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February 5, 2001
Colonel Anil Athale (retd)
God save us from the Babus
This is one article that I hoped I would never have to write, when everyone in the country empathises with the earthquake victims in Gujarat. But the outburst of a frustrated zilla-dhish (owner of the district, the term Babus use for themselves) or District Collector Kamal Dayani accusing the armed forces of pilfering relief material was a little too much. Since the armed forces have their constraints and are in any case too busy in relief work, I consider it my duty to set the record straight.
The Babu from Kutch is unique. Even in Kashmir where the Army has been carrying out hundreds of search operations, there have been many accusations about custodial deaths etc, but never has it been accused of pilfering or stealing.
But then the Corrupt, Ignorant and Arrogant Babus are a unique breed. The word Babu has been deliberately used because the other conventional term 'civil servant' is a great misnomer, for the Indian Babus are seldom 'civil' in their behaviour and certainly do not regard themselves as servants of the people.
Although the Gujarat earthquake is a calamity of gigantic proportions and no country, even the rich and mighty United States, could have been prepared to deal with the human and material damage on this scale. To that extent one understands the lack of heavy equipment etc. But what is inexcusable and deplorable is that while relief goods pile up at one place, at another place people go hungry or without tents or blankets.
The reason this is happening is because there is no central coordinating authority. This is one job that the army is well equipped and trained to perform. In Gujarat this has not happened so far simply because the civil administration seems to have refused to hand over the situation to the army.
Kutch is not the Himalayas, and with helicopters at their disposal, the armed forces could have in matter of 24 hours assessed the damage, established wireless communication with all affected habitations, established a control room at Ahmedabad and Bhuj and directed the stream of relief to various places.
It is a standard military practice to divide the affected area into sectors and delegate responsibility to various units who then carry on their job. That this has apparently not happened in Gujarat is a great shame and shows the extent to which politicians can go to remain in 'control.'
Once the immediate task is done, the armed forces would have relinquished control to civil authority for the long term task of rehabilitation.
Obviously, party interests and the bloated egos of the Babus has been given priority over saving human lives and reducing the misery of citizens.
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