All about Men and Mice: Menace of rats upon mankind !
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

All about Men and Mice: Menace of rats upon mankind !

It was quite amusing to read a news item in the newspapers about the menace of rats that drank liquor and made home of the crevices in the embankments of River Kamalabalan near Ghanshayampur in Darbhanga of Bihar. This home-making by the rats was the cause for the devastating flood for humans, according to a Bihar Minister!  Metaphorically, rat is being used in number of ways in various languages including English. The most common one is the ‘Rat Race’ to suggest either the cut-throat competition  in business or to emphasise  the race for success in life among equals.

I am also reminded of the famous poem by Robert Browning ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’ where the Pied Piper was promised a fortune by the city Mayor to get rid of the menace of rats that plagued the city and once the city was rid of the rats the cunning and dishonest Mayor refuses to pay Pied Piper’s fee. In revenge, the Pied Piper retaliates by playing a magical tune which attracted all the children of the city who followed him to the dark cave where they would be confined to die.  I guess only two children survived — one blind and one lame — for obvious reasons.

It was only about four months back the Excise officials of Bihar were found stealing and enjoying the seized liquor in the dry State, where there is prohibition. When asked to explain, they had come up with a most brilliant explanation that even the best of criminal advocates could not think of. These officials had accused the rats of having drunk much of the seized liquor.

Now, when people were bombarding the Bihar’s Water Resources Minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh with questions about the State Government’s failure to prevent and also to regulate heavy floods that ravaged 20 districts of north Bihar where more than 500 people lost their lives and many thousands made homeless, believe it or not, this lallu-panju of a Minister lays the blame for the tragedy at the feet of north Bihar’s rats.

His tongue-in-cheek explanation with a poker face beats even a fool’s common sense. According to him the rats had damaged the river embankment which in turn caused the floods. He even tried to convince the journalists with a strange explanation.

He said the river was far away from the embankment and so the people encroached land around the embankment and stored their grains on a makeshift bamboo platform known as ‘Machan’. This attracts rodents, he said, which makes holes in the embankments to live and breed being close to the granary. This eventually led to seepage when the river was in spate leading to the breaching of embankment and flooding.

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He assured the journalists that the Government acted fast and plugged these rat-holes within 72 hours. It was as if this Minister has won a fierce battle against rats.

It was a battle of wits for the Water Resources Minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh with the scribes and naturally help came from his colleague Bihar’s Minister for Minor Irrigation and Disaster Management Dinesh Chandra Yadav, who spoke to the journalists in the following manner:

“This has been a problem for a long time, but what can you do?  Can anyone claim to have chased away rats from a place for ever? Mosquitoes and rats have always been a problem. Even after fumigation, mosquitoes come back.”

Not surprisingly, India’s famous fodder consuming human being Lalu Prasad Yadav, the RJD Chief, had taken a dig at the Bihar State Government saying, “Earlier rats have guzzled liquor, rats have been eating grains also; now rats are causing floods. If in Bihar, rats have become so powerful, then why not allow rats to run the Government?”

Be that as it may, this much can be said. It may not be unusual for rats to guzzle liquor or eat grains. But, I think a human being like Lalu Prasad Yadav consuming fodder, meant for cattle, is definitely unusual. Let it be.

Here, I am reminded of what I read in a semi-auto biographical book written by Codanda G. Somiah, IAS, who was working in Odisha and later retired as the Cabinet Secretary during Rajiv Gandhi’s time and was also the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in his book titled ‘The Honest Always Stand Alone’.

Here is what C.G. Somiah has written about the menace of rats when he was serving in Mayurbhanj in Orissa and how he solved the problem:

“One Sunday morning, while I was relaxing in my house, the Additional District Magistrate, who was my deputy, came to my residence in an agitated manner. He told me that, on opening the treasury strong room for his monthly inspection, he saw that rats had got into the room and had damaged the revenue stamps stored there. I asked him about the safety of the currency and he replied that it was safe as it was locked in the currency chest. I told him to consult the treasury code and inform all concerned about the damage to the stamps, as prescribed in the code.

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The next day he told me that he had made an inventory of the damage in the prescribed form in triplicate, sending one copy each to the Commissioner of the Division, the Finance Department and the Accountant General (AG), Orissa. I forgot about this incident in the rush of work until I got a letter from the AG’s office two months later asking for a clarification as to why the rats had attacked only the higher denomination stamps and not the lower, although they were stacked alongside. I initialled the letter and sent it down to the officer for putting up a suitable draft reply. Two reminders followed from the AG’s office and both of them were sent to the officer for action. Finally, I got a demi-official letter from the AG, chiding us for the delay in furnishing a reply and threatening to include the item as an audit para if an immediate reply was not forthcoming.

In the old days, officers were generally afraid of an audit para against them and I sought the explanation of the Additional Collector for the delay in replying. He appeared before me scratching his head and he said that he had no adequate answer to the query raised by the audit. I smiled, appreciating his difficulty and calling for my stenographer. I proceeded to dictate a reply to the AG. I expressed regret for the delay in replying to the audit query and then, tongue-in-cheek, I wrote that on receiving his irate reminder, I had gone to the treasury strong room, called a meeting of the rats who had damaged the, stamps, and                  the king rat had replied that they nibbled only the higher denomination stamps since they found the gum behind these stamps to be sweeter! I later learnt that, on receiving the reply, the AG’s office exploded in laughter and that was the end of the audit objection.”

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September 5, 2017

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