Tamilnadu Rains: Jayalalitha Government In The Dock

The Tamilnadu Government’s façade of providing ‘welfare’ measures has been washed away in the torrential north east monsoon rains, leaving the Government’s callousness and apathy open for all to see.

‘Water water everywhere, not a drop to drink’ could have never been more appropriate for the people of Tamilnadu who are living in homes, friends’ and relatives’ homes or temporary relief camps surrounded by rain water, where safe drinking water cannot be had. A very few of them are getting water packed in polythene bags distributed by the administration, which proved to be insanitary and unsafe. It is not just the rains that have thrown everyday normal life out of gear – it is the complete lack of planning, non-implementation of the announced flood prevention measures over years and utter negligence by the Jayalalitha government that are responsible in even greater measure. Instead of being sympathetic to those affected by the floods, the lathi-wielding Tamilnadu police used force in some places when he flood-affected gathered to demand immediate, adequate and meaningful relief measures.

Jayalalitha came back to Chennai in the first week of November after brief period of stay in her Kodanad hill house. Around the same time, we had the onset of the north-east monsoon. Weather forecasts had predicted a depression which may intensify, and which may develop into a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal, likely to cause heavy rains at least for a week in the coastal districts. The fact that November is usually the month of rains for Tamilnadu needs no reminder – and the government machinery should have been alert and prepared for emergency operations in case of inundation. But apathy was the only initial response from the government. Relief and rehabilitation measures on a war footing are unheard of till date in the state.

A few ministers visited very few areas and inspected the damage in Chennai only after large parts of the city and neighboring districts became inundated. Only after 28 reported deaths in Cuddalore district by November 11, the Chief Minister announced some half-hearted relief measures with a fund of Rs 500 crores. Until insistent demands by the opposition parties, the Chief Minister did not even hold a meeting of ministers and bureaucrats. Only after there was criticism that the Chief Minister did not visit the flood ravaged areas, she visited a few spots in her constituency. With all the arrogance of power she stated that it is very difficult to control and avoid damage during such times though precautionary measures are in place.

Jayalalitha who is always prepared to make an issue out of Cauvery is now slamming the opposition parties in the state for making floods a political issue. She cancelled visits to some other spots in her constituency as it was not possible for her convoy to wade through the waters and meet the people locked in there. Only after pressures from the opposition parties demanding that she seek the Central Government’s help, she spoke to the Finance Minister over the phone and discussed the situation. Now again she is drawing flak for not visiting the most-affected Cuddalore district. A review meeting of the ministers and officers on rescue operation was conducted on November 20 in the secretariat in which the Chief Minister did not participate. No reason was given for her absence in such a crucial meeting dealing with the lives of people. The cost of damage caused by rains in the state is yet to be assessed.

According to the reports in the media, so far over 100 have lost their lives. Tens of thousands have lost their houses and belongings including ration cards. Many thousands of unorganized workers, petty traders and hawkers lost their livelihood. Standing crops in over 50,000 acres in various districts went under water causing heavy loss for the peasant community. Reservoirs and lakes are brimming with water and release of the excess water adds to the already inundated areas as there is no regular drainage infrastructure available. Pictures of dead livestock being pushed away by the rushing floods abound. Many bridges were washed away with the waters. Access to many areas is cut.

In the expanded suburbs of Chennai city, ground floors of many apartments are submerged under water. Sewerage is seen everywhere, bringing the threat of an outbreak of diseases in its wake. Transport has come to a standstill. A state transport bus was seen submerged under a bridge. People were not able to go to offices. Street vendors lost their livelihood. Residents of many flood-affected areas could be seen on every other television channel saying that nobody visited them and no relief reached them. Schools and colleges are closed from November 7. University examinations were cancelled. A man in a relief camp died vomiting blood. And this list goes on….

All this havoc could have been avoided had there been normal and minimum infrastructure planning and implementation in place. Thus the culprit here is not the heavy rains but the Taminadu government. Tamilnadu is a state which is at loggerheads with the neighboring states over the issue of water sharing for both agriculture and drinking. Agriculture and the overall economy of the state are put under enormous pressure during summer for want of water and people of Tamilnadu are forced to depend on commercial water for drinking and cooking purposes. AIADMK government which failed miserably in maintaining the water resources and improving the storage capacity in the state has launched packaged water sales, of course at a lower price than the private operators. Basic desilting and deepening of water bodies would have avoided such a huge loss of water and huge damage for the people. This routine work which was not undertaken by the authorities of the state would have ensured maximum water storage for the state and would have avoided bitter exchanges with the neighboring states.

While the basic measures regarding water storage and flood prevention are put on the burner, indiscriminate encroachments with the real estate mafia of the state being the main beneficiary, illegal sand mining, unmindful loot of natural resources predominantly with the patronage of the ruling parties have contributed to the current state of affairs which is ridden with drought and flood alternately. The resentment against the betrayal of the government even during exigencies is intensifying among the people of Tamilnadu. The current spate of floods has exposed not only the criminal negligence of the Jayalalitha government, dereliction of duty by the state machinery and siphoning off the allocated funds to the private coffers of those in power but also the ugly political game played by Jayalalitha government and other ruling parties in the state in the name of protecting the rights of Tamilnadu over Cauvery waters and thus protecting the interests of Tamils.

Modi who rightly expressed deep anguish over quake in a neighboring country is busy in cosying up with the imperialist bosses and is yet to spare a word for the flood affected people in a state of the country for which he is Prime Minister. A central team headed by Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has visited a few affected spots here and there in Chennai and Cuddalore and said the central Government is waiting for a report from the Tamilnadu government. And there ended the Centre’s responsibility.

Governments of Tamil Nadu and the Centre must immediately provide relief, food, medical care, amnd other forms of humanitarian assistance as well as rehabilitation measures to the affected people of Tamil Nadu. TamilNadu should be declared a national calamity-hit state; the State Government must demand at least Rs 10000 crore as funds from the Centre; and MNREGA must be expanded on a large scale in the flood affected rural districts. The State Government should shed its apathy and callous attitude and display a sense of urgency towards relief and rehabilitation work.

The Jayalalitha government should come out with a white paper on maintenance and development activities of water resources in the state and flood prevention measures announced and undertaken during the past four and a half years of rule and particularly during the current floods. Assessment of damage due to floods should be done immediately without wasting time. A compensation of Rs.20 lakhs should be provided for the families of those who lost lives. Every ration card holder in the state should be given a compensation of Rs.20,000 immediately. Loss of livelihood should be assessed properly and relevant measures to be taken immediately to restore livelihood. The houses lost and damaged should be rebuilt and repaired immediately. Farmers who have lost their crops must be compensated adequately.

Minister Gokula Indra has assured the private schools in the state that damages caused to their schools will be completely attended to. The government should first extend such benefits to the people who are still living in the relief camps and take immediate rehabilitation measures to ensure their routine life. In place of temporary measures being taken now, pending and abandoned infrastructure activities and development activities for water storage must be undertaken to prevent both drought and floods.

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