Villages under water after the 2008 Kosi flood
Patna, Aug. 1: After dragging its feet for over five months, the government tabled the Kosi judicial inquiry commission report in the Assembly today, the last day of the session.
The commission, headed by former Patna High Court Chief Justice Rajesh Balia, had submitted its report to the government in February, six years after the eastern side of the Kosi Afflux Bund breached in Kushaha, Nepal, and devastated four districts of Bihar, leading to the death of hundreds of people on August 18, 2008.
Earlier, chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi had to intervene in a verbal duel between water resource minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary and leader of the opposition Nand Kishore Yadav to promise that the commission report and the Action Taken Report (ATR) would be tabled in the current session. In his defence, Choudhary had said the state government had made it clear to the commission it would like it to submit the report soon in view of the sensitivity of the issue. “But we had to extend the commission’s tenure,” he had said in the Assembly.
The Kosi deluge of 2008 led to political outrage and then water resources department minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav faced the heat for alleged negligence leading to the catastrophe. Now, almost six years later, the commission has hinted at several omissions while calling for a detailed inquiry into the anti-erosion and flood-fighting work undertaken in the area where the breach occurred and if there was a lack of adequate material to carry out the anti-flood work in 2008. It has indicted the government for posting a person found guilty of serious misconduct in 2005 as the chief engineer. It also mentions that the staff posted in the region had no prior experience in floodfighting and was inefficient.
It states that the high-level committee on Kosi failed to monitor anti-erosion work through meaningful inspections. It also hints at problems pertaining to rates and payment of contractors, which hit quality of work.
Despite receiving the report in February, the state government woke up when the issue was raised in the Assembly. In response to the commission’s recommendations, it formed a technical committee on July 14. The latter would look into commission’s recommendations and suggest effective measures, it said.
But the very fact that the commission, set up in September 2008, took almost six years to submit its report has raised questions about the efficiency of such panels. In British India for example, commissions of inquiries took much lesser time to finish the job assigned to them.
For instance, the Floud Commission, set up in 1938, to look into the land revenue system in Bengal with particular reference to the Permanent Settlement. The commission, headed by British civil servant Sir Francis Floud, submitted its report within just two years. The report, considered one of the most seminal, recommended among other things the abolition of the zamindari system.
Officials said the commissions now are provided basic infrastructure like staff, office and cars, plus finances. “Also, retired judges take their own time to submit reports. There is very little the government can do to hasten the pace of the probe,” said a water resources department official.
He recalled the working of the Justice Amir Das Commission that the RJD government had constituted to probe the nexus between politicians and the outlawed Ranvir Sena after the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre in 1997.
It began its probe in 1999 by summoning several prominent politicians. “When Nitish Kumar came to power in 2005, one of the first things he did was to disband the commission. More than a decade later, the commission has not submitted a single report to the government,” the official said.
Judicial officials pointed at government delay — sometimes over two years — in providing them basic infrastructure. They also complained of lack of cooperation by departments and authorities concerned in conducting the probe.
The government notified a judicial probe of the Kosi deluge on September 10, 2008. It was supposed to submit its report within six months. But the report says it got its office in January 2009. The secretary of the commission had to be changed thrice. Allotment of staff took a major portion of 2009 and some staff was allotted in 2011.
The commission report also said that several documents it sought from the government were given partially or not given at all. Several letters by the commission seeking information went unanswered. In 2012, the commission summoned 46 officials to cross-examine them.