The first week of July 2023 witnessed unprecedented rainfall in North India, leading to a flood calamity in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. Of these the states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab suffered the most.
About 1450 villages in Punjab stretching over 19 Districts are water logged. About six lakh acres of cultivable land is inundated. As things stand there is little scope of timely sowing of the rice crop in this inundated area. The wastage of cultivable land may extend even to the next wheat crop and beyond for which an assessment can be made only once the water recedes.
On the human scale, nearly 50 people have lost their lives and 2000 more have been compelled to seek shelter in relief camps since their houses have been completely destroyed. This apart, infrastructure in terms of private houses, Government buildings (especially hospitals and schools) roads, bridges etc has been severely damaged.
Lack of preparation on the part of the incumbent Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led government of Punjab constitutes a major failure of the pre-emptive containment action. Punjab being a riparian state has always been prone to floods during monsoons, for which reason, all governments have been ensuring timely action towards strengthening of the river embankments, de-silting and cleaning of drains and other flood protection works. Traditionally, funds were allotted for this purpose and meetings with the government officials were presided over by none less than the chief minister well in advance. There is no intimation of a similar exercise having been conducted by the present government during the last two monsoons of its tenure. While Punjab was lucky to have escaped unscathed in 2022, this year has witnessed unprecedented damage due to this oversight.
The Government has been cautioned continuously by the opposition to check unfettered mining of sand and mud, but it has failed to act. Enhanced turbulence and erratic flow of the flood water has emerged as a major cause for the widespread destruction of infrastructure.
A sincere effort towards flood control measures would have absorbed the fury of nature to a great extent. There is a need to carry out a detailed enquiry into this aspect and those responsible need to be punished for criminal negligence leading to loss of life and property.
Sadly, the government of Punjab was caught napping even after the floods came in with all fury. Nobody seems to have bothered to contact the national meteorological department or even the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) to gather information. This is apparent from the fact that no advance warning was issued to the people to help them prepare with storage of food and medicine etc before the floods came in. The local administrations were completely paralysed under the impact of the floods. Not much effort was made to activate resources from areas that were less affected.
The relief work, however, witnessed an unprecedented leverage from the intrinsic spirit and good will of the people of Punjab. Those living in less affected areas reached out to those affected. Social and political organisations ensured provision of food, water, medicines etc to the doorsteps of the flood affected people. The relief volunteers waded through waist deep water, used small inflated boats and even tractors in certain places to reach out. Sterling effort was put in by the volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) and other similar organisations.
Workers of political parties like the Bahratiya Janata Party (BJP) worked tirelessly over many days to mitigate the suffering of the flood affected people. Relief teams of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were also seen working in the affected areas. However, their work fell short of expectation given the fact that they had the strength of the Government to support them but this facility was not leveraged. If they had been better prepared and organised they could have done wonders.
The Indian army and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were on the forefront of the relief work. Those needing rescue were taken out by army and NDRF boats; those needing medical treatment were looked after in-situ by army Doctors. In most places, the soldiers were seen working in close coordination with Sangh Karyakartas.
It was due to the aforementioned collective effort that the relief operations witnessed a high degree of success and loss of life remained at a low level which is a great boon.
The relief work is presently underway since water had not receded in its entirety. Simultaneously, the rehabilitation process has been initiated. The Union Government has already sent the first installment of RS 218 crore towards flood relief and rehabilitation to Punjab. More funds will be made available once the state government sends a damage assessment to the centre.
The sad part is that the Government of Punjab has, as usual, chosen to take a confrontational and politically motivated posture. The information machinery of the Government, with the chief minister in the lead, is saying that the Union Government has always given step-motherly treatment to Punjab and now, since an AAP led government is in power in Punjab not much can be expected from the centre. It adds for effect that , the AAP led government will not go to the centre with a begging bowl.
Nothing can be further from the truth, the Union government has done all it could by activating the Indian army and NDRF in affected areas. It has also, without being asked, released the first installment of the relief package. BJP, Punjab is closely monitoring the situation and providing all inputs to the Union government on a regular basis. The response of the state government, on the other hand, is tardy and irresponsible.
It is quite apparent that AAP intends to derive political mileage from the calamity through misinformation. It probably intends to keep Punjab bereft of rehabilitation only to prove a point that the BJP led Union Government is unwilling to come to the aid of the people of Punjab.
The emerging critical situation brings forth the need for the BJP and the Union Government to understand the diabolic plan laid out by AAP and come forward to assist the people of Punjab who are being forsaken by their own government. There is also a need to politically counter the misinformation campaign that has been launched by AAP.
The people of Punjab need to be aware of the AAP lethargy and procrastination in preparing and submitting the damage assessment. Other states have already done so. The centre can assist by insisting on an early submission of the document and then making an immediate release of the complete relief package to put a lid on the misinformation campaign.
The possibility of direct disbursement of funds to the flood victims can also be explored by the centre. This apart, reconstruction of infrastructure like roads, schools and hospitals can be taken on by the concerned ministries through a direct route wherever possible. Visits by senior Union Ministers to the flood affected areas will be a great morale booster.
Punjab needs help at this crucial juncture. The hapless people of the state should not remain victims of the apathy of an opportunistic government that cannot see beyond the prism of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. A well thought out project to reach out will not only help ameliorate the problems of the people which is of primary importance, it will also help to usher honest, above-board politics in a state that is in urgent need of the same.