Indian Social Institute
|Prasad M. Chacko
Behavioural Science Centre
The Gujarat earthquake has left a trail of devastation and death. It has also generated tremendous sense of generosity from people of all walks of life. The initial phase of relief inspite of all its limitations has helped the people to tide over the situation. The next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction is the demand of the hour. All those individuals and the organizations that were involved from the day one are raising questions about the process and the perception that need to be kept in mind during the phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction. What is presented here below is a preliminary appraisal of some of the areas that need our attention in terms of rehabilitation and reconstruction. This is only a preliminary appraisal aimed at initiating a broader discussion and deliberation so that we arrive some common thrust that is beneficiary to the affected people and in a special way the marginalized groups in the society.
1. Semi-Permanent shelters:
Due to the consistent work of many groups and individuals most of the affected people have 'tents' which at present serve as temporary shelter. But those who are aware of the situation of Kutch would realise the seriousness of the matter with regard to shelter. This is the third consequent year of drought. The scorching heat is already felt in the noontime though this is only the second week of February. The whole summer is still ahead. Just after summer the monsoon is expected. Hence, the urgency to build the houses in the traditional models based on the experience of the people. If that is not forthcoming then the other alternative of semi-permanent shelters has to be constructed to manage the summer and the monsoon. This would mean a seven months of waiting for the people for a permanent home. While doing this, the Latur experience -both positive and negative- need to be kept in mind. The positive aspect of Latur experience is that the traditional construction means, methods, and material was brought to the fore once again. These came to be forgotten with the anvil of modern construction technologies and material. The negative aspect of Latur experience is that even here the socio-cultural and economic aspects seem to have been overlooked. Hence, it is imperative that one looks at the design, cost, and material to be used with the environmental and socio-cultural aspects.
2. Legal provisions and awareness:
There is a need to identify the loss due to the devastating earthquake in all its totality. People lost; People wounded - whatever nature of the injury may be; Loss of property; Loss of working days/earning of all the members of a family. The means to identify these areas has to be seriously thought of and simplified. But to insist on documents like ration card etc would be inflicting greater pain on the affected people, who will look at the debris for documents.
Land for housing also needs to be kept in mind.
-those who have land;
-those who do not have land.
Agricultural and allied activities. The capitals lose as well as capital investment needed to begin the process again.
3. Land for Reconstruction of Houses:
The houses have been turned into debris. Now debris are being removed and dumped in open spaces. But most of the people are saying that they do not want to build their houses where their relatives have been 'buried alive'. They are also saying that it is not good to remove the debris and dump it on open spaces. Hence, it has to be worked out with the people in each village and a one to one policy need to be worked out. In many villages the marginalized communities are living in the tents erected on the lands of landed castes. Since this is not the agricultural season, it is allowed or even tolerated. But once monsoon comes and agricultural activities begin then those who lost the only household land they had will be displaced. This would lead to conflicts in villages, which is already struggling to cope with the trauma of the earthquake. Hence, on priority basis identify land for reconstruction of houses for those who do not have household land. With regard to agricultural land, the media is trying to project that one of the after effects of the earthquake is the new springs that are found in some places. This is a welcome sign in a region that has witnessed successive draughts. But this can have evil consequences especially on the marginalized communities. Most of the people living on some of the uncultivable land or barren land or people from deprived section of society. They tried to get some agricultural output from this land. But with the media hype on new springs, there could be mad rush to grab this land. This would lead to social conflict.
4. Sneha Samuday or Community Centre:
Based on the experience of relief and rehabilitation after the Orissa super cyclone, some of the NGOs are trying to set up sneha samuday for those who are dispossessed. The idea behind this concept is providing a space for the dispossessed (single women, children who are orphaned by the earthquake) to come together and grieve over the death and destruction and find strength to carry on their lives.
The concept in itself is a progressive one from the earlier idea of opening up orphanages for those who were affected the most by the disasters. But one needs to broaden the concept to make this sneha samyday as centre for multi-pronged activity centre. The immediate economic need like food, water, clothing also needs to be addressed by the sneha samyday. It also should be an information centre primarily to these sections of people but also for the entire village. Here information on matters like compensation announced means and place where these can be obtained from etc need to be provided to all. This would also serve as a legal aid centre especially in terms of land to be provided protection from land alienation etc. This centre also has to provide space for cultural activities, which would also revive the energy and the spirit of the people.
Above all the centre will function as an 'empowerment' place for the dispossessed people of all the communities, the marginalized social groups like the Dalits, the Kolis, the Rabanis, the Muslims, the most backward castes and the poor among the backward and upper castes in the order of priority. This can not be achieved unless village and if need be tola or hamlet level meetings are not conducted.
This calls for a discussion on the location of the sneha samudaya. In a caste society, this issue of location of the centre needs to be kept in mind.
If this has to be done, the officials, agencies and organizations need to train their volunteers not for relief alone but for rehabilitation and reconstruction. They have to be in a sense bare-foot counselors, bare-foot legal advisors, bare-foot mobilisers. This would also demand a short-term training or initiation into the entire dynamics.
