It's 9.30 am, and the old secretariat is still an uninhabited place. The policemen manning the entrance too are just settling down while a few chat leisurely.
Inside too, the corridors are empty, and the huge secretariat expanse wears a dull look except the one spacious 30X30 hall and the two adjacent, inter-connected rooms that house State Disaster Management office on the first floor.
Here, Principal Secretary Raj Kumar Singh has already seated himself straight on his office chair, forehead furrowed in thoughtfulness with a slight scowl settled somewhere in between.
A minute before, an assistant has been told to place a call to one District Magistrate, and the 1975 batch IAS officer is waiting eagerly to reach him.
A day before, while on a whirlwind tour to flood affected districts, Singh had found no breakfast in one of the relief camps set up for flood victims. Time to give the DM some boot.
The phone beeps, the district magistrate is on line. "Why? Where is the scarcity?" Singh hisses, before adding "please ensure breakfast is served to all relief camps." He hangs up but not before deciding to put the lapse on record.
A minute later, he is busy dictating letter number 266 to the district magistrates of the five flood affected districts of Araria, Supaul, Madhepura, Saharsa and Purnia. It reads-"ensure breakfast to every flood victim, set up more kitchens in every camp, pay the victims who help prepare food, change menu periodically and spend Rs 1000 to purchase musical instruments for each relief camps. No half-measures, we are dealing with the biggest evacuation of all times."
A month before, there was nobody interested what the disaster management was doing. Today all roads in Bihar seemingly lead to this room. That's obvious after the Kosi breached Kusaha embankment in Nepal on August 18, and picked a new channel- submerging over 1000 Bihar villages-that it had abandoned over 100 years ago.
Sitting next to Singh, Pratyaya Amrit-a 1991 batch IAS officer who has the charge of the additional commissioner's job-suggests a few additions which Singh accepts with a 'why not'.
Special Secretary and IPS officer, PN Rai, who sat across from them also chips in with his inputs. Incidentally, the three officers not only share one room but have just one table to rest their ideas on.
Indeed, ever since the unprecedented floods caused by Kosi shook Bihar, the state disaster management department has established a no-fuss decision making process, irrespective of the implementation part that is handled by the district officials and that has often appeared sloppy.
No wonder, Singh, Amrit and Rai take all decisions themselves. What's more, there is no head clerk to make a brief, no deputy secretary to attach a note or initiate a file, and department minister Nitish Mishra is just too SMS savvy to wait for the hard copies.
Among themselves, the three officers take care of three telephones in this room that buzz incessantly, while few junior officials can be seen punching several commands into the three computers that keep glowing almost 24X7, and the air-conditioner intermittently whistles, perhaps to register its annoyance over the sea of individuals who keep swarming the room.
The walls have satellite images of the flood affected areas, besides maps and whiteboards where almost every department's secretary, who visits this room, discuss a few things with disaster management officials.
Here, a deputy collector has been tasked to constantly update the figures of relief camps, health centres, quintals of food airdropped, number of evacuees, number of homes destroyed by flood fury, and the rest.
But, managing disaster is perhaps beyond managing a stockpile of statistics, and is always easier said than done.
And this Friday was particularly challenging-because both Orissa and the Central authorities wanted 37 motor boats and as many units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) back to coastal Orissa that had a cyclonic disaster.
But, despite Kosi maintaining a receding tend (the discharge was 69,800 cusec on Tuesday), the Bihar authorities are too unwilling to let the NDRF go because the river is traditionally known to swell to a peak by October.
Special Secretary PN Rai gets immediately busy on phone, trying to persuade the joint secretary in the defence ministry to put in a word. Amrit gets in touch with the Ministry of Home and National Disaster Management Authority, arguing Bihar case while Singh begins making alternative arrangements in case the NDRF has to go back.
By 1 pm-two hours after the crisis was reported-it was over, points taken and the battle won. The NDRF will stay put and a separate battalion from somewhere else be dispatched to Orissa.
In between, a series of people including UN Resident Coordinator Marvine Olson, Deputy Director Pieter Bult and Chandra Kant Mishra from United Nation Development Programme pay a visit.
By 2.30, the three secretaries decide to nibble at the frugal lunch packets served to them. Identical packets are made available for the junior officials in the adjacent room. Building Construction Secretary Arun Singh also pays a visit, and so did Animal Husbandry officials-both to discuss allotments for the reconstruction job.
Incidentally, the NDRF episode has left Bihar with some hard lessons to learn, Last year, the National Disaster Management Authority had sought land for stationing one NDRF battalion in Bihar-something the government failed to provide.
This year, Bihar took almost a week to mobilise resources and to begin evacuation on full scale after Kosi breached the embankment.
The time may not have been lost had the state authorities helped the NDRF set up a base in the state last year. Incidentally, the NDRF men have saved no less than 1 lakh human lives trapped in the swirling waters of the river Kosi.
But, this is not all. There is just too much pressure to pay the ex-gratia compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh for the missing by waiving the mandatory precondition that states that someone could be presumed to be dead only after being missing for seven years in case the body is not found.
Another round of phone calls made to various departments in New Delhi. The no-objection to this effect is obtained from the Centre by 4 pm.
"The Centre has no objection if Bihar begins paying ex-gratia compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh to the families of the missing people. Now I can get it done," RK Singh informs his colleagues. Order gets typed for convening a calamity relief fund meeting to this effect. Meanwhile, smaller yet frequent crisis situations keep on occurring-Madhepura District Magistrate says too many people were rushing into the mega camp and there was no further space for pitching more tents, there are some protests in Supaul, while reports about just one-time milk supply come from some camps.
As Amrit is a busy issuing instruction to the district magistrates, Principal Secretary, Food and Consumer Protection, Tripurari Sharan walks in. The issue at hand is just how much food grain was required at which centre. At present, 200 MT foodgrain is being consumed everyday, he says. "Stock for two months is to be arranged at the affected districts," says RK Singh.
As the shadow lengthens outside the secretariat, A UNICEF team arrives, seeking approval for therapeutic feeding of affected kids putting up in the Relief camps. Sanction granted, and in 10 minute time Amrit picks up the phone and asks all district magistrates to do the needful. This is perhaps the fastest decision making government machinery across the country.
At six pm, Principal Secretary Singh is summoned by the Chief Secretary. Rai is still busy speaking to some army authorities, seeking more tents while Amrit starts scanning reports sent to him through mobile inspector- a software that has been installed in the mobile phones of some officials through which they stay online within a close user group, and with Amrit.
These officials have sent some latest pictures of some relief camps-one of which had insufficient medical assistance while a few others need more toilets and other amenities.
By 6.45, Amrit is again at the phone, dialling district magistrates and following them about the mobile inspector reports.
In the adjacent room, the backroom boys-the three deputy collectors and a dozen employees-are busy jotting details of every distress phone calls, which they have received from flood victims during the last three weeks.
The indefatigable additional commissioner, meanwhile, is cautioning his juniors-"be very careful about the account books."
He does not elaborate but every one knows he was referring to the former Patna DM, Gautam Goswami, who was arrested and had to stay in judicial custody for allegedly swindling money meant for flood relief.
More phone calls are to be made, and as Amrit keeps shooting instructions. The three secretaries would perhaps leave by 9 pm.