Kashmir Earthquake: Unearthing an Untold Story

This Sunday Morning there’s an interesting mail in my mailbox from one Mr Ashok Chowgule of centre for poliy Alternatives.  Thats a forward ofcourse but a worthful one, its  a first hand account by a research Assistant of the Centre for Policy alternatives Newdelhi who (http://www.cpasind.com/about.html) visited the uri sector if iam not mistaken and thus unravels the unearthing of an untold story.

With the caption “Kashmir Earthquake: Unearthing an Untold Story” and truly untold syory it was. The relief and the dying millions due to cold n winter in the Himalayan state, thats startling as we have been poured in by our media of stories describing pathetic conditions of the people and how the rest of India didnt react as they had a year ago after the Tsunami or to that matter post earthquake in Bhuj ujarat or lattur, and I couldnt forgive myself as an Indian that we Indians or to that matter any country could do it to thir own people. But it made me proud to read from mr Chowgule (supported by his research for facts and figures) that there has been an excess of the food as well as the other basci requirements in the valley hit by the worst himalayan earthquake.

Sun, 25 Dec 2005 10:08:18 +0530
   From: “Ashok Chowgule” <ashokvc@chowgulegoa.com>
Subject: Fw: Kashmir Earthquake: Unearthing an Untold Story

Kashmir Earthquake: Unearthing an Untold Story

Around three months have passed since the earthquake in the disputed Kashmirregion that struck on October 8, 2005 at 9:20 am (IST). This was the first and most severe of the earthquakes that have overwhelmed the Himalayan belt in the recent  past.  This earthquake grabbed newspaper headlines all over the world formore reasons than one. Initially, the sheer magnitude of the earthquake, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, caught our attention. Pakistan confirmed the death of 84000 people, while the Indian side faced 1300 casualties.
                   Soon after the earthquake was past the “breaking news” stage, news on the issue was streamlined into either the relief effort or the new political equations that supposedly emerged. Snippets ranged from militant outfits in Pakistanbeing praised for their immediate help (and the Pakistani Army being debunked for the lack of it) to calls for turning this disaster into a new chapter in Indo-Pak relations.

Many things flowed under the bridge after the earthquake and it seemed that the dust finally settled on all the different aspects of the issue.Therefore when I went to Uri a few weeks back, I only expected  to see and experience everything that had already been reported before. However upon interacting with the locals and officials – all in the context of casual conversation – I came to know of many issues that have been sidelined  by the media. It seems that the “free press” has also caught the bug of being
“politically correct” and has not revealed all that there is to be revealed. Either that or they have simply missed the whole picture.

The unprecedented overkill of certain relief materials in Uri struck me the most. Trucks and trucks of relief came pouring in even when the worst was over and the real fear is the present winter. Many families had eight or more blankets when the real requirement was about three or four. The initial per capita allowance of food grain was 11 kg per month. There wasn’t a single person in Uri and the nearby villages who did not get this. When a lack of relief supplies is a dominating story in most natural  tragedies, the apparent reversal of this in Kashmir was surprisingly not reported by
the media.

However, an excess of relief comes with its own share of problems. The distribution of relief items was highly inequitable and completely unsystematic. The administration and army understandably possesses records of each person in the affected area because of its proximity to the  Line of  Control (LoC). Each family is also supplied with a ration card. Such a rich information base makes  distribution extremely easy but, of course, tenuous.
This system would have allowed excesses to be measured and kept aside, lest a shortage arises. Relief could also have been handed over to Pakistan as the impact there was over 60 times than that in India. This was an especially feasible idea after the LoC was opened recently for passage of relief and relatives of affected people.

Instead of such a systematic distribution, one witnessed pandemonium every time a relief truck came by. Those that live near the streets managed to reach the relief vehicles faster and hence got much more than those living higher up on the hills. Ironically enough, those living near the  streets are also the ones who are relatively more well off. Therefore, the relief work was exacerbating the existing inequality that prevailed in the region.
Relief officials I spoke to claimed that distribution was not their “burden”. This is apparently the role of the Village Panchayat Head. These Panchayat Heads, however, come with political affiliations and
distribute relief according to each person’s political leanings. At a time when  the Government is stepping up efforts to empower Panchayat Heads, such a performance by the Heads in Uri poses as a  grave negative.

