People in distress get little relief

Friday 13 September 2013

Centre to give Rs 6,687 crore to Uttarakhand for building and reconstruction projects. How much of it will reach people?

imagePradeep Singh DamiÔÇÖs two-storey house in Tawaghat in Pithoragarh District, fell like a pack of cards on June 17 when the raging Kaliganga river ate away a chunk of the hill beneath his house. Dami had savings which helped him rent a small room in Dharchula town for his family of five. From a shop owner, he is now a shop assistant and earns barely enough to feed his family.

In tough times, unlike others, Dami doesn’t curse his fate. He curses the administration. “My house was newly constructed. The officials granted my house a sanction and then I started construction. Now, I come to know that my village was one of the many that were supposed to be shifted as the land is unstable. Why was I given a sanction if the government knew we would be doomed sooner or later,” he says. 

Not many have been as fortunate as Dami. Several villages in Darma valley in Pithoragarh are now ghost towns. Only mules, goats and cows inhabit the villages of Sobla, Dhar, Bongling, Sela, Nangling, Baling, Dugtu, Dantu, Tidang, Bidang and Dawe. 

The arterial road that connected the valley to Dharchula sub division is damaged; even after three months of the tragedy, the roads are still being repaired. Everyday people have to risk their lives, walking over the loose debris that was once somebody’s house. A wrong step and there is always a risk of falling right into the wild river. 

Ajit Singh Rongchu was crossing a gaping crater on the road to Dharchula, balancing two canisters of ghee. He is a resident of Sobla. Having spent 50 years of his life in the village, he is unable to recognize it now. He was airlifted to safety but four of his cows are still there grazing in the open. After the rains subsided, he went back to his village, found his cows, built a small shelter with tarpaulin provided by the government and is living there. 

“I lost everything in the disaster. From where will I pay rent and feed my family? My cows are my only hope,” he says. 

But didn’t chief minister Vijay Bahuguna promise Rs 3,000 as rent to people, displaced in the disaster, for the next one year? “I read in papers that he has. But, we did not get a penny. Some did get a small amount. But they had to bribe the officials to get that. I do not have anything to bribe,” he says. 

Rongchu’s neighbor, Jaman Singh, lives in a camp in Dharchula Government College, with his family of six people. “When the government first got us here in this camp, we were promised pukka houses. Now, we are promised house rent. We did not even get that. Those who get the money, get Rs 2,000 every two months. With so many people looking for houses, the rent has increased. I don’t know where we will go. I am scared that the government may shove us into tin camps,” he says. 

With the cry for rebuilding Uttarakhand, the major question that arises is: where is the land? Soon after the disaster, in the heat of the moment, the chief minister announced pukka camps for the displaced. But soon authorities realised that once a family settles on a piece of land they would not vacate it easily and this will lead to a major problem. So the  scheme to distribute money for rent was declared, said an official in the rural development department of the Uttarakhand government on condition of anonymity. 

“Uttarakhand doesn’t even have a resettlement and rehabilitation policy. Whether people are displaced by dams or because of disaster, there is no state policy to rehabilitate them. Every time there is a disaster, the state starts from scratch,” says Ravi Chopra of Dehradun-based advocacy group, People’s Science Institute. 

During the earthquake in 1999, the list of 25,000 affected people went through series of revisions. People went to court, and the categories of compensation had to be revised at least three times. Since elections were round the corner, Chamoli district for some reason got the money while Rudraprayag remained deprived. People were handed out first installment of Rs 10,000 and then nothing happened. The money just stopped coming, says Chopra.

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1,150 villages need rehabilitation 

According to official figures, about 600 villages have been affected in the June disaster and these villages will have to be rehabilitated. Till 2010, the state had prepared a list of 243 villages to be rehabilitated and the number of vulnerable villages had risen to 550 in 2013. Till date, only Chatikhal, in Rudraprayag district, has been partially rehabilitated. After the disaster, the number of total villages that need to be rehabilitated stands at 1,150. 

The state that is cribbing about the lack of land for rehabilitating these villages vulnerable to natural calamities has been generous in distributing land to corporate, builders, religious organisations and politicians. The chief minister has squandered away about 100,000 hectares of land in this manner, says Purushottam Sharma, social activist. 

According to Uttarakhand chief secretary Subhash Kumar, Union Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) agreed to sanction Rs 6,687 crore to the state for its rebuilding and reconstruction projects. The money is a part of a proposal for Rs 13,800 crore sent by Uttarakhand government as financial assistance to the state for rebuilding calamity-hit Uttarakhand districts. The state made the proposal on the basis of estimates of losses suffered by the state. He says the state government will get a loan of Rs 3,000 crore from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank (WB) as externally-aided project as a part of the Rs 6,687 crore financial assistance. He says 90 per cent of the loan will be repaid by Central government while 10 per cent is to be repaid by state government. Apart from the Rs 3000 crore loan, Rs 1,187 crore will released for the National Disaster Response Force, Rs1,500 crore from Centrally-aided projects and another Rs 1,500 crore as additional Central aid.

“Unpredictability of rainfall and unique geographical conditions of the state have made the rehabilitation exercise difficult. Hundreds of villages have been swept away. It will be naive to bind the reconstruction and rehabilitation exercise in Uttarakhand within a specific time-frame,” says Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre (DMMC) chief Piyush Rautela.

