Uttarakhand People’s Struggle for Rehabilitation

(In Uttarakhand, for the hill people, disasters are not a single calamitous televised event. Daily, they live in the shadow of disaster. Every year, there are calamities, their homes are washed away, lives are lost. This time, the presence of thousands of pilgrims focused national attention on the State. But now, their painful struggle continues, in the face of criminal apathy and callousness of the Government. A report from CPI(ML) activists on the ongoing efforts ar relief and the struggle of the local people for rehabilitation.)

As the people of Uttarakhand struggle to rebuild their lives in the face of the intense disaster, they are not being helped by the fact that the efforts of the Uttarakhand government to provide relief are lackadaisical and insufficient.

Most affected areas are still cut off from road access and the government has failed to construct temporary helipads, as promised, to supply essential provisions. In addition, lack of medical services makes these areas extremely prone to epidemics. The CPI(ML) has asked that government must open up road access on a priority basis and take the help of the army and ITBP for this purpose.

The Chief Minister has announced the constitution of the Uttarakhand Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority. This is a futile exercise, as there already exist many bodies like the State Disaster Management Authority which have not had even a single meeting till date. The advice of the CM to the victims that they should sell the sand accumulated in their fields is a cruel joke.

The criteria for fixing compensation and rehabilitation in the hill areas require to be changed. Land should be given for lost land and the government should construct houses at its own cost. The compensation amount should be increased to Rs 5 lakhs and those who have lost their livelihoods should be given minimum wages as per State norms as allowance until they are in a position to earn their living again.

The anti-people and destructive development models of the governments in Uttarakhand for the past 13 years should be rectified. This was a natural disaster but it was magnified by the uncontrolled blasting for hydel projects, throwing of debris into the rivers, limitless mining, and unplanned urbanization. Unless this destructive model of development is changed, disasters in the future will be even more horrifying.

Hydel projects have played a big role in aggravating the tragedy caused by the disaster, such as such as the JP company’s Vishnuprayag project in Joshimath, Lanko’s Phata-Byung project, L&T’s Singoli-Bhatwadi project in Rudraprayag and GVK’s Srinagar hydel project. These construction companies should be held responsible and made to pay for the damages.

Since most of Uttarakhand, including rural areas are disaster-affected, CPI(ML) has demanded that the panchayat elections scheduled for this year should be postponed. We are working towards constituting committees comprising of activists and eminent citizens to monitor the government relief work, so that the politician-bureaucrat nexus does not loot the relief materials. And the Party stands in solidarity with the protest movements in various places against poor implementation of relief work and will launch a protest against the negligent attitude of the government.

Some environmentalists, in the wake of this disaster, are intensifying the demand for the declaration of eco-sensitive zones, but CPI(ML) believes that this would result in evicting the people living in the forests from their homes.

Even before the disaster, 238 villages were in acknowledged need of rehabilitation; now the number has greatly increased. But the Uttarakhand govt has no constructive policy for evacuation and rehabilitation. A people-centric rehabilitation policy is the need of the hour.

BJP MLA from Sult and former Chairman of Kumaon Zonal Development Corporation Surendra Singh Jeena has brought relief materials to his area (which is not a disaster-affected area) and has distributed them to village Pradhans having BJP connections, proving the charge of loot against the politicians and bureaucrats. Criminal charges should be filed against politicians indulging in loot in the wake of the disaster.

CPI(ML) plans to bring out a booklet on the issue of Uttarakhand’s development model and the daily disasters that people face there. People’s Conventions will be organized at Pithoragarh and Srinagar (Garhwal) in August.

Dharchula: A Report from the Ground

(Jagat Martoliya, District Secretary of CPI(ML) in Pithoragarh, is at the centre of the people’s efforts to organize relief in this remote area. Effectively, the people’s own relief efforts are the only ‘relief’ this place has seen – the government’s efforts have been nearly non-existent.)

