A pre-election year disaster comes as a boon for any party. Because it provides an opportunity to come out with sops for the voters as well as nurturing its constituency. Obviously with the public funds from the state as well as from the Union. But it is also accompanied by its share of risks. Mismanagement of rescue, relief and rehabilitation of 1999 super cyclone led people of Odisha to punish the ruling Congress party and it is out of power since then. Now it seems that the BJD should be worried about the consequences of relief mismanagement in the state.
While the Chief Minister of Odisha has been quite liberal in declaring relief for the Phailin affected population, relief administration has emerged as a threat even before the cyclone hit the coast. It was declared by the State government that cooked food will be provided to the those who will be sheltered in cyclone structures and schools. In Bhubaneswar the slum dwellers were sheltered in schools but no food and water was provided to them before, during or after the cyclone. They had to carry their stoves and the stuff to cook.
These irregularities, thanks to the local officials and the politicians, has not been reported much as the state was overwhelmed with the cyclone, its devastation, the immediate things at hand and the very fact that their lives were saved. Despite all these factors relief loot by the Corporators in Cuttack rose above the din and the state government was under compulsion to take action.
The Commissioner of Cuttack Municipal Corporation was transferred and his deputy suspended. Vigilance enquiry was ordered and the houses of 29 Corporators out of total 54 had been raided. Such a decision of implicating the party cadres is an indication enough to hint at the desperation of the BJD supremo.
But, it is not Cuttack alone. In Baripada a pitched battle was fought between the police and the government officials and the public protesting lack of relief. Delay in providing relief, nepotism, inappropriate criteria for relief distribution etc. has flared up the public anger. 'Police fires at protesters demanding Kerosene in Chikiti', 'Relief heat, road blockade and demonstration in Baripada', 'Chandiput RI office gheraoed, rastaroko', 'No BJD members? No relief' etc. were few of the headlines those get repeated time and again with changed locations and dates. But, in most of the cases the police and local administration is trying to control the situation with an iron hand.
The complaint by the people in the affected areas regarding relief is nothing new, rather it is a common refrain every time. But this time the number of such complaints is very high and the repression by the government also is harsher. Why all these things are happening? Is it a fact that while the government has done a great job in rescue operations, it has not been very effective in administration of relief? Or is it the high expectations of the victims from the present government or was it the handiwork of politics?
It is a fact that the disasters in series cyclone, flood and then continuous rain has overwhelmed the government machinery. In fact the State was not really prepared for the flood following cyclone that is evident from the late response. And it certainly was not at all prepared for the incessant rain. It is such a difficult time that the relief materials could not be moved from the district headquarter to the affected areas.
In some cases there is also the issue of availability of material. This has been further compounded with the fact that this time many of the local level officials are scared of jumping the rule book and risk the ire of CM Navin Patnaik. The Cuttack incident and the following actions has sent a scary message down the line. So they do not want to simply distribute the materials without proper documentation.
The BJD government knows it pretty well that any laxity in the disaster response or relief will cost them dear. And the opposition also knows it well that building a public impression in which the BJD government has failed miserably during the relief operations can earn them some of the lost grounds.
This could be one of the factors that has sent the message down the line and any protest on relief irregularities is handled deftly. But, in any case the ruling BJD government has to be very careful about the way it handles the relief protesters, lest the writing on the wall may not augur well for them in the election next year.