Jitan Ram Manjhi in the Assembly on Wednesday. Picture by Deepak Kumar
Patna, July 23: Chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi pulled up officials inside the Assembly today for misleading him on the drought situation in the state during a videoconference with district magistrates last Saturday.
“They told me that there was a deficiency of 19 per cent rain and there was a drought-like situation. Only two districts — Arwal and Buxar — reported drought. But when I went up to Dulhin Bazar (around 60km away from Patna), I found that the agriculture fields were dry. I want to give the officials a second chance as I have asked the district magistrates not to base their reports on rainfall statistics but to visit the blocks and see the situation for themselves. I will hold another videoconference either on Friday or Saturday. If the situation is bad, I have no problem in declaring a drought in the state,” Manjhi said.
He added that senior officials told him that he was the first chief minister to talk directly to district magistrates on the drought issue. Manjhi warned that he would take action against officials found guilty of misleading him.
Manjhi’s response to the issue raised by leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Nand Kishore Yadav, evoked instant applause from the BJP bench as the JDU MLAs looked stunned. Nand Kishore said officials’ report to the chief minister on the drought situation was far from the ground reality and that the House should hold a special debate so that MLAs can speak on drought at their respective constituencies. Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary accepted his suggestion.
The BJP also accused the government of not taking necessary steps for declaring the state drought-hit. Party spokesperson Sanjay Singh Tiger demanded that the state should immediately be declared drought-hit and a report be sent to the Centre so that help could be provided to farmers.
Public expression of anger at officials is being seen as another example of Manjhi’s attempt to prove that he is not a remote-controlled chief minister, a charge frequently flung upon him when Nitish Kumar selected Manjhi as his successor.
Yesterday, he intervened in a verbal duel between water resources minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary, who failed to give a commitment to the Opposition to table the judicial probe report on the 2008 Kosi deluge during the Assembly’s current session. He declared that the report would be tabled in the current session.
However, the public denouncement of officials came as a surprise for even the JDU MLAs. “Nitishji never pulled up officials publicly. He used to rely more on officials than politicians,” said a JDU MLA.
The government also passed the Bihar Medical Service Institutions & Person Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2014, amid a walkout by the BJP, which alleged that the act was heavily loaded in favour of doctors and nursing homes and does not protect poor patients. The amended bill now makes provisions for the district magistrate to set up a committee of doctors who would look into charges of neglect by doctors or nursing homes. In accordance with the findings of the committee, further action will be initiated against the doctor or the nursing homes.
The government also passed the Bihar Panchayat Raj (Amendment) Bill, 2014, which seeks to conduct the next panchayat elections on the basis of the 2011 census.
Earlier, during question hour, road construction minister Lallan Singh said the roads near Rajapur where an overbridge was being constructed, would be repaired soon. He said it was not possible because of waterlogging as the sewerage had not been cleaned by Patna Municipal Corporation. In another question by Achudanand of the BJP, Lallan said the mines department would grant mining licence in some hilly areas, which do not affect the environment.