Eyebrows raised over judicial probe into Kosi breach

September 10th, 2008 - 2:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Patna, Sep 10 (IANS) A day after the Bihar government-led by Nitish Kumar ordered a judicial probe into the breach in the Kosi embankment that triggered worst floods in 50 years, eyebrows are raised over its terms of reference by opposition as well as experts.Official sources said the state government Tuesday night ordered a judicial probe headed by a retired judge of a high court to look into the circumstances which led to the breach in the Kosi embankment. The decision of judicial probe was approved by the state cabinet, which also laid the terms of reference for the probe panel.

“What judicial probe, it is nothing but a face saving move by the government and to divert people’s anger against it. Look at the terms of reference that the probe panel will have to look into breaches since 1953, instead of the specific case of breach last month,” Shyam Rajak, general secretary of Rashtriya Janata Dal, said.

Rajak, a close confidant of Railways Minister Lalu Prasad, said the state government was solely responsible for the breach and, therefore, how could it decide the probe and terms of reference. “We simply fail to understand. Is it not a well calculated strategy to suppress the facts and save its own skin?,” he asked.

The former minister told IANS that RJD and other opposition parties have demanded a high level probe into the breach in the Kosi embankment. “We reject the judicial probe,” Rajak said.

In a bid to silence opposition leaders who blamed the state government for the breach which led to devastating floods in Bihar, the government asked the judicial panel to submit its report within six months from the date of notification.

The government made it clear that the judicial panel would examine aspects related to the efforts to maintain the utility of the project since its inception in 1953, particularly after the 1979 heavy landslide that pushed the Kosi towards its eastern bund and the 1991 breach. Besides, the panel is also expected to suggest remedial measures to prevent such a catastrophe in the future.

“The inquiry should focus on the breach last month that forced the Kosi to change its course, instead of probing the breach in 1991 and since its inception,” Rajak said in reference to the ambit of the probe panel.

Rajak was supported by State Congress President Anil Sharma and Lok Janshakti Party State President Pashupati Paras. “The judicial probe by the state government will not expose the real truth because the government will come out with a clean chit,” Sharma said.

Paras, younger brother of Union Minister for Steel Ramvilas Paswan said the state government’s judicial probe was to blame others for this disaster caused by the breach.

The judicial panel would also enquire whether the flood protection works of the Kosi embankment, as recommended by the expert committee had been completed before the onset of the monsoon this year.

Over 2.7 million people and nearly one million cattle have been affected by the floods caused by the change in course of the Kosi river, following a breach in an embankment upstream in Nepal. About 100,000 hectares of farmland have been submerged and nearly 300,000 houses damaged.

About 971,000 people have been evacuated to safer places till date. Around 279,000 people have taken shelter in over 300 relief camps in flood-affected areas, officials said.

According to the water resources department, the Kosi river continued to recede. But the river still poses a threat to the lives of the trapped people.

The floods have claimed at least 50 lives, according to official estimates. However, voluntary agencies fear the number could be in several hundreds.

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