The Rediff Special/Archana Masih
Rebuilding from the Rubble
Part I: The Courage of Bhuj
Part III: The Warriors of Peace
Part IV: Banking in the Spoils
Part V: Images of Bhuj
They sit at two tables -- four clerks each -- with endless queues before them. With separate tables for men and women, these men at the Bhuj revenue office have been distributing cash since 11 am. It is now 4 pm and things are beginning to get out of hand...
The queue for cash compensation at the revenue office
"We have been standing here since the morning and look what they have done now? They have randomly distributed tokens till 50 and will stop after that!" Kalpanaben Vyas screams in anger. She has reason to. The earthquake forced her to move to a relative's home 100 kms from Bhuj. This is the third time she has travelled back for the government's cash assistance of Rs 2,000.
Since a one way trip costs Rs 60, she decides to spend the night at some camp in the city and queue up again the following morning. Others in the long queue say that earlier the money was distributed in their respective wards, before being moved to this office. If only there was some prior information about this relocation, it would save them some bother.
But District Collector Anil Mukim clarifies that most of the cash disbursement had already been completed and only those who had not yet collected it had to go to the revenue office. "Moreover, Bhuj is such a small place where word of mouth is the strongest way of passing information," says Mukim, who took over as collector of Kutch a week after the earthquake. His predecessor Kamal Dayani was removed because the government was not too pleased with the way he handled the situation in the catastrophe's aftermath.
District Collector Anil Mukim
The Gujarat government had announced Rs 600 for each family member, up to a maximum of Rs 2,000 per family. The money could be collected on showing a ration card in their respective wards. Most locals agree that though they had to spend many days queuing up, they had received the promised money. The ration, including rice, wheat, flour and kerosene was also being distributed by the public distribution system. But many complain it is yet to happen, and more than rations -- it is shelter that remains a bigger problem.
A month after the quake, the homeless remain confused about their future. The government has yet to arrive at a decision on a housing rehabilitation package for the towns. Hence, residents do not know whether they will be re-established in their own areas or will be relocated. Further still, they are clueless about how this journey into a new home will be brought about.
The state government, consistently criticised for its tardy functioning in disbursing relief, maintains it will have the package ready in a few days. That it has already announced a few packages concerning industry and immediate relief, had announced housing package for villages and that the modalities for housing in towns was being worked upon.
"In villages, we want to have one room houses with toilets ready before the monsoon. For towns, where we are still clearing the rubble, the policy has not been formulated yet," says Lavendru Mansingh, chief co-ordinator of relief work in Kutch. Both Mukim and Mansingh, whose offices are opposite each other in the collectorate, have been coordinating operations from damaged rooms.
Kutch Relief Co-ordinator
Before giving an insight into the rural rehab programme, Mansingh specifies that with the government's immediate relief phase completed, the reconstruction phase is now at hand. The distribution of cash doles is almost over, household kits have been distributed and the compensation process begun.
Rural reconstruction, he explains, would be a plan where the villagers will decide whether they want to relocate or continue living on their previous site. A survey by the government is already going on and the report is expected before February 28. If individuals want to relocate, they can decide on an alternate site -- which the government presumes will be near the original site. If it is private land, then the government will negotiate with the landowner.
Every cluster of villages will have a centre providing them information about quake-proof housing and other building facilities. HUDCO has offered assistance. The government will also see that construction material is made available at reasonable rates.
These claims may sound too good to be true, but Mansingh says, "The government can't be expected to do everything. The people should get involved. We don't want to be in a Latur-kind of situation, where the government built townships but no one lives there."
District officials say the Centre has given complete support. In Mansingh's words: "The support had been unprecedented. We couldn't have asked for more. The mobilisation of the army, the movement of relief material -- we have got their full backing."
In neighbouring Sukhpar, villagers say they are not aware of any housing package. Many in the totally devastated village say they don't even have tents just now, so thinking about one room houses was a distant dream. Some return to their collapsed home to remove doorways and windows, in the hope that they can be re-used in their new houses.
The devastated village of Sukhpar
Refuting such charges of governmental apathy, Mukim says the task before the administration is to put a simple and transparent process in place with proper checks and balance. "I can't say there won't be leakage. We have to be sensitive to such leaks," says the collector.
Explaining that the government had done a good job, Mukim says in any relief operation of such a large scale the benefit of doubt always lay with the people, and "never with the establishment."
On the flip side, there is a view that by sending some of its best administrators -- Mukim, Mansingh and S Jagadeeshan, the relief commissioner of Bhuj -- to Kutch, the state government has been able to undo some of the earlier damage. The official machinery was able to get basics like electricity, transport and telecommunication back on the rails in quick time.
"It is not as if the government has been a total failure," says the head of a well known NGO, "some of its achievements have truly been commendable and should not be ignored."
Design, Photographs: Dominic Xavier
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The Earthquake: The Complete Coverage
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