promptly contributed Rs.10 crore to the Prime Minister’s relief fund. We organized supply of relief material. Our employees too contributed one day’s salary for the flood affected.”

2. The State of Orissa is passing through a very difficult period at present as about 45 lakhs people are in the midst of devastating flood occurred in the districts of Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Balasore Kendrapara, Khurda, Puri etc.

3. NTPC has a sizeable presence in Orissa at 460 MW Thermal Power Station at Talcher and at 3000 MW Thermal Power Station at Kaniha. NTPC is proposing another 3200 MW project at Darlipalli in the district of Sundargarh in the State of Orissa besides a few more projects with coal linkage from Talcher and Ib Valley Coal field.

In view of the sizeable presence of NTPC in Orissa and to discharge your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR ) I am to request you to kindly extend similar assistance to the flood victims of Orissa in this hour of crisis like hapless victims of the ravages of Kosi river in Bihar.

An early and immediate action is requested.

Will Chief Minister Navin Patnaik rise to the occasion and take up the matter in Orissa interest?

PEOPLES OF ORISSA, WHO COULD DEFEAT THE FLOOD, WOULD ALSO DEFEAT THE PRECIPITATORS

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Held ‘unprecedented’ by all watchers, the flood that submerged roughly 5,500 villages in 18 out of 30 districts of the State, damaged / destroyed paddy crops in around 4.35 lakh hectares of land, overwhelmed more than 45 lakhs of inhabitants, afflicted at least 10 lakhs of domestic animals, devastated around 1.6 lakh residential houses, extinguished life of at least 55 persons and put prominent places like Puri and Banki cut off from the rest of the country dragging everybody into a condition of chilling alarm for around a week, has started receding.

Embankments have been washed away in at least 91 points and roads and highways running in the affected areas are severely damaged.

Meretricious tears of politicians of all hue have started flowing down in eagerness to attract attention of peoples in utter despondency, the year being the harbinger of the general elections. They in their nefarious stratagem have already started focusing on each other’s lacunae in reaching the affected peoples. Now with decline in deluge, political attacks and counter-attacks on arrangement and management of relief, reconstruction of roads and repair of embankments and renovation of crop fields etc will grip the scenario.

Politicians in power and Officialdom are as agog as blackmarketeers at the prospect of fetching fortune out of the misfortune of the affected people. Every natural calamity, in fact, brings them fortunes. Audit reports present rampant proofs.

But what I saw during these days amidst the affected peoples? I saw in them the strongest possible determination to defeat the devastation. Clouds were vomiting hissing torrents, river systems were gushing out pernicious currents. Their homes submerged, peoples were trying to keep their families and friends and pets safe, on any elevated or higher place including embankments. The government was dead to them. No official relief, no official sympathy. No food to take, no water to drink. No official functionary reached the victims in any of their makeshift shelter camps before receding of flood. Rescue operation was abysmally meager. Tele communication channels had failed. Connectivity had collapsed. Defying such disadvantage, peoples were guarding the embankments where they were camping and were trying to save the embankments from apprehended breaches sans any help from any official.

In the midst of such misfortune in a shelter-camp under the Athgarh Block, I saw a few comrades of legendary freedom fighter -cum- Communist leader late Braja Kishore Pattanayak and a few members of the Konark Ceramics Shramik Congress under leadership of Pabitra Mohan Majhi and Benudhar Lenka were encouraging peoples to defeat the difficulties and to use their inherent stamina to withstand hunger and thirst and to continue nurturing the more severely afflicted ones in that camp. And, peoples were really defeating the difficulties. They had no faith in the government. They were not expecting that the government would come to their rescue. The only thing they were sure of was that it is they who alone will save their own families and dependants and pets and whosoever had taken shelter there with them at the moment. I saw the same determination everywhere I went vis-à-vis the same scenario of official apathy and administrative failure.

I was sad that the State had become non-existent to the victims of the calamity. Loss of peoples’ faith in the state is more devastative than the floods. The misrule that mars Orissa under Navin Patnaik is responsible for this.

When the weather forecasters were issuing warnings that a depression-generated-catastrophe may soon engulf Orissa, the State Secretariat was made denuded of Ministers. Under the Rules of Business, the Ministers are the chief executives of their respective departments and under the constitutional framework, they are individually and collectively the controllers of administration. But, there was not a single minister present in the Secretariat to guide the executive into action when the catastrophe gripped Orissa. The Chief Minister and all his Cabinet colleagues were busy in electioneering for Municipal ward members! So administration remained rudderless during the most crucial and clamant time notwithstanding Navin taking a few meetings for flood stocktaking. On the other hand, being apprised of the flood situation by officials in those stocktaking meetings, Navin failed to grasp the serious nature of the deluge or willfully neglected the issue as is seen from the fact that the sleeping machinery of the State could not rise to the occasion and reach the victims.

One cannot say no for sure that the catastrophe was not intentionally created. Post-flood repair of roads and embankments as well as procurement of relief materials is known as the most lucrative source of secret income for engineers and bureaucrats who eventually share portion thereof with political bosses under whose umbrage they enjoy the opportunity of looting. This loot is carried out usually through ad hoc estimates and faltered execution.

Mark the phenomenon.

Navin Patnaik government has declared that the damage due to the flood is of the tune of Rs.2454 crores implying that at least this much money is required to tackle the instant problem.

How has the government arrived at this figure? No survey of the damage has been taken up. Government functionaries have not visited any village and have not done any spot inspection. The government has not determined the quantum of damage done to roads and embankments. How has it arrived at the monetary tune of the damage?

