| Villagers and cattle share roof space in Madhubani district of Bihar. Picture by Deepak Kumar
Patna, Aug. 8: When the chopper came roaring above their head only six could cling on to it. Others, about 75, were simply washed away by an overflowing Buri Gandak.
One of the hapless eyewitnesses to the tragedy that hit Basahi village, 15km from Samastipur, was no other than the CPM MLA from Bibhutipur, Ramdev Verma, who had asked for the air force helicopter at least 22 hours before the villagers fell pray to nature’s fury last Friday.
While some ran towards higher end of the village — which has 500 houses — others went up to their rooftops hoping water would recede in a few hours, but the current was only getting swifter and deadlier with time when the river breached embankment on Thursday evening. The river gobbled up 50 houses overnight in the village. So far, 20 bodies have been recovered, while 50 others are still missing.
Verma told The Telegraph: “Only the river separates my constituency in Samastipur from Basahi. An acquaintance at the ill-fated village Rajaram had called me for immediate help. As it was already evening, there was little hope of any support from the government. I made a call to Munger commissioner who in turn, called up Begusarai district magistrate. But vital times were lost in bureaucratic orders and the chopper could save only six.”
Verma said the Basahi disaster could be a case history of a government caught napping and the need to rise from “slumber of feel good”.
The legislator later told chief minister Nitish Kumar at a meeting in Samastipur, about 60km from here, on 5 August that the disaster management department had done precious little to prevent flood, but the damage was already done.
“How can a government close its eyes on flood while it is an annual phenomenon with variance in ferocity'” he asked.
Verma agreed with senior JD(U) leader and former chief minister Jagannath Mishra to ask the government why 393 flood prevention schemes of widening and strengthening of embankments were postponed when those had been sanctioned by the finance department.
Verma told Nitish in clear terms that bureaucrats had been under “Gautam Goswami effect” and shy away from carrying on relief and rescue operations in full swing.
“People are dying. The government has to decide whether it wants to weigh life or foodgrain,” said the MLA, emphasising human lives are more important than becoming too cautious about minimising corruption.
In fact, relief work started only after Nitish came back from Mauritius on August 2. There had been no motorboats and army on stand-by before August 5.
A water irrigation department secretary had termed a scheme of strengthening Burhi Gandak embankment from Singhia to Sanjat in Bibhutipur “faltu” (useless) even after the finance department had sanctioned the Rs 14-crore project.