The Flood Situation : An experience with democratic Dialogue
As most of you know by now, the Sangathan works extensively in Araria and Katihar districts, which are flood prone and we see annual floods from Kosi and many local rivers. This year soon after the Independence Day (15th August, 2011) celebrations saathis from GP Chittoriya complained of flood waters disrupting traffic, water current ran on the roads and cut off about 5 villages (tolas) lying east of the Kosi bandh (dam). The first JJSS delegation met the DM soon after asking for running of boats to ferry people across the flooded roads.
The situation in neighbouring panchayats of Barari block were similar, but in mid-September relief was distributed in these panchayats while without any public consultation it was decided that a few hundred families facing similar hardships, because they were in a different administrative unit would not be given relief. The JJSS as a matter of principle disagreed with this decision and petitioned the relevant authorities, we were told that there would be ‘practical’ problems in partial distribution of relief materials and therefore it was decided not to give relief in GP Chittoriya, which was partially flood affected.
JJSS in its village level consultative meeting decided the following:
- Find out why we were left out of relief without any consultation with us, the people.
- Those who had decided that there was no flood in Chittoriya to be identified and to tender a public apology.
- In case the Government could not give relief because of lack of funds, collect donations at the village level and give to relevant government official (In this case the Circle Officer, CO).
- Let the truth be known about the floods in Chittoriya at all levels.
It was then decided to hold a ‘Jan sanvad on the flood in Chittoriya’. The sanvad was held in the panchayat on 12th November, 2011, we wrote to the CO requesting him to attend informing him that if he would not help us bring out the truth, we would be forced to take the path of satyagraha. The CO and CI attended the Jan Sanvad, with about 250 people attending. It was an interesting experience, to be able to highlight the fact that our lives would go on without the Rupees 800 releif (part cash, part kind), but it was the principle of collective decision making which was needed and in this case had been completely ignored. In the meeting the following points came out clearly:
- Residents of flood affected Chitoriya (including the current mukhiya) and the CO agreed that this area was flood affected, and as badly as neighbouring panchayat of Barari block, where relief was distributed. There was a point of difference about the seriousness of the flood, which we believed was more than the CO’s assessment.
- The CO accepted his fault for not taking the issue seriously enough and becoming lax on the relief, because there was no ‘aavantan’ from the district for this block. He apologised what he himself termed ‘dhilai ya galti’ on his part.
- Since no reference was made to lack of funds, we decided to not move ahead with collection of donations for the government.
- That which was discussed in the JJSS meetings was echoed with greater strength in the Jan sanvad that this was not about getting relief but about a principle. We refused to be called liars and need the Government to know that though our lives would go on without relief what is the basis of distribution of relief? How can to equally affected areas be given relief differently. And this ‘vyavaharik dikkat’ (practical problems) in distribution in distribution of relief in partially affected panchayats is based on the misplaced idea that people would fight for relief, even when they were not affected. We have to start trusting people we have to trust ourselves there is no other way!