To save skin, officials blame rats for ‘disasters’ in Bihar, Jharkhand

The Konar river irrigation project collapsed in Jharkhand, less than 24 hours after inauguration. The collapse caused inundation of crops across 35 villages.

In Bihar and Jharkhand, rats don’t just eat crumbs. They bring down crores-worth projects, sip on lakhs of seized liquor bottles and cause “disasters”, destroying large tracts of farms and leaving common people helpless.

Well, that is what officials in the two states would want everyone to believe, especially every time a graft comes to light and the needle of suspicion moves towards them. Officials are quick to claim innocence and hide behind the tiny rodents to save their skins, literally!

When a mega irrigation project in Jharkhand, which took 42 years to complete at a cost of ₹2,500 crore, was washed away within 24 hours of its inauguration by Chief Minister Raghubar Das last month, the rats took the blame.

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Conceptualised in 1977 at a cost of ₹11.43 crore, the project was delayed for various reasons, including bureaucratic bottlenecks, its final cost rose up to a whopping ₹2,500 crore. Despite the massive spending on its construction, the embankments couldn’t sustain the water pressure and collapsed within hours of its inauguration. The sudden flooding damaged standing crops in 35 villages.

When fingers were raised towards officials in charge of the project, they in turn blamed the notorious rats for the canal breach. “The initial probe suspected ‘rat holes’ causing damage to the canal,” said a government statement after the breach.

A senior official in the water resources department said, “According to preliminary information, rat holes in the non-concrete portion of the canal caused water seepage and led to its collapse.” He added that an investigation had been ordered into the incident to bring out the truth.

According to an official report, the project, whose foundation was laid in 1977 by the then-governor of united Bihar Jagannath Kaushal, aimed to irrigate 62,790 hectares of agricultural land in three districts of Jharkhand.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das had inaugurated a mega irrigation project on Konar river, but the embankment collapsed within 24 hours of inauguration. Photo – NITI Aayog

In another instance, rats were blamed for massive flooding in north Bihar after the embankment of Kamla Balan river breached in September 2017. The sudden floods brought massive destruction, flooding homes and damaging crops. Water resources department officials and the minister concerned straightway blamed rat holes for embankment breach but didn’t explain how the “big rat holes” went unnoticed during the embankment repair works for months.

“Seepage from the Kamlabalan river through the embankments which led to flooding of large areas and breaching of embankments, was caused by rats. Rats are the main reason behind the floods in the state,” was how Bihar water resources minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lallan Singh had told the media then after reviewing the flood situation.

Rodents again came under fire from water resource department officials when the embankment of another major river Gandak breached the same month in 2017. “It’s true that rats have been found responsible for damaging river embankments by carving holes across them. Accordingly home guards are deployed in the flood period starting from June 15 to October 31 to look after such menace,” was how commented Shanti Ranjan Sharma, superintending engineer at flood control planning and monitoring circle, water resources department, after the river embankment was breached.

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This was not the end of the story. Railway officials have also blamed “colonies of rodents” for as many as three train derailments at the Daltonganj railway station in Jharkhand’s Palamu district. According to them, packs of rats rendered the earth beneath the track very unstable by digging maze of holes. They say food-grains-laden trains stop at this track at regular intervals to get sackfuls of grains unloaded and that might have been attracting the rats there.

The rats were in for more trouble in prohibition-imposed Bihar, when cops blamed them for “sipping” tons of liquor bottles and plastic pouches stored in police storerooms. The cops straightway blamed the rodents after around 10 lakh litres of costly wines were found missing from the police storerooms. All these liquor bottles had been confiscated by the cops during a massive drive launched across Bihar in the aftermath of the state enforcing total liquor ban in April 2016.

“It is very strange that rats are being blamed for disasters or loot of public funds. This is just a ploy to save the skin of the corrupt officials,” commented anti-corruption activist Shiv Prakash Rai.

He wondered how rats could damage an embankment worth crores of rupees and under the supervision of engineers and technical experts.

“If the officials can’t save embankments from rats, then what is the point in constructing them after wasting crores?” he asked. “It’s very sad they are blaming rats for every fault. Perhaps they know the tiny creatures can speak in defence,” Rai added.