Urban development and housing minister Samrat Choudhary’s weeklong UK tour plan sunk in waterlogging mess.
Samrat cancelled the tour citing the recent flooding of the city and the probability of heavy rain in the state over the next 48 hours on Thursday, a day before his scheduled departure. Three senior urban development and housing department officials, including secretary Sandeep Paundrik, joint secretary-cum-director Jai Singh and outgoing managing director of Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation (BUIDCo) and Bihar State Housing Board Anupam Kumar Suman, were supposed to accompany the minister to England to study their solid waste management, sewerage treatment plants and town planning practices.
Sources in the department claimed that all the tour-related formalities, including booking of air tickets and approval of visas, were completed by Wednesday. “The minister and his team were initially supposed to leave for UK on August 15 but it was postponed because of the by-elections in 10 Assembly seats on Thursday. But the plan was finally cancelled today (Thursday) after the minister decided against going on the tour,” said a source in the department.
Deliberating on reasons behind the sudden cancellation of the UK tour of his team, Samrat told The Telegraph: “The city has just come out of severe waterlogging and the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Thursday informed us that there was possibility of heavy rainfall across the state during the next 48 hours. Against this backdrop, we decided to call off our UK study tour as our presence in the city would be necessary.”
Samrat claimed that the UK tour was planned five months ago. “The weeklong tour was planned around an international seminar on solid waste, sewerage and town planning practices to be held in London next week. The department for International development (DFID), the Government of United Kingdom, had invited us for the event around five months ago. We also wanted to learn from the municipal practices in London, where waterlogging has not occurred in the past 127 years because of highly efficient sewerage network,” said Samrat.
Senior state government officers negated claims of any fruitful results of such tours. “These study tours are basically ‘junkets’. Ministers and senior officers go abroad only to have a nice time. The minister has been in this department for only a couple of months and secretaries are frequently transferred from one department to another. Thus, instead of them, people from the executing agencies should be sent on such tours,” said a senior state government official.
Reacting to the cancellation of the tour in the eleventh hour, senior BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav said: “People holding ministerial posts in the Manjhi government are least bothered about the people’s issues. They are only interested in enjoying the fruits of power. Moreover, what is the need of going to foreign cities for studying solid waste management system when many towns in India are doing well on this front?” Yadav asked.
Sources claimed that one of the important reasons behind cancellation of the tour of Samrat and his team was intervention of Patna High Court in the waterlogging issue. “Summoned by the court, chief secretary Anjani Kumar Singh, urban development and housing secretary Sandeep Paundrik and Patna Municipal Corporation commissioner Kuldip Narayan had appeared for the hearing on Wednesday. The chief secretary had assured the court that water would be flushed out from the flooded areas in the next 48 hours. As the next hearing is scheduled on Friday, it was not possible at least for Paundrik to leave the town and go abroad. Had Paundrik gone ahead with the tour, the chief secretary would have become the sole target of the high court if the waterlogging persisted on Friday,” said a senior state government official.