The missing issue in the Bihar elections | HT Editorial

The first phase of the Bihar assembly election, the first major polls to be held during the Covid-19 pandemic, is scheduled for Wednesday. All political parties have released their manifestos, making a range of promises — from ensuring employment to distribution of free vaccines for Covid-19, from higher investment in education and health care to farm loan waiver. While all these are important issues, besides perfunctory references, not enough attention has been paid to a critical issue in the state — the annual cycle of floods.

28 out of Bihar’s 38 districts are flood-prone, and the near-annual deluge often destroys infrastructure and the ecological wealth (farm lands and forests), leaving a deep, long-term impact on the lives and livelihoods of the people. This year, at least 8.3 million people in 16 districts were displaced, and many are still living in relief camps. Nearly 7.54 lakh hectares of agricultural land have been destroyed. While the Nitish Kumar government has blamed earlier regimes for weak embankments and corruption, the Opposition has alleged politicisation of relief.

Riverine floods are a natural phenomenon, but destruction by floods is not. In fact, floods were once considered a blessing because they would bring fertile alluvial soil with them. But thanks to a combination of deforestation in the catchment area, human habitation on the river banks and floodplains, encroachment on wetlands, and embankments, they now lead to devastation. It’s a pity that these issues are not being debated more sharply in the election. This reluctance will only normalise the yearly destruction in the minds of the people, generate disillusionment about the responsiveness of the political system at large, and prevent Bihar from finding a comprehensive, ecologically sustainable, solution.

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