LUCKNOW: At least 40 people have died and hundreds of thousands have been evacuated as floods hit vast swathes of central and eastern India, officials said yesterday. Days of heavy rain have caused the Ganges River and its tributaries to rise above the danger level during the past 48 hours in about 20 districts of the states of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Officials said at least 17 people have died in Madhya Pradesh, 14 in Bihar and nine in Uttar Pradesh because of drowning, electrocution or injuries from collapsed houses.
In the city of Allahabad, water from the Ganges entered many residential areas, forcing people to move to safer areas. About 12,000 people were evacuated from low-lying surrounding villages, a government statement said. In the Hindu holy town of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, flooding forced a halt to cremations at a main riverfront area, District Magistrate Vijay Karan Anand said.
Devout Hindus bring dead family members to Varanasi in the belief that being cremated there frees their soul from the cycle of death and rebirth. In Bihar, 600,000 people were evacuated and the army and air force are on standby because more rain is forecast in the next two days, said disaster management official Vyasji, who uses one name. Floods occur in many parts of India during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September.
Indian politician mocked
Meanwhile, a senior Indian politician was widely mocked yesterday after photos showed policemen carrying him through ankle-deep muddy water while inspecting deadly floods in the country’s centre. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh state, was shown wearing crisp white trousers and white shoes and being carried aloft through the water in a field, trailed by his entourage.
The photo of a smiling Chouhan with his arms wrapped around the two officers made newspaper front pages and sparked an outpouring of ridicule on Twitter. Most comments were lighthearted in a country where politicians are almost always flanked by a legion of fawning officials and security guards. “Shame on #Shivrajsinghchouhan. So embarrassing #wetyourfeet my man,” Twitter user Jennifer Fernandes wrote. “#Shivraj training Indian athletes for 400M Relay 2020 Olympics,” read another.
But Chouhan was also accused of abusing his position, with comparisons drawn to the treatment of British officials during colonial times. A top government public relations officer defended Chouhan, saying it would have been dangerous for him to wade through the waters himself. “Nobody knew if the water level would rise suddenly or if the ground below was slippery,” SK Mishra said. “There was also the danger of a snake or scorpion bite. He was desperate to meet the flood-affected people and the security guys could not have taken any chance.”
Floods triggered by monsoon rains have claimed hundreds of lives across India. In Madhya Pradesh at least 15 people have died after rivers burst and flooded villages, the Press Trust of India news agency said. Chouhan himself posted several pictures of his flood visit on Twittter but skipped the controversial one, while his office denied yesterday releasing the image. An Indian TV journalist was sacked in 2013 after he filed a report about deadly floods while perched on a survivor’s shoulders. The reporter claimed the man who carried him while standing in ankle-high water had hoisted him onto his shoulders as a sign of respect.- Agencies