NEW DELHI

It is a question of survival for the Kosi belt

A question of survival: A file photo of flood-hit people trying to grab food packets.

A question of survival: A file photo of flood-hit people trying to grab food packets.  

K. Balchand

ARARIA: “We are in a ditch, left with nothing but the curse wrought by the river of sorrow…..” The Kosi belt covering six Lok Sabha constituencies of Supaul, Madhepura, Araria, Purnia, Kishanganj and Katihar is a dreadful sight of lakhs of people continuing to battle misery even after eight months of the nightmare on August 18 when the unpredictable Kosi breached its embankment at Kushaha in Nepal and washed away everything in just one sweep.

“I’ve seen people go mad. One man saw his entire family getting swept away and his entire property ruined. He used to roam around Katihar railway station. But these days he is not seen,” says Sanjay Sharma.

Life for those who survived the catastrophe is no better. The people blame the Nitish Kumar government for its failure to protect the embankment, vent their anger for closing the relief camps without making alternative arrangements for rehabilitation and going back on promised relief packages. How many people died is still a mystery, more because of the State Government’s reluctance to admit the magnitude of the disaster. Former Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra, who quit the JD (U) disillusioned by the State Government’s apathy to the unprecedented problem, questioned the official death figure and said that a survey put the death toll at 3,700. He also questioned the Government’s insistence on following the set paraphernalia for doling out compensation as deliberate ploy for avoiding payment of compensation, which, he said, had been given only to 91 families.

“How can you expect someone to get an autopsy report when the body was never retrieved?”

The floodwaters have receded and the embankment is under repair. This focuses the fury of nature in its worst form. It threatens to change the complexion of the region and its socio-economic and demographic conditions disastrously. The vast expanse of fertile land now stands in ruins. “Now I’m the owner of this piece of desert…. For me this sand-filled land is of little use. I’ve lost everything,” rues Harish Mahto at Bihpur in Supaul.

The plight of farmers is a general cause of concern with several lakh hectares of land buried under sand. They don’t know how many years it would take for the land to regain its original fertility and yield the traditional crops on which they survive. “We can’t just sit and wait when we’ve nothing to eat and do,” reasons Sanjay Jha in Triveniganj. Some are experimenting with sunflower cultivation but that would not help fill their storerooms with food grains to take care of the family round the year. It is a question of survival for the farmers and with that is tied the fate of the labour class.

“We have nothing to eat. We are not earning anything because there is no job. How can the farmers employ us when the land is covered with sand,” asks Buccho Paswan who returned to his Bherwarbarmatar village in Araria a month ago.

There seems no end to the sorrows of Dukhini Devi who has set up a hut on land earmarked for widening of the road. What will she do when the road construction starts? “ If they give me an alternative place then it’s all right, or I’ll have to move out with my children to some other place.”

Dalits in this village seem to be putting their house in order by obtaining loans or help before making their distressed move: “The Government is not giving us any relief now. It is not providing any job either. We’ll all have to go to either Delhi or Punjab.”

The exodus may just be waiting to happen from these places what with an estimated three lakh people still living without a shelter. Life for them has become hell with the abrupt closure of relief camps. “The summer storm heaps sand into our food,” complains Pritam Devi at Nattpur in Supaul.

There is no trace of most relief camps but the one in Phulkhaha exposes the Government’s motives. The camp was closed within a week of the construction of a permanent shed. “It was put up only to be closed! Does it not smack of corruption,” asks Zakir Khan.

“The relief camps were posing problems,” says Arun Kumar Singh who runs an NGO, Bhumika, “as more than 10,000 pregnant women had taken shelter at various places and the Government did little to provide them with additional nourishment and even failed to give them the promised relief.”

Kumari Phoolo Das of Project Concern International, India, maintains that at least half a dozen women died at the Kumkum Devi High School mega camp soon after delivering babies. She charges that the Government did little for them. Proper medical help was not provided.

What happened to the newborns? “With their hearts broken, those families left the camp and the Government could not care less for them,” she adds. “I gave birth to this boy four months ago surviving on broken rice,” says Malti Devi. That raised a question mark over the well-being of the future generation of the population here.

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