Little to celebrate

Former chief minister and state JD(S) president H D Kumaraswamy’s advice to the people of flood-hit regions of north Karnataka to ‘kick’ the chief minister and all the cabinet ministers when they come visiting the districts, for the delay in taking up rehabilitation works, may appear crude and intemperate. But, the sense of anger and frustration that Kumaraswamy was articulating on behalf of the unfortunate victims, would undoubtedly be shared by many people outside the government.

The BJP government led by B S Yeddyurappa is preparing to ‘celebrate’ its second anniversary in office — Yeddyurappa took oath as chief minister on May 30, 2008 — but its performance on several fronts leaves a lot to be desired. The government’s handling of the flood-related crisis is, undoubtedly, the worst of the lot.

It was nearly eight months ago in the first week of October last year that unprecedented rains and floods ravaged over 1,500 villages in 14 districts of north Karnataka. Raichur, Bellary, Bijapur, Koppal and Bagalkot were among the worst hit and nearly 2 lakh families were rendered homeless.

Around the same time, the Yeddyurappa government was also in turmoil as, unmindful of the people’s suffering on such a large scale, the Reddy brothers had raised a banner of revolt and spirited away about 40 MLAs to Hyderabad and created a deep political crisis for the chief minister.

But, moved by the plight of the flood-hit families, the people of the state rallied behind the government magnificently and contributed generously to the rehabilitation efforts. As many as 53 big donors and corporate entities pledged their support in cash and kind and made a commitment to build around 73,000 houses for the victims.

Yeddyurappa made a public announcement promising to rehabilitate all the affected families before the onset of monsoon. Grandiose plans to shift over 300 villages which were in the ‘danger zone’ and to construct pucca houses with new designs were announced.

But, eight months later the ground reality is entirely different. An in-depth survey done by this newspaper shows that even as the monsoon is round the corner, shockingly little progress has been made in constructing new houses and thousands of families continue to rot in the temporary sheds provided to them.

In the seering heat of north Karnataka, where the temperatures hover around 40 to 45 degree centigrade, all that the affected people have are match-box-like tin sheds where the living conditions must be unbearable. What is worse, there is not even the hope of moving out of these hell-holes in the near future, as the entire housing plan is caught in the quagmire of bad planning, confusion, delays, official apathy and redtape.

Incomplete

According to the revenue department records, of the 63,097 houses sanctioned, the construction of only 27,333 houses have so far been taken up, but not even one of them is complete. In the worst-hit districts of Bijapur, Raichur, Bagalkot, Belgaum and Davangere, the progress of work is only around 25 per cent. In Raichur, for instance, of the 15,360 houses sanctioned, civil work is underway in only 3,910 cases.

The private donors, who took all the publicity initially, have done no better as most of them have ‘vanished’ mostly because of the difficulties they encountered in land acquisition or getting the required sanctions. So far, only the Mata Amruthanandamayi ashram has the distinction of completing the construction of 242 houses in Raichur district.

The ‘crorepathi’ ministers, Janardhana Reddy and Karunanakara Reddy, who hail from Bellary and who boasted that they would build 50,000 houses for the flood-affected people by spending Rs 500 crore, have gone completely silent. The Obalapuram mining company owned by the Reddys told the government that it would construct 6,800 houses in Siruguppa and Hadagali taluks of Bellary, but apart from holding a grand foundation-laying ceremony, they have not moved a brick so far for the construction of houses.

Janardhana Reddy proudly donated a Rs 45 crore diamond-crested crown to lord Venkateshwara at Tirupati not long ago, but apparently he has forgotten the ‘janata janardhanas’ who put him and his family in power.

Even while planning the rehabilitation, the government should have taken the affected families into confidence and made a clear assessment whether re-location from their existing places of habitat was necessary or feasible.

It is important to remember that many of the people who have been rendered homeless by the floods were not ‘destitutes.’ They had their own homes, some agriculture land, cattle, etc. The land they cultivated were fertile land and they could not be expected to live far from their domicile. As a wise old man pointed out in an interview to this paper that three floods that he had seen in the last 60 years would certainly not make him run away from his place of residence.

It is clear that the match-box-like houses that the government is constructing at a snail’s pace will not serve the purpose for which they are intended and they could at best turn to be additional ‘godowns’ for the farming communities.

The political implications of Yeddyurappa government’s utter failure to deal with the flood situation may not be apparent right now, as the Congress leadership is in total disarray and unable to articulate the people’s anger adequately. But, the BJP will be made to pay a price for its incompetence and apathy at the right time.

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