It is twenty days after the Uttarakhand flood disaster. The marketplace at Dharchula has little to offer by way of food and drink. No tea can be had, and in a day or two the scant supply of food will also be exhausted. Struggling in the aftermath of the disaster, Dharchula and Munsyari in Pithoragarh district are crying out for justice. The Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, Central Minister Harish Rawat, MPs and MLAs have visited this area several times; the Minister for Disaster Management is said to be here today. Even after the terrible Tawaghat disaster of 1977, Dharchula was cut off from Pithoragarh by road for just one day; 80 year old victims of the present disaster say they cannot recall ever having been thus cut off from road access for over 20 days. The governments of Uttarakhand have congratulated themselves on being the first state to constitute a Ministry for Disaster Management but in practical terms this is nothing but a vehicle for large scale corruption and looting. UNESCO and other foreign funding agencies have provided crores of rupees for disaster management and the government is supposed to be spending heavily on workshops, training, pre-disaster and post-disaster management, but the result is a big zero, as has been seen on the ground in Dharchula and Munsyari.

To begin with, the disaster management workers have not even been trained to pack the food packets properly, with the result that the packets dropped by the helicopters burst open in the air itself and the victims have no option but to literally lick up the flour and grains which scatter on the ground. So much for the government disaster management! When we had visited this area on 21 June, we found the footpaths near Nigalpani and Gothi intact but when we came again on July 3, these were also missing. That the engineers of the BRO have not yet been able to open the motor roads surely raises questions, but that they have not even been able to salvage the footpaths is a matter of shame. 20 days after the disaster, the road has been opened up in only two places. In theory, this goes by the name of a national highway. The result of this inaccessibility is that there are no provisions on the shelves of the shops in Dharchula market and the godowns are empty. A shop owner told us that even goods which had long remained unsold have now been sold out. Including vegetables in meals has become a dream which cannot be fulfilled. Rice worth Rs 19 per kilo cannot be purchased even for Rs 100 per kilo. Some people either walk to Bulwakot or go by jeep and bring back essential provisions on their backs. This is a dire reflection of the total failure of the government to deal with the crisis. The government is unable to do what even the common wo/man does for him/herself. The National Highway between Jauljibi and Dharchula is blocked after Kalika. Beyond this, over 35 villages with a population of 30,000 are in dire need of foodgrains. Beyond Dharchula, the areas of Vyas, Chaundas, Darma Ghati, Talla Darma Ghati, Khumti, Galati and Khet are crying out for the basic food rations. 60,000 people lack basic provisions of rice, dal and atta but the government is paying no attention to this urgent need.

The BRO is unable to answer when the roads to Dharchula and beyond will be opened up. The borders of China and Nepal are in such a condition that security is definitely a matter of concern. But an even more urgent concern is the plight of those thousands of people who now have no basic food left in their homes. The government and administration are doing nothing to bring relief to these people and it does not look likely that this sleeping government or the bureaucrats servile to the government will provide foodgrains to these homes whose needs are so pressing. Newspaper reports say that the motorway between Jauljibi and Madkot will open after 2 months. Hundreds of villages in Gorichhal Ghati with a population of 20,000 are also bereft of basic food provisions. Has the Bahuguna government given any thought to the plight of these people? The answer, unfortunately, is “No”. People are still stuck in the Johar and Ralam Ghatis of Munsyari. 35 victims in Kanchyoti have yet to be evacuated. The situation in Darma Ghati is similar. There are many government officials and workers but they are directionless about how to deal with the crisis. Many questions are being raised about the Chhirkila dam on the Dhauliganga Hydel project. Nepal has complained of heavy damage because of the barrage of water released from the dam. People are questioning the heavy realease of rain water all together on June 17 when the rains had started on the night of June 15 itself. This sudden release of all the water together caused the washing away of the whole district of Eilgaad. The NHPC has stated that it can give no timeline for the starting of the project. Besides, the financial loss runs into crores. The supporters of hydel projects and dams in the hills have to answer for these losses.

