Protests in Karnataka over Centre's flood relief aid

Print edition : November 08, 2019

A massive protest against the delay in flood relief activities and the release of compensation by the Karnataka government and the Centre, in Belagavi on September 24. Photo: THE HINDU

Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa inspecting the flood-affected fields at Daroor village near Athani in Belagavi district on October 4. Photo: P.K. BADIGER

Janata Dal (Secular) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda (centre) taking part in the party’s protest against inadequate flood relief, in Bengaluru on October 10. Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP

There is widespread resentment in flood-ravaged Karnataka over what is seen as a betrayal of the State by the Central government in the matter of relief aid.

The Central government, which faced widespread criticism in Karnataka for the delay in releasing funds for flood relief and rehabilitation measures, released Rs.1,200 crore on October 4 under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) and the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). This was almost two months after prolonged rainfall and floods caused extensive damage to lives and property in several districts of the State. While the B.S. Yediyurappa-headed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was quick to thank the Narendra Modi government, the State Congress tweeted: “People of the state are humiliated with the allocation of Rs.1,200 crore as against the state government’s assessment of Rs.35,000 crore. This shows that the centre has zero confidence in @BSYBJP govt & doesn’t believe him. Kannadigas patience is put to severe test from @narendramodi on a regular basis!”

The extended and intense south-west monsoon affected 12 States, including Karnataka. While rainfall was above normal in the State, the heaviest impact of the monsoon was felt over a week between August 3 and 10 when the State saw a 279 per cent increase in the rainfall received at that time of the year. To compound the trouble, Maharashtra, which saw a similar spike in rain, released surplus water from its overflowing dams, resulting in the inundation of several parts of downstream districts in northern Karnataka. The floods wreaked havoc not only in the border districts of Belagavi, Vijayapura and Bagalkot, but in the northern districts that do not border Maharashtra.

Scale of devastation

The scale of devastation can be gauged from the details provided by Dr G.S. Srinivasa Reddy, Director, Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNMDC). Speaking to Frontline, he said 91 people and 3,400 animals had died; crops grown on more than 7.5 lakh hectares had been destroyed; 21,818 kilometres of roads had been washed away; and approximately 2.5 lakh houses had been damaged. Six lakh people were relocated and 1,500 kalaji kendras (gruel centres) were opened. Belagavi district, where 32 people lost their lives and more than 1.1 lakh families were displaced, bore the brunt of the havoc. “An initial estimate of Rs.38,451 crore of losses due to floods was made, which was revised to Rs.35,160 crore after the Central government clarified that damage to private properties such as schools and hospital buildings could not be compensated as per NDRF norms,” Reddy stated.

Officials of the KSNMDC and the Revenue Department said an ex gratia payment of Rs.5 lakh had been made to the kin of each victim. An initial amount of Rs.1 lakh (of an assured sum of Rs.5 lakh) for victims whose houses were destroyed has also been disbursed. Partial payments of Rs.4,000 (of a total assured sum of Rs.10,000) to more than two lakh families displaced owing to floods have also been made although there are complaints regarding this.

Dr Salman Lodhi of Miswa Foundation, a Belagavi-based charitable trust that has been working in the worst-affected Gokak taluk, said that several flood victims had not received any compensation as they were asked to produce their Aadhaar cards for verification. “When their homes have been washed away, how can they produce their Aadhaar cards? There are norms, but why can’t these be relaxed in dire situations?” he asked.

Officials claim that initial relief measures have been completed and the bulk of the measures that remain are to provide funds to victims for rebuilding destroyed or damaged houses and for compensating agricultural losses. This has been delayed considerably.

The delay in the provision of Central funds to undertake relief measures has invited a lot of criticism from not only the victims and the political opposition in the State but also from within the BJP. Two prominent BJP leaders—Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, Member of the Legislative Assembly from Vijayapura in north Karnataka, and Chakravarthy Sulibele, a young and popular leader from coastal Karnataka who founded the Namo Brigade—criticised the Central government for ignoring Karnataka.

Sugata Srinivasaraju, a senior journalist and political analyst, said: “After a long delay, Yediyurappa has been given peanuts for flood relief. Just look at the estimate sent by the State and the amount that has been given. It is amazingly short because of which it is being perceived locally that [Narendra] Modi and [Amit] Shah do not want Yediyurappa to look good in the State so that he loses his reputation as a mass leader.” Since the BJP engineered the downfall of the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) government in the State in July, there is evidence to show that the party’s central leadership has remained indifferent to Yediyurappa’s concerns. Considering Yediyurappa’s strong support base in the Lingayat community, it was always clear that he should be made the Chief Minister, but the BJP’s central leadership has been making efforts in various subtle and overt ways to marginalise him. Yediyurappa has been saddled with three Deputy Chief Ministers although he was not in favour of it when he expanded his Cabinet. In another move, Nalin Kumar Kateel, Member of Parliament from Dakshina Kannada, was made the State party president; again, Yediyurappa was against the appointment.

