Trying to tackle fires that have killed 30 people in nearly 50 incidents over the past month, Principal Secretary Vyasji sent an advisory to all district commissioners and magistrates on April 25 asking them to strictly ensure that no cooking was done in rural areas of the state after that hour of day, as part of its efforts to control fires.
While it sets no time for when the cooking can start again, a disaster management official shrugs, “As one cooks dinner only after 7 pm in most cases, there was no need to mention it.”
A 25-year-old man from Chakiya village in Arwal district, incidentally also called Nitish Kumar, threw a slipper at Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at his junta darbar on Monday, angry over this restriction on cooking as well as havans in villages.
The CM intervened to ensure Kumar, arrested for “disrupting government officials on duty”, got bail soon. However, that is more than can be said for the state government, as villagers as well as officials question the feasibility of implementing the order.
The Disaster Management Department advisory sent by the principal secretary said: “…of late, there have been reports of fire killing people and livestock and damaging crops. We have been issuing instructions from time to time to take steps to prevent fire incidences.
After observing recent fire cases, we need to strictly implement three measures in rural areas — not to cook after 9 am, any havan should be also performed before 9 am, and cut and dry roots of wheat in fields should not be burnt.”
Anyone found in violation of this, the advisory says, can face action under provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. It provides for unspecified fine or jail term up to two years or both, in case of any “sinister and wilful” violation.
The idea behind curtailing cooking and havans after 9 am is that the state often sees strong winds later in the day that can aggravate a fire.
Calling the advisory “ridiculous and impractical”, BJP leader and former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said, “Instead of making small fire tenders available at every police station, the government has come out with a whimsical, ridiculous and impractical advisory. The NDA government had decided to give a fire tender each to 850-odd police stations but only 170 have been given fire tenders so far. The advisory insults the poor.”
Dismissing those questioning the advisory, Disaster Management Department Minister Chandrashekhar said, “What would happen if people cook before 9 am till summers? The decision was taken after irresponsible cooking behaviour of some villagers. It is better to eat cold food than see one’s house burning.” He added that penal action would only be taken against those who acted “irresponsibly and cooked after 9 am when westerly winds blow”.
Patna DM Sanjay Kumar Agrawal said, “So far, we have not received any complaint regarding the advisory. We have engaged circle officers, BDOs and mukhiyas and sarpanches. It is more a kind of awareness drive and request to public.”
A Gaya police officer confirmed they hadn’t received any case of “violation” in the past week since the advisory came into force. “We only get to know when there is a fire incident. In most cases, the reasons for the fire cannot be ascertained,” he said.
Patna SSP Manu Maharaj said they had looked into the antecedents of the youth who threw the slipper at the CM “to rule out any larger conspiracy”. The Arwal police, that has not found anything incriminating against Kumar, has found that he is unemployed and a frequent visitor to janta darbars, and had once created a ruckus at Sushil Kumar Modi’s meeting when he was deputy CM.
Police say that during interrogation, Kumar had asked them whether the CM was a Hindu for having passed the curbs on havans. The CM, who laughed off the slipper incident, has also defended the advisory. “We have to think in the larger interest of people and take preventive steps,” he said Monday.