Obviously the government is not sure of the volume of damage and not serious in its approach to repairs.

Visit the official website of the government. You won’t find any details of the flood that has devastated the State. As on today, the only update that you would find belongs to 21st September. Mark it and study it and see for yourself how colossal is the government’s callousness.

It is a matter of grave concern that out of the present 91 discerned breaches, 51 points are awaiting repair since last year’s flood. Engineer-in-chief of irrigation department has admitted that the proposal for their repair is pending with the Government. And whose government it is and who is holding the files of embankment repair? It is Navin Patnaik, the Chief Minister, who holds the water resources portfolio also.

The government has failed to repair and maintain the embankments. On the other hand, blue-eyed boys of administration, the contractors, have been helped to lift sands from the riverbeds by trucks for which they often chop off upper layers of embankment to level the same with roads to facilitate easy movements of the trucks. Thus the embankments are further weakened and flood water jumps over such leveled embankments precipitating breaches.

The way embankments in Orissa have been damaged during Navin’s regime and the way the embankment repair proposals are pending with the government since the flood of the preceding year in the department held by the chief minister himself is enough to generate a suspicion that perhaps the possibility of swindling more money if more damage is done has encouraged the official functionaries including political bosses to slough over the urgency of embankment maintenance.

The administration, of course, is prompt in shifting responsibility for the deluge to the depression-induced downpour. We will search for the reason of depression in a separate article. But as we see, deliberate mishandling of water in the Hirakud dam has precipitated the deluge.

The Hirakud dam was conceived primarily for flood control. Power generation and irrigation were the two secondary aims. Water supply to industry was not at all in the scheme of the system. But Navin’s love for unscrupulous industrialists has been a factor of storing water in Hirakud beyond the recommended level oblivious of the adverse effect that would have on flood control.

Before Navin’s emergence in Orissa’s political play ground, flood control being the primary aim, it was decided to keep enough space in Hirakud to accommodate the water flow that rains would inject into it. Accordingly a formulated was finalized and enforced in respect of Hirakud.

Watching the current flood, Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People has held the Hirakud Dam authorities responsible for the disaster that has now ruined the peoples of Orissa.

“The Hirakud dam operators have kept the water level way above the rule curve recommended for the dam in 1988, ever since August 1, 2008, when the rule curve for current year comes into operation. Had the dam operated in a way to keep the level below the recommended level, the current flood disaster could have been avoided,” he has said.

Remarkably, a senior IPS officer of Orissa, Arun Kumar Upadhyay, currently Deputy Inspector General of Police heading the State Police Academy has preferred a letter to Water Resource Secretary Arabinda Behera, stressing on how wrong steps of administration guided by electioneering in urban areas has precipitated the disaster. He has advised for criminal trial of the persons that have individually and collectively wrought this havoc on human life in Orissa.

“A minimum margin of 5 feet below danger level of 630 feet has to be kept (maximum allowed level is 625 feet) (in Hirakud reservoir). But authorities waited till voting that started on September 19 for municipal elections and allowed the level to reach 629.80 feet. Democracy does not mean that life of people loses its value after casting their votes,” Mr. Upadhyay said in his uniquely emotional but constitutionally duty-linked timely letter.

Considered ‘Flood Control Cushion’, the Hirakud water management concept has culminated in a formulation that stipulates that on August 1 every year, the maximum water level at Hirakud dam should be 590 feet. But the actual water level on that date was as high as 607.5 feet. On August 13, the water level should have been stymied at 606 feet, but in blatant contravention of the concept, the authorities had allowed the water deposit rise up to 618.5 feet. At no point of time the water level should have exceeded 625 feet; but on Sept.19, it was allowed to reach 629.80 feet. The Chief Secretary and the Departmental Secretary had either deliberately kept this position hidden to the Chief Minister when he took the stocktaking meetings or they had apprised the Chief Minister of this position but he deliberately sloughed it over. As a result, peoples perished.

Peoples of Orissa, born fighters, who have withstood many a natural calamity, have defeated this current catastrophe created, as such, by Navin’s misrule.

Now it is better for Navin to know that unless as the Chief Minister he acts promptly to fix responsibility for this man made disaster and initiate discernible penal prosecution against the official functionaries who have played with human life, it would be assumed that he himself is the villain in this foul play and peoples will avenge the damage by any means they like.

PEOPLES OF ORISSA DEFEAT THE PERNICIOUS FLOOD

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

The brave peoples of Orissa have defeated the pernicious flood.

In my personal album, I have always kept this picture. It shows how a mother was carrying her son to safety braving the devastative flood in Balasore district in 2006. UNICEF had circulated this picture and as a reminder of how daring could be a caring mother I have preserved it and perused it umpteen times. It is an imperishable evidence of how a brave woman of Orissa had defeated the deluge in 2006 in her fight for safety of her child.

The 2008 scenario reaffirms the braveness of our peoples.

The picture in the right side shows how a small boy is trying to ferry his ailing mother away into a safe place when the picture in the left
is of a couple that wades through the severe spread of water putting the two children on a bicycle in search of shelter.

Gushing water forces into houses. No food to eat, no water to drink. No shadow of a semblance of state help.


In a hope against hope, under unbearable thirst, a boy of 5 dares the muddy deluge and harps on the handle of a tube-well if that helps him survive.

Home is ruined.

But man tries to provide shelter to his pets.

Flood surges into streets, inundates homes. Its fury engulfs the croplands, shatters the roads. Man tries to overcome the danger.

Flood engulfs the horizon. But brave peoples of Orissa do not collapse.
They propel their boats ahead.