Political observers are interpreting such moves as the central leadership’s way of taking calculated risks to trim the popularity of Yediyurappa. New Delhi-based political analyst D.K. Singh has argued that this is in keeping with the current thinking of the BJP central leadership, which does not want mass leaders in States. Singh writes: “Yediyurappa, (Vasundhara) Raje, (Shivraj) Chouhan and Raman Singh remain the only mass leaders of the BJP in States. The party high command has propped up many leaders to replace them but those are lightweights even in their own constituencies. In Rajasthan, the high command has picked up all Raje detractors for rewards—Om Birla as Lok Sabha Speaker, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat as a Cabinet Minister, and Jagdeep Dhankhar as West Bengal Governor. B.L. Santosh, who has had constant run-ins with Yediyurappa in Karnataka, has been appointed the national general secretary (organisation) of the BJP.” (‘Modi-Shah’s BJP thinks it doesn’t need mass leaders in States. So did Indira Gandhi’s Congress’; published in The Print; September 30.)

A political analyst, who did not want to be named as he recently occupied a government position, said: “Yediyurappa is a mass leader who cannot be controlled by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and he does not indulge in unnecessary communal rhetoric. Even though he started his life in the RSS, he is an independent politician who started his own party in the past. Thus, he is seen as someone who cannot be disciplined in terms of ideology.” The Central government’s attitude to flood relief is seen as part of its strategy to delegitmise his rule.

N. Ravi Kumar, BJP State general secretary, dismissed these charges as baseless and defended the Centre’s delay in the provision of flood relief. He told Frontline: “Do you know that there were floods in 13 States and Karnataka was the first State to get relief? The Rs.1,200 crore that has been provided is only the first instalment and we are hopeful of getting a second instalment. The State government has already spent Rs.3,100 crore on relief and the rehabilitation work is going on smoothly. The Chief Minister has done wonderful work as far as flood relief is concerned and it is baseless to say that he does not enjoy the support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.”

Congress’ protest

The Congress, the chief opposition party in the State, has tried to pin down the government over the issue of flood relief. All prominent State-level Congress leaders participated in a massive protest organised in Belagavi on September 25. This served a useful purpose as the State Congress is divided into pro- and anti-Siddaramaiah camps. The party followed up the Belagavi protest with an attack on the ruling BJP in the Assembly in early October, where Siddaramaiah, in his newly appointed role as the Leader of the Opposition, stated that the Central government had failed Karnataka in the provision of flood relief.

Krishna Byre Gowda, Congress MLA and former Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister, told Frontline that the Congress disagreed with the assessment of flood damage and the estimation of Rs.38,451 crore. “Our assessment, based on field reports from the Pradesh Congress teams and media reports, is that the losses are in the range of Rs.1 lakh crore. There has been wilful negligence on the part of the BJP to under-assess the damage owing to floods because of which the severity of the damage has been under-reported. When Karnataka faced severe losses owing to floods in 2009, the estimated damage was Rs.7,400 crore whereas the flood relief received from the Central government was Rs.1,500 crore. Compared to that, what we have received now is nothing. When Maharashtra faced droughts earlier this year, the Central government provided relief to the tune of Rs.4,700 crore. The Centre has shown total apathy towards Karnataka. For proper compensation, we are looking at a figure between Rs.5,000 crore and Rs.10,000 crore as flood relief from the Centre,” he said.

Krishna Byre Gowda made two more relevant points to show that the Yediyurappa government failed in obtaining adequate flood relief from the Centre. First, he said that Rs.303 crore of the Rs.1,200 crore released by the Centre included the SDRF component, which in effect brought down the Centre’s contribution via the NDRF to Rs.897 crore. “No one is speaking about this fact,” he said. A second point that he made was in reference to the role of the BJP MPs from Karnataka. “It is appalling that none of these MPs have raised the issue of flood relief or led a delegation to the Centre. Many MPs are actually defending the non-cooperation from the Centre while others are keeping silent. They have no courage to speak in front of their leaders; their loyalty is to the leaders and not to the people who elected them,” he said.