Dismal Conditions Of The Disaster Relief Camp

The Chief Minister has evacuated 171 families from Sobla, Nyu, Kanchyoti and Khim and put them up in the Government Inter College, Dharchula. After one week, the victims are still sleeping on the cold hard cement floor without even a rough floor mat. There is nobody to see to their needs. The government disaster management has no route map for the relief of these people. They have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Tears in their eyes and despair in their hearts, the fearful memories of 15 June keep them awake at night. These families have the consolation of having survived the disaster, but their faces clearly reflect the memories of those who lost their lives and the worries regarding their own rehabilitation. These four villages have been entirely decimated by the floods and the school building has become their refuge. The fear is that the government may subject them to the same injustice as it did with the victims from Hudki in Didihat, Baram in Dharchula and La, Jhekla, Sainranthi in Munsyari. Their greatest challenge is to somehow survive till September. A team from CPI(ML), along with social worker Keshar Singh Dhami, went to the Inter College and found the victims in very poor condition. They were so weak they could hardly stand, and their eyes spoke of a prolonged wait for relief. These hundreds of survivors from over 170 villages had not even had a change of clothes for the past 15 days. They had lost everything, including their everyday clothing, to the waters of the Dhauliganga and had been brought here by helicopter but the administration never bothered to see to any of their further needs. The members of the team, Kisan Mahasabha leader Surendra Brijwal, Pithoragarh Student Union President Hemant Khati and CPI(ML) district secretary Jagat Martoliya spoke to these victim families. In choked voices and with tears in their eyes, they tell of their plight. Gathering “keeda jadi” (medicinal fungus yarsa gumba or Ophiocordyceps sinensis) in Dharchula district, a hazardous task in itself, as daunting as climbing the Everest, they had managed to earn their livelihoods and build their houses, all of which has now been swallowed by the Dhauli river. They cannot go back to their villages; they need a new settlement. Brought here to this town with only a single set of clothing, they have been left to their own devices, with neither utensils nor bedding. The roof is leaking, the walls are musty, the rooms are mosquito-infested and there is one single floor mat for all of them. There is every danger of pneumonia, typhoid and other diseases. The windows are uncovered and give insects a free passage. Knowing all this, the administration made no efforts to rectify matters. Far from being a ‘relief camp’, this looks more like a ‘disaster camp’. Four to six families have been crammed into a single room.

The school children of Dharchula have started asking where they will now study. The leaders and administrative officials, instead of giving solace, are scolding the victims and saying that they have been provded accommodation, what more do they want? Their children still remember their school lessons. They can recite rhymes and tables and even remember their sums, but have no books or notebooks to write on, as all have been washed away in the Dhauliganga.

Mohan Singh of Kanchyoti wonders how they will pass three months till September, as staying in this school does not seem feasible. The Disaster Management Minister has promised to build tin sheds, but this will take a long time. Even the few mattresses and blankets were provided only after intervention by the CPI(ML) team. Saraswati Bisht of Khim says, “We have lost our fields and animals to the Dhauli, how shall we now live, who will help us.” Neeru Devi of Nyu village is sad at the loss of her village and feels that they can never have another village where the women could gather and share their sorrows. Netra Singh of Sobla feels that the promises of the government can give hope only for a few days. This is the plight of just four villages. What will become of all those who are waiting for a just and fair rehabilitation which is their due?

Sorry State Of Relief And Rehabilitation Work

From Jimighat in Munsyari to Jauljibi, from Darma in Dharchula to Jauljibi, there are several families whose homes were built on unmeasured land and were washed away by the floods. According to the old rules of the government, these families are not entitled to the relief offered by the state government. Also, in the hills father and sons live in the same house but run separate households and kitchens. Their names are registered separately on the ration cards and on Part II registers but since the father is alive he is considered to be the head of the family and the owner of the land. Therefore only he, and not any of the sons, is entitled to the government compensation. The same is the case with the Rs 2 lakhs given as compensation for destruction of homes. The state government cannot understand that compensation should be calculated according to the number of kitchens.

Recently the government made another impractical announcement that those whose homes have been destroyed will be given Rs 2000 as rent allowance for 6 months. In small communities like Dharchula, Bulwakot, Madkot, Jauljibi, there are hardly any rooms up for rent. How can Dharchula suddenly produce houses on rent for over 200 families? Another example is in Ghattabagad where 55 dalit families have become homeless. It is impossible for them to get rooms on rent as there are only one or two places in and around Ghattabagad (in Bandarkhet and Toli villages) which can possibly be rented out. In Dharchula tehsil there are many places like Chhoribagad, Bangapani, Umargada, Madkot, Bhadeli, Talla, Dummar, Darati, Sevila and Jimighat where the Goriganga, Kaliganga and Dhauliganga are eating into the land. The Irrigation Depatment has sent a proposal to the state government for the safety of Dharchula, Bulwakot, Jauljibi and Madkot but the government has sanctioned nothing at all for this. The MPs and MLAs have funds of crores but they have not given a single rupee to save these districts.

