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Rehabilitation, the peopleís way
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Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Gujarat Earthquake: News from the Epicentre

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Rehabilitation, the peopleís way
Vipin Pubby

The impromptu relief that came in from different parts of the country and abroad in the wake of the earthquake in Gujarat was, indeed, overwhelming. Such was the extent of relief material pouring into the quake-affected areas that the authorities were not able to clear it from the airports, railway stations and the temporary warehouses for several days. There was indeed no dearth of foodgrains, clothes, medicines and packed food, though effective distribution in remote areas remained a problem.

Several of these consignments were addressed to no one in particular and had no names or addresses of the consignees. Teams comprising students, social workers, professionals, religious and social organisations besides those from corporate houses and even other state governments made a commendable contribution and many of them are still on the job.

After the immediate need for rescue and relief operations, it is now time to take on the gigantic task of rebuilding and rehabilitation. The state has prepared a Rs 20,000-crore rehabilitation and reconstruction package. As per its estimate, about 7,900 villages were adversely affected besides extensive damage at Bhuj (30,000 houses), Anjar (15,000 houses), Bhachau (7,500 houses) and Rapar (7,000 houses). Over 150 buildings at Ahmedabad, Gandhidham and Surat had either collapsed or were left uninhabitable.

Apart from the Central government, a large number of organisations have volunteered to help in the rehabilitation process. The state government has also come out with a scheme seeking peopleís participation on a cost-sharing basis. It has invited voluntary organisations and others to participate under four schemes prepared by it. Under the first scheme, the government would contribute a matching amount of Rs 1.5 crore to shift or reconstruct villages where 70 per cent of houses were destroyed. Under the three other schemes, it announced grants for rebuilding or repairing destroyed houses.

Not surprisingly, while various organisations are still involved in rehabilitation, there has been a lukewarm response to the schemes announced by the government. For one, the governmentís track record has not been encouraging for others to associate themselves with its schemes. Although the extent of corruption may not be as daunting in Gujarat as in several other states, the NGOs and others willing to participate fear that officials would demand their cut or would raise obstacles, rather than help them out.

This lack of confidence in government machinery is also evident in the relief being routed through it. The Chief Ministerís Relief Fund has received a contribution of only Rs 30 crore. Even its own employees, who have been asked to contribute 10 per cent of a monthís salary to the fund, are reluctant to pass on the amount to the government and have volunteered to send their own team with the amount collected for rehabilitation work. The state governmentís record of handling the 1998 Kandla cyclone is still fresh in memory. Out of its proposal to construct 3,100 houses for families identified by it, no more than 240 have so far been constructed.

Even the Gujarat High Court was recently constrained to issue directives on the proper distribution of funds and rehabilitation measures. The court also asked associate district judges to receive complaints and grievances of victims and to act as ombudsman in their jurisdictions.

The need of the hour is to have an agency which is completely independent of government control yet accountable to the people. The government could take a leaf out of the apex courtís direction in the Narmada case. It asked the state government to set up a regulatory authority for rehabilitation of Narmada oustees. Thus the Grievances Redressal Authority (GRA) was set up in February 1999 under the chairmanship of former Chief Justice P D Desai, which subsequently came in for praise from the Supreme Court as well as Narmada Bachao Andolan. The Authority was vested with full administrative and financial powers under a government resolution. Under the provisions, the powers to wind up the Authority or change its chairman were vested with the Chief Justice of India. The chairman was authorised to select his team of officials and all its directions were made binding on the government. The funds were received in the name of the Authority and its accounts audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Onlysuch an Authority can instill confidence among the various organisations willing to work for rehabilitation.

Copyright © 2001 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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