Callous attitude of successive governments
The recent floods in Chennai were not the result of a natural disaster as is being made out by the Tamil Nadu government. Neither is it true that the government has done its best to protect the people from such disasters. Several facts clearly reveal that the recent floods have been the result of callousness of successive governments in the state.
The government, over the past decades, did not carry out de-silting and other such operations to keep the rivers, canals and water ways clean and clear of obstacles. However people were charged taxes for these supposed services which in reality never take place. The budgeted amount for desilting and other civic functions has been regularly looted by contractors, bureaucrats and politicians of the parties in power in the state and in the municipal bodies.
In the recent floods, thousands of people fell victim to the inaction and failure of the state to fulfill its basic functions. The State administration acted in a terribly irresponsible and criminal manner by releasing water from Chembarambakkam Lake without any warning to the people living downstream. This single act was the primary factor in causing a major disaster of this scale. It has been widely acknowledged that flooding could have been minimized if the government had acted in time, taking the weather warnings into account and released the water from the lake in a planned manner. Also, had the government taken steps to warn the people living in the low lying areas about its water release and evacuated them, many deaths could have been prevented and the scale of devastation minimized. However, the state government headed by Jayalalitha not only failed to do what is expected from a government, but has also refused to bring the facts into the open and accept its failure.
Prior to the floods, the Chief Minister had announced several times that she has ordered the release of water from even the smallest lakes to ponds to supposedly protect the people and that she was most concerned about their safety. However when it came to the most critical decision of opening the sluices of Chembarambakkam lake, she has disowned the decision and blamed it on the authorities!
What has been the role of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and other governmental organizations who were supposed to plan and restrict all constructions to follow regulations of the master plan for this city? What they have planned has led to disasters and not development. The tax and fees and other payments they have collected for this supposed planning activity, were of no use, as they have not planned the city at all.
The Tamilnadu government has blamed the flooding on the supposed "encroachments" and unauthorized huts on the canal and river banks. In the aftermath of floods, the state administration has been very active and prompt in demolishing these huts and throwing the workers and poor people out on the roads. While the government claims that this is a measure to help flood victims move to safer houses, the sites that have been allocated for resettlement were themselves severely inundated in the recent floods and do not offer any better condition than those the residents are presently evicted from! So it is nothing but a farce to vacate them and possibly make use of the lands for the benefit of the real estate mafia.
People living in the demolished settlements are demanding that they should not be thrown out of the city. They are demanding that they be provided with free housing in vacant state-owned lands such as the hundreds of acres of lands in the middle of the city in the possession of the Army, as well as the lands occupied by the race course.
Many private colleges and apartment complexes which were built on the lakes and waterways were fully inundated up to one or two floors during these floods and the students and others who were trapped on the terrace of these buildings were rescued only by bringing boats. These large scale encroachments by occupying the lakes, waterways and other natural public properties by big builders, private colleges as well as by the government itself did not figure in the government's list of encroachments as they are 'regularized' and 'legally done' through the criminal nexus between the ruling class politicians, capitalists and the authorities!
People have lost all their precious items they managed to buy over their life time such as TV sets, fridges, furniture, clothes, grains, food items, books, documents, etc. Government's measly offer of Rs.5000 per family is nowhere sufficient to restore their possessions. It is an insult to the people who are already suffering the consequences of man made floods.
The ruling class parties such as the AIADMK, DMK and others are hoping that their criminal role in preparing the conditions for the terrible floods, as well as their utter callousness towards the victims of these floods, can be covered up by deafening propaganda on diversionary issues. Even before flood water in many areas can dry up, ruling class parties have started their deafening election campaign as if nothing ever happened, ignoring all the bloody wounds on the people inflicted by their criminal policies and practices.
The pitiable status of the lakes and storages in and around Chennai is of concern to its citizens. In spite of unprecedented rains and most terrible floods killing hundreds of people by the supposed overflow, barely 10 days after the floods, most of the lakes and storages are half empty and dry! There is a big question mark if the city's water needs can be met till the next monsoon season or not.
The entire episode of flooding and the role played by the state and central governments, ministers and politicians very clearly proves that people have no control whatsoever over their elected representatives. They can neither demand action from their elected government nor punish the criminals for causing this terrible disaster and failing to defend their lives, livelihood and interests. This is what is being trumpeted as the largest democracy in the world!
Although Chennai was terribly affected by the floods and people forced to undergo horrible sufferings of their life time, it is not people of Chennai alone who faced this situation. All over Tamilnadu, failure of the state authorities to maintain the water bodies stood out stark. People and peasants all over Tamilnadu have suffered the destruction of their crops as a result of flooding. They are now left with loans they had taken from banks and nothing on their hand to repay it with.
People can prevent such manmade disasters in future, only by organizing themselves and putting an end to the prevailing political system and establishing in its place a people-centred political process which can ensure safety and security for the people.