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January 31, 2001
The Rediff Interview/Union Agriculture Secretary Bhaskar Baruah, who is in charge of relief work in Gujarat
Union Agriculture Secretary Bhaskar Baruah, whose ministry is the
central nodal point for relief and rehabilitation in Gujarat,
appears reluctant to spell out the guidelines for facilitating relief work by foreign
"Obviously external aid in natural calamities of great magnitude has
to come through a proper channel," Baruah told Special Correspondent
Baruah spoke about external aid and the measures taken by the Centre to provide
relief and rehabilitation to the earthquake victims.
"Obviously external aid in natural calamities of great magnitude has to come through a proper channel," Baruah told Special CorrespondentTara Shankar Sahay on Tuesday evening, while emerging from the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers led by Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani. The group had its first meeting the same day.
Baruah spoke about external aid and the measures taken by the Centre to provide relief and rehabilitation to the earthquake victims.
Could you specify the guidelines which Minister of State for External Affairs Ajit Panja spoke about regarding accepting external aid during devastating natural calamities like the Bhuj earthquake?
As far as I am aware, we welcome all offers of assistance from foreign countries as an expression of solidarity for the people of Gujarat, and the people of this country. We gratefully accept this.
But what are the guidelines?
You should ask Minister Panja himself. I think the guidelines could involve the country's national and social security. External aid has to come through a proper channel. The foreign agency involved should be a bonafide organisation with international locus standi -- so that aid sought to be given is for a specific purpose.
Does that mean there are strings attached to external aid?
I am not saying that. I have already underlined that we are grateful for the aid that is coming from abroad for the victims of the Bhuj earthquake.
Nevertheless, the central and the Gujarat government has to inspect what the aid comprises and ensure that it reaches the affected people speedily. That is why a senior official from the ministry of external affairs has gone to Gujarat to ensure that foreign agencies are not hampered in any way in disbursing aid. And that is why, the Gujarat government has set up an authority which also ensures such objectives.
There were initial reports that the government was hesitant to accept aid from China and Pakistan.?
You are asking this question to the wrong person. The ministry of external affairs can help you. But I must point out that we have already said that Pakistan has sent blankets. (Advani on Tuesday told reporters that Islamabad had also sent tents).
Why is the central government -- including its Crisis Management Group -- so reluctant to give the actual death toll and the number of persons injured in the earthquake? Defence Minister George Fernandes has gone on record as saying that 100,000 people could have died in the earthquake.
I am giving you the official figures given by the Gujarat government. Also, you must have heard our home minister clarifying that he had gone through the defence minister's reported statement on casualties and it could have been misinterpreted.
The BBC also says that thousands of people still lie buried under the debris all over Gujarat and that the toll could no't be less than 100,000?
I don't know what BBC has reported. I have given you official figures about the dead and the injured as they are being updated by the day as more bodies are discovered or the living extricated out of the debris.
Is it a fact that India is way behind its Western counterparts when it comes to technology pertaining to natural disasters like earthquakes?
There is nothing to hide. The home minister (on Tuesday after the meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers) told you he was impressed by the sophisticated equipment brought by the Germans and the Swiss (among others). The German slab-cutting machinery to excavate people from the debris is a very good equipment. The home minister also mentioned that we need to emulate the training given to sniffer dogs brought by the Swiss. So we have scope for improvement.
Is the CMG prepared to take cognisance of Advani's statement that as suggested by the Indian Meteorological Department, it would have to reassess the vulnerability of seismic-prone areas in the country?
Of course, all measures will be taken which are recommended by the government and various bodies in order to minimise the effect of natural disasters in the country.
Why has this not been done so far?
I think a lot of relief and rehabilitation measures have been taken during natural calamities. It is not proper to say that nothing has been done.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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