Jitendra Kumar Jha/Republica In this recent photo, an elderly flood victim from Tirahut village of Saptari district sits in front of the hut that his family built after their house was swept away by floods in August, earlier this year.
SAPTARI, Nov 30: Upendra Mukhiya of Tirhut village in Saptari had a normal life until six months back. When flood wreaked havoc in the district on 11 July, Mukhiya lost his house and belongings within a few minutes. However, that was not all. On August 14, the floods swept away his land and forced his family to live in makeshift hut.
Within a few days of the flooding in the area, the government announced relief package for these flood victims. Some of them received it and some 'didn't'. Until now, life has not returned to normalcy of the flood victims. While they are struggling to earn a living for their families and to save their families from the hunger and winter cold, political parties are urging them to vote for their party's candidate.
In their campaign, political parties are using their plight to win over their support. Most of the candidates claim that they 'could bring real change' in their life if they are elected. Observing the way politicians are exploiting their plight to gain votes, Mukhiya laments politicians are using flood victims' woes to fulfill their political ambitions.
"The Prime Minister and the Home Minister had visited us after flood. They had promised to do the needful to bring our life to normalcy. But even after so many months, we don't have even drinking water, let alone other things”," said Mukhiya“ "Life is very difficult" he added.
Scarcity of clean drinking water is not new issue for this area, however it got worse after the flooding. Floods damaged all the tube wells in the area. Most of them were washed away or were completely damaged“ "We would draw water from the tube well, even though most of the time the water would be dirty. But after they too were damaged by the floods, we have been struggling to meet our water need”," said Mukhiya.
Besides shortage of water, flood victims, most of whom are farmers, are struggling with food shortage. Due to floods, most of them have not been able to cultivate crops this time. Poor people became even poorer, he said.
Another flood victim, who is also a farmer, Birakshya Mukhiya, said that the floods turned his farm into a riverbank. There is only silt on it now, he says“ "It will take huge labor to make this land arable once again. And I don't have the strength or money to do i”," Birakhsya said“ "Our elders used to say that once your land is flooded and covered by silt; it affects at least three consecutive crops," he added.
The local elections had further victimized the flood victims. Because of the elections, political parties and candidates focused on winning over their votes by making promises and assuring them. However, none of them tried to expedite the relief distribution process that came to a standstill because of the local polls.
"Authorities had just started distributing relief to the flood victims when election campaigns were launched. And because of that the distribution was stopped abrupt”y," said Birakshy“. "During the local polls, candidates had promised to bring better relief packages after they come into power. But it did not happen," he added.
Providing better relief packages to flood victims was a major election agenda of political parties during the local polls. Flood victims claim that the promises that their local leaders made during election are yet to be delivered. “
"Now, there is another election. Let's see if they would do something for”us," another flood victim Bhikho Sada stated. “
"It is very natural for the political parties to raise issues of general concern during elections," notes Rajendra Jha, a local of Tilathi village. "Even during the local polls, candidates had promised to solve the problems of flood victims without having any concrete plan to do so. Even now, candidates are doing the same," he added.
Jha stated that it is hard to trust politicians. Flooding is simply not a new problem in Tarai and more people will become flood victims, unless and until the government identifies the factors that contribute to flooding in the district and implements measures to resolve them, he opined.“
"It is age old problem here. So, when they say they will do this and that about it, it's simply foolish to believe ”hem," Jha s“id. "If they really want to solve it, they must take actions at the political level. There must have a strategy and plan. Or else, it is just empty promises."
Amar Kumar Das of Belhi village agrees with Jha. He says that the state waits for flood every year and yet acts as if it has come suddenly. "We all know that certain areas are quite vulnerable to flood. But we never try to avert them. Politicians, who get into the parliament because of our votes, forget about our woes. However, they never feel ashamed to come back asking for votes by parroting all those false prom”ses," Das stated.
Ahead of election, parties are throwing feasts in settlements of flood victims. As in every election, leaders are making promises that they understand their plight. However, real change is hard to come by, Das says.
As per the local administration, around 200,000 people were affected by the flood in Saptari district. Tirhut, Tilathi, Kankalini and the district headquarters Rajbiraj were among the most affected.