The concerned department had sent a proposal of Rs 62 lakhs to save Bulwakot from land erosion but it was not sanctioned. Now the residents of Bulwakot have launched a “Bulwakot Bachao Sangharsh Samiti” to struggle for this grant. All relief and rehabilitation work in this area going into cold storage. Even today the victims are staying in tents which are vulnerable to further disaster damage but nobody has taken the trouble to find safer accommodation for them. The government and private schools in this area would have been reopened by the time this report goes to press but the government has no alternative accommodation for the victims who are in the relief camps.

The Pithoragarh district Collector and Disaster management minister started from Jauljibi to meet the victim in Ghattabaggad but turned back when they saw the long walk this would entail. Several IAS and PCS officers are stationed in Dharchula and Munsyari who claim to be busy in relief work but in fact they can be seen driving around in cars most of the time. None of them is seen to visit the villages. In Dharchula the government appointed nodal officer IAS Deepak Rawat drives to the helipad from the Kumaon Development Zone guest house in the mornings and returns to the guest house in the evenings. Nobody can meet him without his own permission. He neither listens to the people’s representatives, nor does he do anything for the relief of the victims. Even the CM, while visiting Dharchula, has no red light on his car, but Deepak Rawat has brought a KMVN and a blue light from Nainital which he has fixed on the private vehicle in which he drives around. He even has a special seat fixed in his luxury Scorpio so that he can travel in royal style. There can be no better example of the way the bureaucrats in Uttarakhand are taking advantage of the situation caused by the disaster. It is known to everyone in Uttarakhand that a family can barely manage for 10 days on the provisions obtained from the subsidized shops; the other 20 days of the month have to be seen through on costly provisions from private shops. From patwari to Chief Secretary, the boast is that the godowns are overflowing with rations, but the truth is that the rations from the godowns are not sufficient for more than 10 days in a month. The subsidized stores should be converted to centres for sale of rations, but nobody is willing to even discuss this matter. In a week’s time, the 50,000 plus population of Dharchula and Munsyari are going to take to the streets to fight for proper distribution of rations. Will this government wake up and take notice only when that happens?

Joshimath Dharna to Save Pack Animals

(Report from The Hindu)

Some mule owners and residents of Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district began a fast-unto-death on Sunday evening to press the authorities to rescue over 1,200 mules and horses stranded on the riverside in Govindghat, Chamoli. The protesters, including mule owners, and members of Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), are fasting in front of Joshimath Sub-Divisional Magistrate Anup Kumar Nautiyal’s office.

CPI (ML) member Atul Sati, one of those on fast, said: “Around 35 to 40 mules are dying every day due to lack of fodder.” The authorities do send fodder for the mules, but it serves only around 400 mules, he said. Some residents held a meeting with Mr.Nautiyal and advised him to build a makeshift bridge to rescue the animals. It was agreed that work on the bridge would start in a day or two.

Representatives of the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation, the National Thermal Power Corporation and the Jaiprakash Power Ventures Ltd. — the hydropower companies operating in the area - agreed to provide financial and technical assistance for the rescue. But, the chief engineer of the Public Works Department rejected the idea, saying the bridge could not be constructed for another 15 days as the work could start only when the construction materials reached Govindghat. That, according to him, would happen only when the Badrinath highway was unblocked. “We have requested the concerned authorities to give strict orders to

the PWD to agree on makeshift trolleys to rescue the mules. The hydropower project authorities also have agreed on rescuing the stranded mules through trolleys. However, this idea of trolleys

was rejected by the PWD chief engineer who is adamant on bridge construction,” Mr. Nautiyal said. Talks were on and a breakthrough would be made in the coming days, he added.

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