5. Correct Information:
Rumours are spread about water level rising in Kuchch, epidemics spreading, snatching of food and other material in the area. When one verifies these rumours often they are false. Hence, through handbills, posters, slogans correct informations need to be circulated and wrong informations need to be condemned or disproved. Handbills also need to be printed for passing information about relief package, rehabilitation plans, and availability of various services at different places.
6. Compensation Package:
At present the following agencies are involved in relief and rehabilitation activities: the affected people themselves, the government, the NGOs, corporate sector, trusts, individuals and international agencies. The relief operation will have to be phased out, except continuing it for most vulnerable and dispossessed groups in the rural areas. Leaving this out all the above mentioned agencies have to put their heads together to work out a 'Relief Package'. One of the most important criterions for relief package is to insist on the principle of 'Replacement Value'. The government can not work out its compensation package on the basis of the money and the material at its disposal but it has to take into the account this fact of replacement of the entire loss. Unless this is done rehabilitation and reconstruction will only be a slogan. At the most by doling out something we would have arrested only the discontent of the people.
7. Relief Code:
The devastation caused by the earthquake is extensive. But the generosity shown by everyone has also been overwhelming. Due to the fighting sprit of the people of kuchch and other districts and due to the generous support and empathy shown by people from various walks of like, the disaster affected people are slowly but steadily limping back to normal life. At this stage it is imperative that a Relief Code be envisaged and the government be pressurized to enact and enforce it with utmost political will. It is only by this we will be able to pay homage to many of our brothers and sisters who lost their lives in this tragedy. And it is only in this way we can stand by those who lost their near and dear ones, property and above all continue to suffer the trauma. Few areas that need immediate attention are: In relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction the socio-cultural aspects of the people affected by the earthquake should be kept in focus. Otherwise it will be a rehabilitation of our own conscience and not being part of the struggles of those who are affected; The dignity of the people affected by the earthquake also should be kept in mind. It is only because they are affected by the earthquake that we are tying to be part of them and not because they are 'victims'. This should colour our entire thought, word and action; While carrying out relief and rehabilitation the government should be pressurized to come out with a Replacement Value package and not be determined by the amount of relief supply it has at its disposal. If there is political will the government will surely find the necessary means. Every Taluka should have committed IAS/GASA officers directly incharge of relief and rehabilitation operations. They should be given the necessary official permission to assess the situation, plan out strategy and to carry out the operations. Every village should have bare-foot officer who like the Taluka level officers take care of the assessment of the situation, plan out tragedy and to carry out the operations. One of their primary jobs would be to form village level committees, tola level committees so that the entire process is streamlined, wastage is avoided and speedy and smooth operations take place. Since this involves round the clock work they should be given special provisions. A network should be workout with the district level officials, Taluka officials and the village level officials and the NGOs. If the above two actions are taken care then all the relief material should be brought to base camps set up at Taluka or panchayat levels and from there they should be dispatched to different hamlets, villages, and places where people have taken shelter temporarily. This would avoid duplication, saturation of relief material and rehabilitation processes and would greatly enhance equitable distribution of all types of resources. This would also ensure the maintenance of dignity of the people who are trying to emerge out of the trauma of a massive nature. People affected the earthquake are refusing to rebuild their houses in the same place where their home was once. Their sentiment is that 'We can not rebuild our house on the same location where our near and dear ones were 'buried alive' infront of us". This sentiment of the people should be respected. If this has to be kept in mind, land for reconstruction need to be identified in every locality, village and hamlet. While doing this few important facts need to be kept in mind. Common Property Resources should not be touched at all. Because these are the property which is the central focus of all the villages. Efforts should be made to maintain intact all the common property resources. Only as a last resort these should be taken for reconstruction of houses. The government has to seriously consider and plan to take hold of ceiling surplus land and redistribute it among all the people who have lost their house. If need be the government has to enact new legislation in this regard. There is rumours spread around that in Kuchch region the water level has gone up and new springs have come up due to earthquake. This needs to be verified. But the most important fall out of this type news is that land grabbing would become a common phenomenon. Sale and purchase of land often forced by powerful and dominant section of society will become an uncontrollable development. Hence, the government has to enact legislations to prohibit land alienation, sale or transfer of land for the next two years. Exception: sale, transfer of land should be allowed only for reconstruction of houses for the people affected by the earthquake.
The above presented observations and observations are preliminary in nature. They could be simplistic or based on naïve understanding of the situation. Yet they are presented for generating wider discussion and deliberations so that all the efforts are geared to rebuild the earthquake affected people to spring back to life.
The state government was supposed to announce a relief package on the 12th. But this did not take place though a press conference was held by Mr.L.K. Advani. Instead of announcing the package, Mr.Advani announced that he has asked the state government to work out a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation plan. Even before the central or the state government comes out with any such package, it may be appropriate to present a comprehensive plan to the public so that those who are affected by the earthquake and the people in general exert pressure on the government to keep people in focus when they work out a plan.
Indian Social Institute
|Prasad M. Chacko
Behavioural Science Centre