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Deluge experts dozing
- High court rap on ‘lethargic’ flood committee

Calcutta, Aug. 13: The high court had given three months to a committee to find out what causes floods in the state. In about a year-and-a-half, it has not submitted a single sentence in writing.

Flood wreaked havoc in north Bengal again this year and hundreds were rendered homeless but the panel appointed by the government sat idle.

A division bench of Justice Barin Ghosh and Justice A.K. Basu today directed the panel members to appear in court on August 19 and say what progress they had made.

“For their (committee members’) lethargic attitude, common people of the state cannot suffer every year. They should understand the responsibility of the duty bestowed on them,” Justice Ghosh said.

The government was not spared either. The court asked the state to submit a report mentioning the amount of money it had spent on the panel.

For any such committee, the government has to provide space for an office and allied expenses like telephone bills, stationery, vehicles and allowances to the members.

The lawyer representing the state told the court today that the flood report could not be prepared as one of the members had wanted to quit. “In his absence, the report could not be made.”

But the judges would not buy that. “What were the four other members of the committee doing' They should have completed the report by now,” said Justice Ghosh. He also asked why the state chief secretary did not detect the delay and take steps.

Bent on tracing the real reason behind the idling, the judges said: “We want to see the letter in which one of the members had expressed his wish to step down from the committee. By noting the date of the letter, we will get an idea of how long the committee has been sitting idle.”

The issue came up before the bench following a public interest litigation filed by environment activist Subhas Dutta, who had inquired into the causes of flooding in six districts four years ago.

In September 2000, five south Bengal districts — North 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, Birbhum and Hooghly — and Malda were hit by sudden flood. Dutta, who led a team to the affected areas, later alleged that it was caused by the negligence of officials at the irrigation department-controlled Massanjore dam on the Bengal-Jharkhand border.

“There was no one present there during the rain and the swelling water of the Mayurakshi was not controlled,” Dutta said in his petition.

On the basis of the petition, the high court had on March 17, 2003, ordered the constitution of the five-member committee to make a detailed study on what leads to a flood. The committee was asked to submit its report in the court in three months.

When the case came up for hearing today, Dutta reminded the court that 17 months had passed since the committee was set up but no report had been filed. “Floods are now an annual feature,” he said.

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