Girish Dattatrey Mahajan, Minister of Water Resources and Medical Education, says holding Karnataka responsible for the floods in western Maharashtra is illogical. Excerpts from an interview with The Indian Express:
Was your department slow in responding to the rising water levels in dams that led to the unprecedented floods?
There was no question of delay. There are laid-down guidelines and the process of monitoring of water in dams begins at the onset of monsoon. There is a team of officials for this and a mechanism in place, which was strictly followed.
What explains the flooding in Sangli and Kolhapur districts?
The floods ravaged Sangli and Kolhapur. It was devastating. More than four lakh people had to be relocated. Having said that, the rainfall in the catchment areas was unprecedented. The average rainfall was 400 mm for 24 hours for six days. According to experts, the course of the Krishna and Panchaganga rivers along with their tributaries are such, it does not facilitate rapid recession. Our experts are working to see if there were any shortcomings and how they could be rectified.
Would higher water discharge from Almatti dam have helped?
The Almatti dam is 250 km away from Sangli. Therefore, to hold Karnataka responsible is illogical. Communication between our officials and Karnataka on dam water regulations have been on since July 27. It is part of the process. When the rain intensified leading to flooding, there was immediate communication at the highest levels. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was communicating with his Karnataka counterpart B S Yediyurappa. Fadnavis also spoke to the PM, home minister and defence minister.
You landed in a controversy after your “selfie” video from flood-affected Kolhapur went viral?
I have not taken a single picture during the rescue and relief operations. At one point, our rescue boat had anchored and I was waving to an official. But then it went viral as a selfie. On the contrary, along with NDRF personnel, I waded through neck-deep water to reach out to 2,500 stranded people at Sangalwadi. We had to walk holding a thick rope. At another point our boat was hit by a huge iron structure submerged in water. I was warned of public anger. They were shouting and complaining. But gradually I calmed them down. In an hour’s time, a helicopter dropped food, milk and water packets.
You came under fire from the Opposition…
My intention is always to lend a helping hand to people in trouble. Fadnavis asked me to visit Kolhapur and then Sangli. Accordingly, when I saw the situation there, I felt I should reach out to the people and reassure them. I don’t wear my minister’s badge in such a situation. In the BJP, we always work as karyakartas. When Latur was rocked by earthquake, I was there to help the people. Our party was not in power. Yet we went as ordinary workers.