Doda Quake Victims Waiting For Adequate Relief Package

Doda Quake Victims Waiting For Adequate Relief Package

20 May 2013
The Asian Age
Yusuf Jameel

Srinagar: About three weeks ago, parts of Jammu and Kashmir’s Chenab valley were rocked by an earthquake with epicentre somewhere ten miles below the surface of earth near the picturesque town of Bhaderwah. Though there were only couple of fatal casualties, thousands of residential houses, schools, hospitals and other government buildings have either been razed to the ground or damaged-fully or partially, leaving vast population of the hilly region homeless. The government’s response to the calamity was somewhat tardy and now when it is trying to cope with the situation the resources available to it are scanty compared to the magnitude of the devastation. As aftershocks continue, the people live under constant fear of a major catastrophe striking them. Rumours and misinformation are only adding to their woes. The fear psychosis has already driven hundreds of families out of the region. Those who decided to stay put can be seen offering animal sacrifices and organising yajnas or yagyas, the ancient Hindu ritual of offering and sublimating the havana sámagri (herbal preparations) in the fire, on daily basis to ward off assumed cataclysm. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah earlier this week met Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in New Delhi to seek '400 crores worth special Central package for the victims of the May 1 earthquake in Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban districts. He also submitted a copy of a comprehensive report prepared by the Jammu and Kashmir officials to the Prime Minister giving a detailed account of the devastation. Earlier, Union health minister ghulam Nabi Azad, accompanied by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chief M. Shashidhar Reddy, had briefed the Prime Minister on the situation. Mr Azad is originally a resident of a village near Bhaderwah which is among the worst hit in the tremor and has twice visited the area in the wake of the calamity. Mr Abdullah tweeted “Called on the PM. Briefed him about the situation in the State and particularly about Doda. He assured all help to the affected people…when I say Doda, I mean the erstwhile district-Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban’’. The chief minister has urged the Centre to come up with response similar to the one announced by it for the victims of the August 2010 cloudburst in Ladakh’s Leh town. The Prime Minister had immediately after the incident released '125 crore worth special financial assistance from the Centre for the Leh residents. The cloudbursts had claimed over 200 lives and left nearly 1,000 injured, besides causing huge devastation of public and government properties. The chief minister is reported to have pleaded that though only couple of lives have been lost in May 1 earthquake, the devastation is huge and thousands of families have been left without shelter. Official sources said that the report on the May 1 earthquake submitted to the Prime Minister says that under State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), there was provision of only '35,000 worth compensation for fully damaged pucca house and '15,000 for fully damaged kucha houses, '6,300 for severely damaged pucca house and '3,200 for severely damaged kucha house, '1,900 for partially damaged pucca and kucha houses and '1,250 for damaged cattle shed. “By no means, this compensation could heal the wounds of earthquake victims as it was too meager to repair the damaged houses and property,’’ its adds. Hence, the Prime Minister is expected to come up with a special Central package to help the victims, the sooner the better. According to official statistics, as many as 47,513 houses have been damaged in Doda district including 678 fully, 10,255 severely and 29,317 partially. Bhaderwah town bore the brunt of the damage. In Kishtwar district, about 100 houses have been fully damaged while 2,815 were severely damaged and about 19,000 were partially damaged. The damage was comparatively less in Ramban district. The report also says that in Doda district, damage to government infrastructure was around '89 crores while in Kishtwar, it was '8 crores and in Ramban, '1.5 crores. In Doda district, about 500 schools, 14 Primary Health Centres and 279 Community Health Centres have been damaged while in Kishtwar district, 169 schools were damaged. Officials say that if the compensation to the victims is paid as per Leh pattern, it would come around '450 crores, including the renovation of damaged government infrastructure. Under the SDRF, it would be less than '50 crores as the SDRF norms have not been revised for quite some time. The state government has already released '25 crores under the provision. The Centre had announced ten thousand tents for the earthquake victims in Doda, Kishtwar and Bhaderwah areas but reports from the region said that only 3,400 tents have been provided to the local administration. People have also complained of “inadequate” relief and rescue measures initiated by the government and there have been huge protests by them. “No doubt, anger among the people is brewing but we are helpless. We can’t do much for them with meagre resources available to us,” said a local official on the condition of anonymity. At public protests past week, many people complained that even the tents made available to the administration were provided to only “influential” people and political interference is perceptible in the relief officials’ reaching out to the victims. However, Mr Azad assured “best possible” assistance and relief will be provided to the affected population. “A team of National Disaster Management Authority New Delhi (NDMA) is already on the job to assess the extent of damage in residential as well as government buildings” he assured the people who met him earlier this week. Rejecting the Opposition’s criticism over “leaving the earthquake victims at the mercy of God,” a senior ruling National Conference leader Devender Singh Rana said, “This is a human problem which needs human tackling and not political wrangling.”