Judiciary intervenes

Environmentalists and experts had warned of the consequences of overexploitation of the ecologically fragile Himalayas long ago. The disaster that struck Uttarakhand on June 16-17 this year proved their point. Several activists headed to courts, seeking intervention to put a stop to unplanned and haphazard development in the state. On July 1, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna imposed a blanket ban on construction of residential and commercial complexes in low-lying areas along rivers. Since then courts have also issued directives one after the other to stem unplanned development.

August 13, Supreme Court order: In the judgement in Alaknanda Hydro Power Co. Ltd Vs. Anuj Joshi & Ors, the Supreme Court ordered the Central and state governments not to grant environmental clearance for any hydro-power project in Uttarakhand till further orders. The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) was directed to constitute an expert body to make a detailed study as to whether hydroelectric power projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the tragedy that occurred in Uttarakhand in June. The expert body would consist of the representatives of the state government, Central Electricity Authority, Central Water Commission and other expert bodies. Uttarakhand's Disaster Management Authority is to submit a report on whether it had any disaster management plan in place and how effective that plan was in combating the unprecedented tragedy. The court said that the reports should be submitted within a period of three months

August 26, Uttarakhand High court: On a petition filed by Rishikesh-based social activist Sanjay Vyas, the Uttarakhand High Court banned all construction activity within 200 metre of all rivers in the state, including the Ganga and its tributaries such as the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Mandakini, Pindar, Kali and Gouri, with immediate effect.

August 26: National Green Tribunal (NGT) On a petition moved by the Legal Aid Committee of NGT Bar Association Vs. Union of India & Ors, NGT prohibited any new construction in the entire Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone, particularly on the river bed and river banks of the main rivers or the tributaries. These  restrictions would not apply to renovation or restoration of buildings/houses which had been legally constructed. An environment ministry notification dated December 18, 2012 has declared the entire stretch of river Bhagirathi, from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand, covering an area of 4,179.59 sq km, as eco-sensitive zone.

The tribunal said Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) should conduct pre-environmental and ecological study prior to road widening in cases where such activities have serious consequences not just for the ecology but also for people living in the area. The bench added that the committee formed by the Supreme Court earlier this month to study the impact of hydroelectric projects on the biodiversity of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi river basins should submit a report to the green tribunal as well. It directed the state to prepare a complete list of illegal construction, particularly on the river beds and banks, and the extent of damage resulting from such construction on the environment. It asked the government to also state the extent of compensation payable, on the principle of “polluters pays”, for damaging and degrading the environment of the area.

Compensation enhanced on afterthought
After facing flak from several quarters for late response during the disaster, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuga made changes in some of the announcements he had made in a hurry. Here is a list of what he doled out to the disaster-affected just after the flood and a few weeks after assessment:


S.no

Incident

Compensation Earlier

Compensation Now

1

Death

Rs 3 lakh

Rs 5 lakh

2

Disabled

Rs 1.50 lakh

Rs 2 lakh

3

40 per cent disabled

Rs 1 lakh

Rs 1.5 lakh

4

Injured

Rs 20,000

Rs 30,000

5

Minor damages

Rs 10,000

Rs 15,000

6

House fully damaged

Rs 1 lakh

Rs 2 lakh

7

House partially damaged

Rs 50,000

Rs 1 lakh

Other announcements and significant developments post disaster:


S.no

Date

Government relief

1

June 20

Centre gave an assistance of Rs 1,000 crore to Uttarakhand, Rs 147 crore released immediately; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured Rs 2 lakh to the kin of deceased, 1 lakh for people who lost their homes from National Disaster Response Fund.

2

June 21

Jairam Ramesh promised Rs 340 crore for repair and rebuilding of village roads

3

June 25

Union Tourism Minister Chiranjeevi promised Rs 1 crore to state

4

June 26

Kin of chopper crash victims promised Rs 10 lakh

5

June 27

Agricultural land damage relief: Rs 5,000 per nail (25.10 acres appx) and Rs 6,000 for dead cattle

6

June 30

Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna admitted for the first time that at least 3,000 people were killed in the disaster, said if the missing do not return home in next 30 days, they would be declared dead

7

July 1

Chief minister bans construction along rivers

8

July 2

To connect rural areas, state government ordered 19 valley bridges

9

July 3

Supreme Court asked state to file affidavit on disaster

10

July 6

Chief minister admits slow progress in rehabilitation and relief work, reshuffles government officials

11

July 7

Government decided to dig tunnel in Sirobagar; NDRF deployed in state

12

July 9

Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims rescued from Gunji and brought to Dharchula

13

July 10

Cabinet Committee on Uttarakhand rehabilitation formed by prime minister; chief minister declared rehabilitation would be done under supervision of prime minister

14

July 12

Supreme Court gave 2 weeks time to file affidavit on rescue work in Uttarakhand

15

July 14

Chief minister announced villages under threat would be shifted to safer places

16

July 15

Chief minister orders repair of Char Dham route in 15 days

17

July 19

Affected people who live on rent would be given Rs 25,000

18

July 20

Govt announced construction of temporary bridge near Rambara

19

July 27

Widows to be given Rs 25,000 to start business

20

July 28

Illegal houses will also get compensation

21

July 30

Kin of transport corporations to get permanent jobs

 

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