Five years on, hundreds of Bihar flood victims await homes (Feature)
Over five years after their houses were washed away by the Kosi river in the worst floods in Bihar in half a century, Karee Devi and Ramji Das - and hundreds of others like them - are still awaiting the construction of their houses under the state government's rehabilitation and reconstruction project.
The flood victims have been fighting for survival and living in temporary shelters they themselves built in the hope that their houses will be erected under the Bihar Aapda Punarwas Evam Punarnirman Project (BAPEPS).
Ramji, in his mid-60s, a resident of Pratapnagar village in Madhepura district, said that bank accounts of about 1,200 flood victims were opened in in 2012 but the money for the construction of their houses has not been released till date.
Echoing this, Karee, a widow in her mid-50s and resident of Jamwan Tapra village in Madhepura, told IANS: "We have so far not received money in our bank accounts for construction of houses."
"The (Nitish Kumar) government is talking about rebuilding a new Kosi region but this is only on paper; the truth is that it has failed to construct our houses. Look at how we are living in misery," Ramji said, pointing to the small thatched hut he managed to build with his meagre resources.
Karee said the flood victims have been losing hope for rehabilitation and reconstruction due to its delay. "We have no idea when our houses will be constructed by the government," she said.
Mahender Yadav, an RTI activist working among the Kosi flood victims for the last five years, said the plight of Ramji and Karee reflected the ground reality.
He said that in one panchayat alone, the names of 1,800 flood victims figure in the list of the rehabilitation and reconstruction project but nothing has been provided.
Yadav, who is also convener of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), said that as per the government's project, 100,000 houses were to be constructed in the Kosi region comprising Madhepura, Saharsa and Supaul districts but only 12,500 were erected."
According to the state government and the World Bank, 236,632 houses collapsed in the Kosi floods.
Bihar Planning and Development Minister Narendra Yadav that the rehabilitation project was slow and had got delayed.
"Till now, only 14,000 houses were completed and construction work is under way in different stages for about 50,000 houses. We hope to complete them as early as possible," Narendra Yadav told IANS.
"Earlier this month, I have reviewed the project and asked the officials concerned to speed up the work and complete it by August," he added.
Narendra Yadav said that the work was delayed due to several reasons. "In the flood- prone Kosi region, no work takes place for nearly five months in a year and the list of beneficiaries has been revised more than once in the last five years," he added.
Mahender Yadav said that as per the latest BAPEPS audit, 89.69 percent of the over Rs.350 crore in grants remained unutilised in 2011, while 87.13 percent of the funds remained unutilised in 2012.
"It shocked us that state government is shouting for more financial assistance from the centre but the fact is that the government failed to utilised available funds," he said.
He pointed out that state government has already decided to take a loan of $750 million from the World Bank for the second phase of works after failing to get assistance from the centre.
The Janata Dal-United government in Bihar set up a one-man commission in September 2008 to probe the cause of an embankment breach in the Kosi river that triggered the floods, killing at least 250 and rendering nearly three million people homeless. It is yet to submit its report.
The victims are hoping the commission's report, when it comes, will bring them justice.
Yadav said that flood victims are facing hardships as thousands of acres of cultivable land that was flooded is still covered with sand.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on 28-02-2014)