Submitted by Aman Ekta Manch
6 July 2002
Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Hon. Prime Minister
Government of India
*** We welcome your initiative in impressing upon the Chief Minister of Gujarat the need to cancel the proposed gaurav rath yatras in Gujarat.
*** We also applaud your commitment to a citizens´ delegation led by Shri I K Gujral that no one would be forced to move out of the relief camps in Gujarat against his or her wishes.
The Aman Ekta Manch is a forum of over several organisations and concerned citizens in Delhi who have played a pivotal role in promoting peace and harmony in the city over the last three decades. Working amongst women, dalits, children, youth, older people, workers, and other marginalised sections, we strive for a society that ensures the well being and dignity of each and every citizen of this country. Members of the Manch expressed their deep distress over the events in Gujarat with a six-day relay fast from March 23 to 28 at Jantar Mantar in which over 1300 people participated. The Manch has extended financial, material, legal, social, and psychological support to the victims of violence in Gujarat. A series of volunteer groups from the Manch has also been going to the State to assist in relief and rehabilitation efforts since May. In addition, in concert with local community groups, the Manch has participated in community outreach programmes in several localities of Delhi in order to extend the principles of peace and harmony.
We had hoped to be able to meet you personally at this critical time, but were unable to do so because of your numerous commitments elsewhere. We would, therefore, draw your attention to the following concerns:
The Rath Yatras
- It is reported that your advice to cancel the gaurav rath yatras was because of the National Human Rights Commission´s apprehension of large-scale violence, and taking into view intelligence reports of the possibility of violence. However, it is not clear as to who is supposed to be behind the violence and why pre-emptive action is not being taken against them?
- Are these apprehensions and reports not true of the Jagannnath Rath Yatra too? Particularly given the fact that this yatra is to pass through the sensitive areas of Ahmedabad where the minority community is already feeling traumatised. The temple trust had earlier suggested that the route should be diverted towards the western part of the city, but who pressurised it to change its stance?
- In the above context, if there is any damage to life and property during the course of the Rath Yatra on July 12, who will be held accountable? Will it be the Union Government under Article 355 of our Constitution, or the State Government headed by the Chief Minister?
The Relief Camps
- Even though the camps have not been officially closed, many people are forced to abandon them especially during the unbearably hot daytime because essential food rations, water, sanitation, and adequate shelter have been withdrawn by the administration. Does this not amount to forcible evacuation?
- Government officials have conducted assessment of damage to houses in a blatantly ad-hoc manner. Compensation cheques are being issued for as little as Rs 1250, barely enough to buy enough bricks for two walls! What is being done to conduct re-assessments which the people are repeatedly and legally asking for in a scientific and unbiased fashion?
- The Gujarat State unit president of the Bharatiya Janata Party is reported to have said that the Party has a high regard for a democratic institution like the NHRC. In which case, what is the State administration doing to follow the recommendations of the NHRC with regard to rehabilitation measures? Of particular importance are the proposed steps to ensure justice to all victims and to provide adequate security to those wishing to return to their homes.
May we, therefore, make the following suggestions on which your Government could act, and act immediately:
1. Change the route and timing of the Jagannath Rath Yatra, in consultation with the Temple Trust authorities, the Waqf Board, and the police, so as to avoid all possible violence in Ahmedabad.
2. Ensure that the gaurav rath yatras are cancelled and not just postponed, and that legal action is taken against those officially reported to be behind the anticipated violence.
3. Set up a special cell with wide-ranging powers, directly accountable to the National Human Rights Commission, to ensure that the relief camps are provided with the necessary food, shelter, sanitation, drinking water, medicines, children´s education, counseling, and occupational facilities. The mandate for this special cell should clearly indicate that it must prioritise for the poorest who have lost everything.
4. Entrust the task of fair and systematic assessment of damage to life, property, and productive assets to an independent body of experts from institutions such as the School of Planning and the Institution of Engineers, of specialists from bodies like the Disaster Management Institute and NGOs with experience in relief and rehabilitation work, and of researchers from reputed Institutes of Social Sciences.
5. Design and rapidly implement schemes for providing basic survival kits of tools for artisans and self-employed persons, for providing gainful employment to those without any remaining assets, for vocational training, and for ensuring security of livelihood. This has to be done by Government because it alone has the resources to accomplish such a mammoth task. NGOs can assist but they cannot be held responsible for carrying out the rehabilitation work with their meagre resources.
6. Implement the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission to set up police desks in the relief camps to record FIRs, entrust critical cases to the CBI, constitute Special Courts to try these cases on a day-to-day basis within a specific time-frame, and punish the guilty both within the community as well as the administration and political leadership.
We earnestly hope that the same wisdom and concern that has led to the postponement of the gaurav rath yatras will prevail in the matter of the Jagannath yatra and the urgent organisation of relief and rehabilitation.
Aman Ekta Manch
Source: Included in Minutes of AEM general meeting held on the 5th of July