While I myself witnessed the abundance of relief supplies, one senior jawan of the Central Reserve  police Force told me that the relief supplies Kashmir is getting is over ten times more than what he himself witnessed inLatur  and Bhuj. This struck me instantly and I came back and did some  research on the issue and found that my informer’s casual observation was supported by facts. The following figures from the Natural Disaster Management wing of the Ministry of Home Affairs will not fail to startle you.

For the earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat that struck on Republic Day in  2001, total Central Assistance amounted to Rs. 510 crores. This earthquake was one of the most damaging in India’s history, killing over 20000 people. To get a  relative idea of the amount distributed, one can calculate the ratio of monetary assistance to the number of casualties. Thus, for every person who died the Government spent about Rs. 2.6 lakhs. Even if we include all the external aidthat came in from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, State Governments and donor countries, the relief effort got about Rs. 4400 crores. That’s about Rs. 22 lakhs per casualty. Contrast this with the Kashmir quake that took 1300 lives. A total Rs. 650 crores was doled out by the Government of India to manage this quake. That’s Rs. 50 lakhs per casualty! Thus, the victims of the Kashmir earthquake got 20 times more in per casualty terms than their counterparts in Gujarat. Even when we include all the external aid that accrued to Gujarat, what that state got was less than half compared to what Kashmir got from the Centre alone. While the hilly terrain and high altitude of Kashmir does increase the cost of relief efforts, nothing explains such a gross inequity. Has anybody taken note of this?

The reason for this inequity – something our ‘people sensitive’ media may not venture into – lies in the Indian Government’s keenness to portray that they are overtly concerned about the Kashmiri victims. The government wants to avoid even the slightest blemish and not give an opportunity for
proponents of ‘Azad Kashmir’ to point a finger at the Centre. However, it is a pity that earthquakes that had a much more severe impact on Indian citizens received much lesser attention simply because the government could afford to take these people for granted. Alas, these states do not have
secessionist tendencies. Therefore, there is no real need to be nice to them. This is akin to the nosier baby always getting the chocolate.

The worst part is that in reality no purpose of the Government is really served. The people of Kashmir are still complaining and I myself encountered locals telling me that “this government should let us be free if they can’t take care of us”. They, of course, don’t know that what they have received is many times more than parts of the country that are not disputed. There are no kind words for the government anywhere. The army, however, I must admit has been praised at places for its immediate help when the quake struck. However, this public relations disaster is not new for the entre.
According to a report by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the per capita 10th Plan allocation to J&K is Rs. 14,400, while it was Rs. 2500 to Bihar and Rs. 5200 to Orissa. Even the national average was Rs. 5700. Thus J&K received almost thrice as much as the national average and nearly six times as much as Bihar. Considering that Bihar and Orissa are India’s two poorest states and J&K has the least percentage of people below the poverty line in India, this is acutely unjust. Furthermore, J&K is a ‘Special Category State’ and hence receives more grants from the centre than other ‘normal’
But how much more? J&K gets about Rs. 4400 crores as Central grants while Bihar and Orissa get Rs. 1350 crores and Rs. 1900 crores respectively. Despite J&K getting funding that is many times more than other states, people in Kashmir have no idea about this, let alone be grateful for it.
In fact, what the Centre provides is about 28% of the J&K GDP! Do the people of Kashmir realise what it would do to their economy if they succeed in becoming ‘Azad’ and this Central assistance stops? The kashmir economy, already the one of the slowest in the country, would go into a severe recession. Unemployment would increase manifold and the resulting social unrest would be much harsher than what the State faces today. Considering that the Centre is pumping so much money into the state, the least it can do is get political mileage out of it by highlighting these facts. However, almost every Kashmiri you meet will go out of his way to be courteous and cordial, but at the same time would candidly tell you that they are Kashmiris and not Indians and would prefer Kashmir to be Azad.
As I conclude, I wonder who decides our morality for us. Why is it politically incorrect to talk about the Indian Government’s unusual generosity to a people who largely want to do away with it while the government ignores those who make no such secessionist claims? At the same time, we berate the Modi Government no end for the Gujarat carnage.  Both parties should be brought to book for how they have treated a section of this country, but we only seem to be pointing our fingers at one. Something surely is amiss in our collective conscience.

Ronald Abraham
Research Assistant, Centre for Policy Alternatives

16 December 2005

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