On 3rd May, cyclone Fani ripped through coastal Odisha leaving a trail of destruction, devastation and horror. With 39 deaths being reported from Puri alone, the official death toll has now climbed to 64. The number could have been way higher, thanks to the massive evacuation drive by state government moving 1.2 million people to safe shelter homes in record time, possibly one of the biggest evacuation to have taken place in the country.
Post-cyclone, both state and central governments have joined hands to expedite the relief and rehabilitation process. The central government had granted Rs 381 crores before the cyclone as a preemptive measure. An additional grant of Rs 1000 crore was announced after PM Modi’s visit on 6th May. Modi has lauded CM Naveen Patnaik for the effort being put forward by his government to restore order. Naveen Patnaik has sent a letter requesting long term grants of Rs 17,000 crores. This includes Rs 10,000 crore for disaster resilient power infra and Rs 7,000 crore for converting 5 lakh kutcha houses to pakka in all villages along the coastline as well as building a disaster resilient communication network.
In view of the above request, there are a few questions that the BJD led state government must answer.
Disaster Resilient Power Infra – In 2015, state government undertook a Rs 1,500 crore ambitious project of laying 200 KMs of underground High Tension (HT) cables in Bhubaneshwar. In the first phase, Rs 350 crore was allocated to finish laying of cables in all the arterial roads of the city. Flouting all safety rules laid out by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the executing agency L&T dug up the entire city with no or non-existent barricades. There were few incidents of vehicle and people falling in the trenches sustaining minor injuries. As the Hockey world cup approached, the work was expedited and phase 1 was finished.
As cyclone Fani ravaged through Puri and Bhubaneswar, 5,030 km of 33 KV lines, 38,613 km of 11 KV lines were snapped, a significant portion in Bhubaneswar. All HT feeder stations were crippled. Hence the question arises, what happened to the 1st phase of underground cables? The answer is mind-boggling. Though the infra is in place, CESU and OPTCL officials lack the technical know-how and expertise. Hence the system is not being used. Consider this, the project was devised in 2015. The first phase was supposed to be completed in 2 years. Got delayed by 1 year. Today in 2019, CESU and OPTCL officials don’t know how to operate underground electrical distribution systems, hence the system is just lying there unused.
It’s now anybody’s guess, how Naveen government will use the Rs 10,000 crore it has asked the centre for building a disaster resilient power network.
Pucca houses for all – One of the flagship scheme of this government was to convert all Kutcha houses to Pucca by 2018. This was not only in the manifesto in 2014, the state government actually claimed that they have fulfilled the poll promise by constructing 17 lakh Pucca houses under “Biju Pucca Ghara Yojana” – BPGY, in 4 years. It’s worthwhile to note that, the government did not make any budgetary provision for BPGY in last 2 years. When confronted in the assembly, Panchayati Raj minister Arun Sahu said that they have only constructed 3,02,333 houses out of which a mere 57,538 houses were under BPGY, rest are either Indira Awas Yojna or PMAY. Basic financial prudence suggests that assistance is extended to performing entities. This is true starting from World Bank loans to JICA to central government assistance. The performance of this government in rural housing doesn’t garner enough confidence. So, the Rs 7,000 crore long term assistance that they have sought seems hard to come by.
Contingency Fund – Article 267(2) of the constitution establishes contingency fund as a fund where disposals are to be made for the purposes of meeting unforeseen expenditure.
However, earlier this year, Naveen government withdrew Rs 734.66 crore from the state contingency fund to fund its populist scheme Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA), which was lauded by ‘economists’ as the best ever scheme for farmers, throwing all financial prudence to trash. When countered, Naveen Patnaik said that the fund is being used for emergency purposes. One fails to understand what emergency farmers were facing all of a sudden. Now, when a real emergency situation has emerged where contingency fund is supposed to be used, the government is asking for funds because coffers are empty. Well, the scale of devastation is way more than what Rs 754 crore could have compensated for, but the question must be asked on diversion of an emergency fund to welfare schemes.
Apart from the above 3, there is another area to highlight.
Borrowing from one of the most cliched line from Naveen Patnaik’s poll blitzkrieg, “Hudhud hela, asileni. Phailin hela, asileni. Titli hela, asileni“, which translates to, they (Central ministers) didn’t come during Hudhud, Phailin and Titli. Taking a dig at central BJP leaders, who were visiting Odisha during poll seasons, Naveen said that, only I am your all season friend while these central leaders will make a beeline only during polls. Now, polls in Odisha are over. A calamity of massive proportion has struck. Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan has been extensively touring Puri district making sure communication channels are established, relief is reaching and transportation is unhindered. Oil India has pledged10 lakh litres of Kerosene to the needy free of cost.
IOCL has made sure that Bhubaneswar airport and railway station get immediate power with Diesel generators and enough stock of aviation fuels to kickstart operation right after the cyclone. Vital installations like hospitals were provided power in the immediate aftermath with DG sets. Mobile fuel delivery vans are delivering fuel at the doorstep in Puri. Indane is providing LPG cylinders at war footing to community kitchens. Insurance companies, banks, NBFCs have been asked to settle claims as early as possible, restructuring debts and provide special packages to Puri-based hoteliers to revive the tourism industry as soon as possible.
However, Naveen Patnaik, who went on a whirlwind road trip across Odisha in his hi-tech bus during poll season, is nowhere to be seen among people except one aerial survey.
CESU, OPTCL, L&T, NTPC, WESCO, NDRF, ODRAF, Odisha police, fire department – they are all putting together long hours and commendable effort to the best of their ability to put things back in order. Even state government is pulling all strings to restore order as soon as possible. We aren’t questioning government efforts or intentions which is of course well placed. However, these questions are critical and we hope the state government answer these once the ordeal is over.