Cities & Architecture

Court Asks for Committee to Inspect Floods Response as DMK, AIADMK Trade Charges

Petition in Madras High Court says Tamil Nadu government guilty of dereliction of duty.

Patients and their care-takers shift from a flooded hospital after heavy rains in Chennai on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

Patients and their care-takers shift from a flooded hospital after heavy rains in Chennai on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

Chennai: A public interest litigation filed in the Madras High Court seeking an independent committee to investigate alleged lapses by various officials which led to the Chennai flood earlier this month was taken up for hearing on Friday. In the meantime, a second one alleging ‘manslaughter’ on the government’s part awaits admission.

The Wire has reported extensively on the delays in the release of water from the Chembarambakkam reservoir, the lack of information made available to residents, as well the lack of coordination in rescue efforts subsequently.

The Madras High Court included the Ministry of Defence as a respondent to the PIL, saying “What is of concern to us is that there is a little lack of coordination among agencies involved in relief work.” The court directed both the Central and State governments to provide details of relief coordination by December 14.

This petition questions the delays in release of water from Chembarambakkam reservoir, stating that it was dereliction of duty on the part of bureaucrats:

“…the Public works department had written to the Chief Secretary on 29.11.2015 for release of water from the Chembarambakkam reservoir and the Chief Secretary had slept over it for three days and gave his consent only on midnight of 1st December. The Chief Secretary even though was well aware of the reports that there is going to be heavy down pour for few more days had ignored to perform his duty and direct release of the water when, the warning from Public Works Department was received by him. The said act of the Chief Secretary and the other respondents is wilful and has resulted in loss of over 280 lives and caused colossal damage to property, possessions and livelihood of several hundreds of thousands of residents and most of them poor. This Hon’ble Court should form an independent committee to 10 investigate into this matter and punish the respondents and its officials for failure to perform their duty as it amounted to nothing short of ‘Man Slaughter’.”

The petition further requests the court to direct the state government “to set up a high powered committee headed by a retired Judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India or of the Hon’ble Madras High Court and consisting of government officials, technical personal, senior advocates, scientists, environmentalists, etc., which shall study the various events which led to the flooding of Chennai and direct the committee to “lay down a time-bound action plan and then implement the same and finally prepare the action-taken report” for the court within a time frame.

On Friday, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party chief handed over a petition to the Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah, making the same demand. “I have handed over a petition to the Governor and requested him to constitute a judicial probe into the lapses that caused the flood,” said the 92-year-old veteran politician. “I have informed the Governor of the errors made in releasing water from the Chembarambakkam lake and the resulting destruction. The Governor read the petition fully and assured me that he would take necessary action and speak to the concerned departments about this,” he said.

Karunanidhi’s son and heir apparent MK Stalin too issued a statement ridiculing the conduct of state government officials following the floods.

“The government’s inefficiency post the flooding is nothing short of unimaginable,” his statement read. “The government did not even set up a central control room from which all activities could be coordinated. The mayor refused to talk to the media, ministers were seen running away from people and the bureaucrats also refused to answer questions posed by reporters at the only press conference called by them. It was dismal to watch some of the senior-most IAS officers of our state using that press meet to praise Jayalalitha instead of talking about rehabilitation plans. The chief minister, who is expected to be at the forefront to take charge of disaster management after a calamity, has not even made a televised address till date,” it said.

On its part, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam resorted to social media and messaging apps to hit back at the mounting criticism. Videos have been released by the AIADMK’s IT Wing quoting a Bharathiyar song clearly attacking the DMK chief Karunanidhi:

“Do things which hurt others
Get old and withering
Become a victim of terrible accusations
Do you think I would fall (die) at the end like this pathetic human?

(AIADMK lyrics)
Righteousness leads me
Lights the fire to release us from this disaster
Our government machinery executes
With the three Forces in the field to assist
Joined hands by the NGOs
Youngsters stand shoulder to shoulder
To wipe the sorrows of our suffering people
Without seeing their smile again”

Do you think I would fall (die)?” asks the voice-over in the video with pictures of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa against a map of Tamil Nadu in the background.

Another anonymous audio clip is being forwarded by AIADMK cadre on WhatsApp. In this, a woman’s voice questions the DMK chief and ridicules his actions as chief minister in the previous government:

“Water should have been released from Chembarambakkam reservoir a day before the rains. If that had been done, Chennai city would not have flooded. This is Kalaignar Karunanidhi’s statement. Okay, I would like to ask a question here. If it had not rained as predicted and water had been released from Chembarambakkam, will you bring water to Chennai’s residents? It was predicted that in this monsoon, we would experience more rain than usual. But what we have received in 2% less than the average. So by your logic, if water had been released on the basis of the Met Department’s prediction, and the rains had not come, what would have happened? Okay, so it rained. Do you have any schemes to keep this water within the lakes? When no one can control a natural disaster, it is wrong of you to ask why we did not expect it and rectify it beforehand. You have also mentioned that NASA had made an announcement. But NASA has stated two days ago that they are not in the business of predicting weather. What is the use of telecasting your statement as it is on Kalaignar TV without even understanding or checking it? What is the idea behind announcing flood relief and then taking Rs 200 per person to issue tokens? Even MK Stalin may respond to this charge. Seven of DMK’s former ministers have encroached upon and built houses upon 41 lakes. Why have you not issued any statements about this? An assistant of a former DMK minister has encroached upon an entire lake and built a house. Why no statement about this? As per government records the previous DMK government has given permissions for over 180 multi-storeyed buildings to be built in Velachery. Of these 98% have been built on lakes. Why did the DMK government under your leadership not pay attention to these? Are you affirming that the government under your leadership was one of corruption and bribes?”

No official response has come from the state government to the mounting allegations of negligence and poor coordination; it has, instead, plunged headlong into relief and sanitation work. Come December 14 and the thus far silent state will have to provide answers to the court.

  • NARENDRA M APTE

    (1) The
    Madras High Court will be justified if it asks for an independent investigation
    in Chennai floods and consequent disaster that happened. It can be said that
    this was essentially a man-made disaster, though nature’s fury had its part to
    play. (2) I believe that Chennai floods are a live example of poor or absence
    of proper urban planning, mismanagement of funds meant for infrastructure
    projects and consequent chaos. (3) Hence it would be in order if concerned
    officials of both the Chennai Municipal Corporation (CMC) and Urban Development
    Department (UDD) of Tamil Nadu are held accountable for errors of omission and
    commission which led to Chennai floods. Both of them should be asked to jointly
    submit a detailed report as to what went wrong, who was responsible and what
    needs to be done in coming years. But this would be done only if the High court
    appoints a special committee to ensure that the report of CMC & UDD is actually
    submitted to the Court without undue delay.