The Boat Tragedy: Stirring Up the Conscience of Bihar

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Close on the heels of the Prakash Utsav and Kalchakra festivities in Bihar came the boat tragedy in the Patna-diara area that attracted national attention.

On the Makar Sankranti day (14 January 2017) around 25 people died after a boat ferrying visitors to the kite festival capsized. The festival reportedly had attracted one lakh people at the invitation of the Bihar tourism department. The advertisement that ran in some newspapers, according to the information given by the CM, carried his picture also.

After the tragedy, the CM disavowed he had any information on such a kite festival nor did he know his picture was appended to a government ad. His consent wasn’t taken.

Is the CM telling the truth? Did he really have no knowledge if such a festival existed? Did the ad run without his consent? Who should be held responsible or punished for this weird way of governance that led to the tragedy?

Clearly, in this administration, the left hand is not aware of what the right hand is doing.

There are spots, however, in the administration at the ministerial or the bureaucratic levels that must be isolated to apportion blame for the gross dereliction in duties -- unless the CM is constrained to not take any action. He has his hands tied as he has made paralysing political compromises.

For one thing, there doesn’t seem to be any dependable intelligence gathering in the province for a better administration. A sound intelligence would have informed the CM (in this age of fast communication) not only about the diara kite festival, but also on the poor arrangement of ferrying overwhelming number of people.

Recall on 27 October 2013, Patna was rocked by a series of bomb blasts that took the lives of six people and 85 were injured. The casualty would have been a lot higher if the Indian Mujahideen’s operatives had succeeded in detonating all the bombs they had planted circling the Gandhi Maidan. Intelligence was an utter failure under Nitish’s watch -- and, he didn’t own up to that then and he’s not owning up to the latest disaster now. After all, the buck stops at his desk.

An alert citizenry, patriotic party men, loyal opposition and a united civil society would have thrown this incompetent government out of power long time ago. But, unfortunate for Bihar, the persons in power have made sure that people remain divided along the caste, sub-caste and communal lines; and, therefore, don’t challenge them.

The types of crime we often hear from Bihar -- gunmen killing political rivals, tradesmen or jewellers killed or looted at the gunpoint, journalists maimed, engineers or contractors at the construction sites shot dead or kidnapped for a ransom, fake drugs stockpiled and marketed in the cities, inadequate medical facilities extorting gullible patients and their families, corrupt office bureaucrats tampering with records to generate property disputes or the administration personnel compromising the law and order machinery for bribes -- can all be curbed if the government is really serious about intelligence gathering.

However, there’s another relevant question whether the government acts on those intelligence reports or not. For example, the government knew certain non-student criminals had made the Patna University hostels as their sanctuaries and yet there was no action.

The civil societies will have to rise up to the occasion.

It pains me to notice the city of Patna is home to so many retired professionals, civil servants, judges and academics; and yet, there’s hardly any voice raised when gross violations of propriety take place at the political, administrative, or ethical levels.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Gandhi had asked us to lend voice to the voiceless.

If the upper-class elite of Bihar or Patna -- who can read, write, petition and represent -- think strengthening of institutional democratic or administrative apparatus, deepening of societal moral or ethical values aren’t their responsibilities; if they enjoy security and comfort in their own private space, they are certainly living in a bubble. And when the devil pernicious arms of maladministration hit them, the bubble will burst; there will be no one around to rescue them.

As a result of the acclaimed full implementation of the prohibition policy in Bihar, there will be innumerable cases of production of spurious liquor (in addition to black market dealings). Many deaths because of consumption of poisonous drinks will be reported. Besides, there may be many sources of unforeseen deaths and destruction. Intelligence gathering and enforcement of law will be essential for any administration to succeed.

When we were growing up, we used to see in our mohalla regular patrol (at least once every day) by two constables from the nearby police station. In their walk up, they would sense and register what was going on in their jurisdiction. People also had a fear of them. Not anymore!

During my last trip to Bihar, I noticed the local police officers kept in touch through the toughs (the bahubalis) in the area; the police would refer disputes to them, arbitrate on their recommendation and use them as conduit to accepting bribe money. All under Nitish’s watch!

How can there be true intelligence gathering and proper law enforcement?

The conscience of Bihar needs to stir up.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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