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In the Gujarat camps, sans relief
By DIONNE BUNSHA
Frontline: Volume 19 - Issue 10, May 11-24, 2002
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU
NOORBANU SHEIKH is in a dilemma: she does not know whether to encash or return to the government the cheque she received after waiting for two months. Her house was destroyed when a mob went on the rampage in Bismillah Nagar at Vatva in Ahmedabad. All that she got was Rs.500. "In a month, the rains will start. How will we stay in the relief camp then? We want to rebuild our house, but the government hasn't given us enough money even to buy a tin sheet," says Noorbanu. "We left with nothing but the clothes on our backs. No one will give us a loan."
After Noorbanu and others in the Jehangir Nagar relief camp at Vatva received paltry sums as compensation for housing, the occupants of the camp have refused the government's cheques. Of the 300-odd families in the camp, only 23 have received housing compensation so far.
The refugees' hopes of returning home grow dimmer as the violence continues and the government's half-hearted rehabilitation measures fail to provide any real support. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's efforts to reassure the riot-affected people during his visit to Gujarat on April 4 came rather late - 35 days after the violence began. His promises regarding relief and rehabilitation have not yet been implemented properly by the State government. The only time Chief Minister Narendra Modi visited a relief camp housing Muslims was when he trailed the Prime Minister.
During his visit, the Prime Minister promised the following rehabilitation measures to the more than 1.5 lakh refugees:
* The families of those killed would be paid Rs.1 lakh each from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund, in addition to the Rs.50,000 being given to each of the affected families by the State government.
* Those who suffered permanent disability in the violence would be given Rs.50,000.
* Housing compensation in the rural areas would be Rs.15,000 for those whose homes have been partially damaged and Rs.50,000 for those whose homes have been completely destroyed. In the urban areas, the Central government would bear the cost of reconstruction on the basis of an estimate made after a comprehensive survey.
* The Centre would bear the entire cost of rehabilitation of orphans and widows.
* Children in relief camps would be provided textbooks and one set of school uniform each.
* Free ration of 35 kg for two months to below-poverty-line families in the violence-hit areas.
Most of the families of those killed have not received compensation because they are unable to produce proof of death, says Mohsin Kadri, organiser of the Shah Alam relief camp, the largest in Ahmedabad, which shelters 13,000 refugees. He points out that in the Shah Alam camp only seven of the 131 families which have lost their members have received cheques for Rs.40,000. They are supposed to get an additional Rs.70,000 in the form of government bonds. This still does not add up to the Rs.1,50,000 promised by the government. Yet, Ahmedabad Collector K. Srinivas insisted that his administration had paid compensation in 206 instances in the city and only 37 families remained to be paid.
In every camp in Ahmedabad, people complained about the under-valuation of property lost. "Most of the people have got cheques for Rs.2,000 to 3,000. No one here has received more than Rs.14,000 as compensation, which is only a fraction of the actual value of their houses and belongings," said a camp organiser at Vatva. In rural Gujarat, the situation is no better. At Bamanwad village in Panchmahal district, Ganibhai Khatri's house was razed to the ground. He received only Rs.23,075 as compensation, instead of the Rs.50,000 promised by the Prime Minister. In this village the houses of around 27 Muslim families were burned. Yet, only seven families have received compensation. The government has not even recognised the presence of the relief camp in the village. Hindu neighbours of those in the camp have been helping them with food for the past two months.
In the cities, the poor have been stranded within the ghettoes on account of the curfew. Mostly casual labourers, they have been without work for the past two months. The Prime Minister had promised 35 kg of free rations to below-poverty-line families. But the stocks have yet to arrive in the ration shops. Collector Srinivas said the government had increased the allotment to 70 kg and stocks would be distributed in May. However, many may still be excluded because of the criteria set for below-poverty-line classification.
Hardly any action has been taken on the Prime Minister's promises regarding the rehabilitation of orphans and widows. Children in the camps were not given the promised textbooks and uniforms. In fact, some children studying in private schools in Vadodara could not sit for their examinations because their parents did not have the money to pay their fees.
Every family in the relief camps was supposed to receive a cash dole of Rs.1,250 to compensate for the loss of immediate belongings, including clothes and shoes. The government suddenly woke up and started distributing the dole a day before Vajpayee was scheduled to arrive. At the Dariya Khan Ghummat camp at Shahibaug in Ahmedabad distribution of the dole was stopped when it became known that the Prime Minister would not be visiting the camp. Only half of the 1,000-odd families received their cheques. Even in the Shah Alam camp, distribution of the cheques started the evening before Vajpayee's arrival and stopped when he left. Only 1,400 of the camp's 2,200 families received the dole.
Besides failing to fulfil the Prime Minister's promises, the government has neglected to provide basic facilities such as tents, fans and toilets in adequate numbers. The Shah Alam camp has 38 toilets for 13,000 people. Even this many were installed a day before Vajpayee's visit. With the temperature reaching 450C, the illnesses are on the rise. "Government doctors are not regular and their medication is not effective. We have to call private doctors to the camp," said Kadri. In the Surendranagar camp in Ahmedabad, the government arbitrarily reduced the number of refugees from 4,000 to 2,200. Accordingly, supplies were also reduced. "The government officials stopped taking into account those who had received housing compensation. These people still cannot go back to their homes. Attacks continue every day,"said Farukhbhai Pathan, a camp organiser. "But the government refuses to provide for them anymore."
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