The massive floods in Bihar have again brought the state to the centre of discussions. With prayers and help flowing in from around India the eastern state continues to witness massive loss of life and property. As per the latest available data, floods have spread to Bihar’s 12 districts and 97 lives have been lost so far. A total of 69 lakh people have been affected by the floods in the state ruled by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The maximum number of casualties have been reported from Sitamarhi (27 deaths) followed by Araria (12), Madhubani (18), Sheohar (10), Purnea (09) Darbhanga (10), Kishanganj (05), Supaul (3), East Champaran (02) and Saharsa (01).
However, as the death toll kept on rising, the disturbing images of victims in the flood hit state indicated the severity of the situation. As the heart-wrenching images circulated on social media, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was for all to blame for the inefficiencies and lack of preparedness in tackling the flood situation. The questions over Nitish Kumar led government further intensify when looked at the disaster history of the state. The Indian state faced major floods in the years of 1987, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2016, 2017 and of course 2019.
A report by International Water Management Institute (IWMI) had also pointed out that 73 % of the 94,163 sq km area gets flooded every year. Being the CM of the state for more than 15 years certainly brings Nitish Kumar to the center of discussions over states ineffective measures in face of floods which are and annual occurrence. In 2013, a report by the National Institute of Disaster Management on Bihar floods had clearly pointed out that “the needs for a comprehensive approach on flood hazards with a broader perspective of flood-plain management, non-structural approaches, and institutional innovations which may be used for integrated, comprehensive flood control strategies”. However, evidently, the Nitish Kumar government has failed to take proper measures to safeguard life and property, and common citizens continue to suffer so much so that reports of people surviving by eating rats have also surfaced.
However, for Nitish Kumar, this is just a part of inefficiencies Bihar has failed to rectify. Recent Encephalitis outbreak in Bihar had also brought Nitish Kumar’s administrative record into question. As the problem continued more than 100 children had lost their lives due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). Being the CM of the state for more than 15 years certainly also brings Nitish Kumar to the center of discussions over existing health facilities in the state. Several media reports had also exposed the poor conditions of government hospitals in Bihar, more specifically in Muzaffarpur where the Hospital was not only under equipped but also reeked of years of perpetual mismanagement.
Earlier, TV reports had also reported that hospitals were running out of beds in Muzaffarpur due to rising cases of encephalitis. The reports also suggested that the medical facilities at the state-run hospitals were not satisfactory and children were not being given medicines on time, resulting in the high number of casualties. Even doctors had indicated towards these limitations. These reports of mismanagement in recent Bihar floods and earlier during the Encephalitis outbreak have surely put a significant dent on Nitish Kumar’s image of ‘Shusashan babu’ which has been nurtured over years on fragile grounds.
Similar to the flood situation, over the past few years the state has witnessed similar Encephalitis outbreaks however no substantial action was taken for prevention or cure of the disease. In 2012, the government had announced to set up special research facility in Muzaffarpur to study the causes behind Children getting affected by this syndrome. However, despite the high number of deaths reported every year, the exact reason remains a mystery. Seven years and hundreds of deaths later, the government still did not have a clear answer. According to unofficial reports the disease wreaked havoc in the region in 2012, claiming 424 lives. In 2013, the toll stood at 222. In 2014, 379 encephalitis-related deaths were reported in the region. In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the toll was 90, 103, 54 and 33, respectively.
Even after deaths of thousands of individuals in Bihar over the past few years due to floods and inefficient medical infrastructure, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar still remains unfazed. Be it Nitish Kumar’s political history with the RJ(D), where he snubbed Lalu led RJ(D) after reaping political benefits on their expense in the assembly elections, within the NDA too Nitish Kumar’s conduct now has been giving out mixed signals. Nonetheless, Nitish Kumar’s focus has always been on staying in power rather than focusing on weeding out serious issues that continue to cripple the state till this date.