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Why the Deshmukh government failed

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
August 01, 2005 15:49 IST
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The Vilasrao Deshmukh government failed to decide its priorities in rendering relief to hundreds of thousands of Mumbai and Maharashtra residents devastated by the torrential rain, a senior Congress leader told

Although it was engaged in relief work soon after the crisis began on Tuesday, July 26, lack of smart planning in the crucial initial hours of the calamity failed the Congress-led government, the source said.

The administration was completely overwhelmed by Terrible Tuesday and its aftermath.

The BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation's lethargy added to the crisis, the Congress leader felt.

On July 26, as the magnitude of the crisis increased alarmingly in Mumbai, instead of concentrating on what it wanted to do, political leaders instructed the administration to do a bit of everything. The administration failed to accord priority to the relief/resuce work and the areas of operation, the Congress leader added.

As the rain submerged Mumbai, the government was challenged to put its resources behind the rescue of marooned citizens in low-lying areas, restoring power, draining water out of water-logged areas, supplying essential commodities, restoring communication and maintaining law and order.

The administration behaved as a fire-fighter; instead of concentrating on saving people's lives on the first day of the crisis, its energies and efforts were scattered.

The situation worsened when Reliance Energy, which supplies electricity to many of Mumbai's suburbs, shut down its transformers in many areas.

According to the company its transformers were flooded with rain water and continuing operations could have created a risk.

Gurudas Kamat, president, Mumbai Regional Congress Committee, has submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Deshmukh, asking him to take action against Reliance Energy.

Kamat -- much of whose Mumbai North East Lok Sabha constituency was deprived of electricity -- told, "People are very angry with Reliance Energy. They not only switched off power, they also switched off all helpline numbers. We tried to contact them in their offices. Not one officer was available. Even today (Monday)they are saying their transformers have not yet dried up. Is this professionalism? Those 18 people would have not died in a stampede had there been electricity."

A Congress Working Committee member told "senior leaders of the Maharashtra government should have called a meeting of Non Government Organisations, local politicians and community leaders to get better ideas for relief work. Somehow nothing worked in the beginning."

"Not only was such a meeting not called, bureaucrats also failed to decide what kind of relief work they wanted to handle in the crucial first hours," a frustrated Congress leader said.

Deshmukh, he added, has been given total access to central resources. Congress party president Sonia Gandhi called Deshmukh thrice on Sunday, asking him to show quick results.

She also recommended that people get milk free of cost and that essential items be made available in the open market at cheaper prices.

"Maharashtra Chief Secretary Prem Kumar has been offered full support by the home ministry," an official at the Prime Minister's Office told

The disaster management cell at the home ministry (telephones: 011-23093563-64-66) disseminates information received from the affected areas to the concerned ministries for action.

Twice a week an inter-ministerial meeting is called to discuss the information, Onkar Kedia, director at the home ministry, told

Kedia emphasised that the Centre has a limited role to play in natural calamities like floods and heavy rain. It can only provide some financial assistance; it is the state's responsibility to do most of the relief work.

During his visit to Maharashtra last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered Rs 5 billion or Rs 500 crores of central assistance to Maharashtra to manage relief work.

Kedia said Maharashtra asked for army and navy personnel, some help from the Central Reserve Police Force and a few helicopters. These were promptly dispatched.

Medical teams and additional supplies have also been sent to Maharashtra.

MPs from Maharashtra were critical about the handling of the situation in Parliament on Monday. Many MPs praised Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha's handling of the tsunami tragedy. She proved much better than Deshmukh, some MPs said.

Jayalalitha handled the bureaucracy and administrative machinery shrewdly and made it effective, a MP from Maharashtra said.

Shiv Sena MP Subodh Mohite told the media, "Deshmukh lacks political acumen. He should have pulled up the administration to fight back."

The Indian administrative machinery needs an iron hand to deal with a crisis, one MP added, else, nothing works.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi