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February 5, 2001
The Rediff Interview/Gujarat Opposition leader Amarsinh Chaudhry
Amarsinh Chaudhry, former chief minister and leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat assembly has criticised the government severely for the mismanagement of relief work in the areas affected by the earthquake. The politician was unable to tour the devastated region earlier because of his wife's death. He spoke with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt about his assessment of the ground situation and the politics within the state BJP.
What is your opinion of the relief work so far?
The government machinery is paralysed today. The situation wasn't good even before the earthquake. Ministers don't trust the bureaucrats. The calamity struck in this atmosphere of distrust. There is no coordination whatsoever. I don't see it at any level. I went to the civil hospital in Bhuj on February 4. It is destructed. There are still at least 70, 80 dead bodies there. The work is slow, the bodies have not yet been extricated.
One hundred and seventeen bodies were recovered from under the debris of Gokul Apartments by private contractors. The Army reached there late. Fortytwo families lived there, but there is no security, electricity or tents on the site. Lots of things belonging to the victims are lying there, it should be protected. Where is the security?
NGOs are bringing aid and distributing it at their own will. Where is the coordination? The needy are deprived of the necessities and others are siphoning off the aid. There is large scale of favouritism in distribution. The upper class is getting help first and the poor in villages are deprived. Most favoured are members of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal.
The Muslims of Kutch are being ignored. When they come for aid, they are denied. Fakir Mohammad and Jummabhai are doing relief work, ask them? In Adhoi, 12, 000 people have become homeless, the town now looks like a kabrastan (graveyard). But no one is doing anything about it.
Now the government has decided to distribute tents and quilts only through elected representatives. What do you think of this arrangement?
It will not work. Simply because the BJP lost badly in the last election in the interiors of the Kutch districts. We (the Congress) have a majority in the villages, and the BJP is dominant in towns. In the villages, the BJP supporters will complain and in cities the Congress worker will suffer.
What, according to you, is required to be done now?
Just stop the distribution of bhajiyas, pendas and ghathiyas. Give them grain. They have started relief work since the past two days only. Now people want shelter which could last for one year. They need warm clothes and petromax lamps to use inside tents.
Do you think Kutch will recover quickly?
In the rural areas they will come up on their own. But it will take two years. There are lots of complaints.
Actually, Keshubhai Patel's government is trying to rejuvenate the party through this calamity. They received brickbats in the last local self-government election. They lost badly, now they are trying to recover through this.
See when the aid arrives, BJP leaders grab it because the government machinery is with them. Rapar and Bhachau are totally destructed. Congressmen are finding it difficult to get relief material. Another important thing is that this time aid is coming from all over world, but not in cash.
No one trusts this government just now. People prefer not to contribute to the CM's relief fund. Lots of material has arrived. Goods are coming which are of temporary use. I would like to appeal to the people to give something that can last -- like steel utensils to cook etc.
What about the politics within the BJP?
Of course, the BJP is divided in two groups. Suresh Mehta has his own identity. Another group is led by Assembly Speaker Dhirubhai Shah and Mukesh Jhaveri, the MLA from Bhuj. This group is sponsored by Chief Minister Patel. They never sit together. Because of the struggle between these two groups, work is never accomplished. The Congress workers are not heard. I don't think the BJP will be able to do the work -- in the way it was done in Latur.
Because this government does not have any idea about what they are supposed to do. I don't think the government can take up the challenge of facing this calamity. The ministry is paralysed, the bureaucracy is working half heartedly because few months back three IAS officers have been suspended (on corruption charges) and they are scared. After suspending them, Chief Minister Patel said some others were on his hit list. Anyone can come up on his hit list. They are working, but they are very disappointed. In the long run their enthusiasm will die.
None of the BJP leaders have any decisive powers. Keshubhai does not trust Suresh Mehta, his own cabinet minister, he trusts Lavendru Mansingh, (a bureaucrat, the chief coordinator of Kutch)
Design: Dominic Xavier
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