Comic relief

How will the government use the money collected in the name of relief ?

Published: Thursday 15 March 2001

If the experience of the government's handling of situations in Orissa and Gujarat earlier show anything, they show that the role of the government in managing relief after a tragedy has been questionable. Today a sizeable amount of money has been collected in the name of disaster relief and the union finance minister intends to put a surcharge on incomes to create a special fund for reconstruction and development following disasters. The question uppermost on everyone's minds is how will this fund be managed and how well will it be managed? There is the fear that this may become part of the great Indian patronage network.

The cost of rehabilitating Gujarat has been estimated at Rs 20,000 crore and this exercise will involve superhuman skills of coordination and management. It is therefore very important to develop a system that combines transparency with efficiency so that every rupee is utilised in the best possible manner.

Unfortunately the government has learnt nothing. This was reflected in the sheer callousness of petty officials who held up foreign rescue teams, equipment and aid at airports so that they could fill out forms before proceeding to help out the victims. Therefore it will be desirable if the union and state government come up with procedures to streamline and speed up the delivery of this money to those that need it most.

When it comes to disbursing relief, time and transparency are crucial. Relief must be directed with speed to those that need it most as relief delayed is relief denied. But will the government babu who only wants to work on overtime be able to do so?

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