Must our Babus be Gods?
On Wednesday, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi directed the departments concerned to be ready for any weather-related disasters as the pre-monsoon fury continued to wreak havoc in Assam. At a meeting of top officials of the State government and those of Kamrup (Metro) district in particular, he asked them to be alert to disaster-response forces, deploy more manpower in flood-prone zones and to stock medicines and baby food in hospitals. He also alerted the health institutes to be ready for emergencies. He laid stress on soil erosion and landslides and instructed the authorities to keep the roads clear and to ensure better transport arrangements to send quick relief in case of any tural disaster. In short, the Chief Minister was instructing his officers to prevent rain-related deaths. In doing so, he was laying himself open to two charges: (a) he was expecting his officers to be some kind of minor gods; (b) he was speaking as though he had no experience of how the pre-monsoon weather behaves in Assam and what facilities for disaster prevention exist in the districts despite being a tive of the State and an octogerian.
One of the first things that people observe about the pre-monsoon weather in Assam is that it does not manifest itself at precisely the same time every year and that it also varies in intensity from year to year. And one does not expect the pre-monsoon rain to be just rain. It is often rain accompanied by thunder, powerful storms (including hail-storms) and lightning. This April, six persons hit by lightning, were killed. Expecting any mortal to prevent such rain-related deaths is expecting him to be a god. The same observation might be made of any expectation officers would be able to prevent landslides that are ironically often assisted by the very victims of such catastrophes. The Chief Minister also seems to have overlooked the fact that the greed of officers often has much to do with landslides that often bring down houses or threaten to do so. Already, five such unsafe houses have had to be sealed by the Kamrup (Metro) district administration, along with the Kamrup District Disaster Magement Authority (DDMA). Perhaps the Chief Minister has overlooked the fact that some of the houses built on precipitous hill slopes were built with due permission of the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) or the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) but many others without any permission from any authority. The GMC or GMDA had no business to grant building permission for such zones where the risk of landslides is very high especially after the plants, grass and weeds (that hold the surface together) were removed due to earth cutting. In cases where the building permission was granted against all building norms, there must have considerable unofficial payments made for securing such injudicious permissions. In such cases, greed was the principal motivator of decisions leading to disaster and death in several cases. And where such constructions were illegal and uuthorized, the GMC and GMDA (assisted by the police) had a duty to stop or demolish such construction. Why did these authorities fail in their duty of preventing such illegal and hazardous constructions? In many cases the landslides are man-made because the residents of such illegal constructions generally wait for the rainy season to do all the digging and earth-cutting that is necessary for either strengthening the infrastructure of their constructions or for extensions to their homes. This is the time when the earth is soft, and deep earth-cutting is easier. In doing so, they invoke disaster not only for themselves but for their neighbours as well.
The Chief Minister must begin to realize that his directives about disaster magement are mostly reactive rather than proactive in ture and are generally urban-specific. As Chief Minister, he ought to be aware of how ill-stocked the rural health centres are at the best of times. The number of medical and paramedical staff attached to such health centres is pathetic. There have been many instances of large stocks of medicines beyond their expiry dates having been discovered in the rural health centres. This crime has gone on for years. And yet there has not been a single instance of any supplier of such death-dealing drugs ever being punished or even blacklisted. On the contrary, some of the drug suppliers are able to determine the postings of civil surgeons! Such being the existing health-care culture, does the Chief Minister honestly expect things to change overnight just because some disasters have occurred and some more are anticipated due to human cupidity? The bottom line is that human life counts for nothing in Assam today unless one is a Bangladeshi. Neither the Chief Minister nor any of his Cabinet colleagues are going to lose any sleep over a few more deaths due to disasters or tural calamities. One must not forget that a Congress government like the one Tarun Gogoi heads now was responsible for the gunning down of 855 students in cold blood during the Assam movement merely because they demanded the detection and deportation of illegal migrants living in Assam like true patriots.
The Chief Minister also talks glibly about keeping roads clear and ensuring better transport arrangements to send quick relief in case of any tural disaster. We shall spare him the question “What about man-made disasters?” for the time being. But the Chief Minister should introspect and realize that the person who comes in the way of keeping the roads clear is most often himself with his motorcade of about 20 vehicles. It is he who often holds up traffic for 10 or 15 minutes during which even a critical patient in an ambulance is denied entry to a hospital. How seriously does he expect the people of Assam to take him? There are also other obstacles on our streets that his corrupt government is responsible for. Most of the slightly wider footpaths of Guwahati are occupied by traders who pay a regular fee to the policemen on duty. So, how sincere or honest can our Chief Minister really be when he talks about disaster magement?