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Karnataka flood relief turns into political battle
Published on 26 Oct. 2009 11:00 PM IST
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As over a million flood-devastated people in north Karnataka struggle to put their lives back on track, the state’s main political parties are locked in a bitter war of words over relief efforts. There is increasing acrimony not only on the manner and pace of relief and rehabilitation work but also over the quantum of financial aid to be sought from the central government and how the millions of rupees donated by the public are being spent. While battling the opposition, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who heads the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, is also busy scotching speculation that a few influential leaders in the party and some ministers in his cabinet are upset with his idea of a levy on the rich and the affluent to raise funds for the massive rehabilitation work. The Sep 30-Oct 2 rains and flash floods claimed 226 lives, destroyed about 500,000 houses, drowned 7,800 head of cattle, inundated 4,290 villages, damaged around 1.13 million hectares of crop lands, brought down school and college buildings, washed away hundreds of kilometres of roads and several bridges and breached irrigation canals and tanks. The state government has estimated the loss at around Rs.18,500 crore and has sought immediate central assistance of Rs.6,000 crore. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced Rs.1,000 crore as interim relief after making an aerial survey of the havoc and promised more after a central team assesses the damage. A nine-member central team concluded its tour of the affected areas Friday and said the calamity was of “severe nature”. The team will submit its report to the central government in two weeks. Yeddyurappa’s effort to stitch a united front of all political parties to mount pressure on the central government for massive financial aid failed as the opposition Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) refused to go along. The Congress and the JD-S, which supports the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the centre, accused the chief minister of trying to get political mileage for himself and his party, the main opposition BJP at the national level. “Where was the need to rush to the central government with a delegation when the prime minister and the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister P. Chidambaram have made an aerial survey and assured money would not be a constraint to help the affected people?” has been the refrain of state Congress leaders, starting from their president R.V. Deshpande. The JD-S, headed by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, took a similar stand saying the Yeddyurappa government must first spend the amount it already has and the millions of rupees donated by the public. The two parties were cut up with Yeddyurappa’s three-day padyatra (walk) in Bangalore in the first week of October to raise funds. They thought it was a gimmick by the chief minister. “Instead of wasting time in such shows the chief minister and his ministers must camp in the affected areas and supervise relief operations,” thundered Deve Gowda’s son and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. “How are the millions of rupees donated generously by the people being spent,” asked Congress spokesperson V.S. Ugrappa. Yeddyurappa, in turn, has been on the offensive against these two parties. “Instead of making wild allegations to mislead the public, leaders of these two parties should meet me with suggestions on proper and speedy implementation of relief and rehabilitation work,” the chief minister has retorted. Yeddyurappa did generate public sympathy and appreciation for himself, besides large donations, when he went on his padyatra. He, however, almost lost the sympathy he had garnered by announcing he was mulling a levy on the rich and the affluent to raise more funds. Facing opposition from various trade bodies and industry and commerce chambers as well as sections of his own party Yeddyurappa quietly buried the proposal saying he was only “thinking aloud”. His government also landed in another controversy over the alleged coercion by officials to extract donations from several major firms, including IT companies, by calling up senior management people of these companies to know how much they were donating. As the controversy was building up, an official spokesperson rushed to clarify: “The calls were made only to confirm whether the general circular appealing for donations had reached the senior management people. There is no coercion at all.” The latest in this series of twists, turns and blame game over flood rehabilitation is the Congress plan to take a party delegation to central leaders for large aid. “I am willing to be part of their delegation,” Yeddyurappa sarcastically reacted, not letting go of a chance to hit back at the Congress for refusing to be part of the team he led to New Delhi.

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