UNDP official hails Kutch relief package

AHMEDABAD, APRIL 29. Even as the people of Anjar and some other worst earthquake-hit towns in Kutch district have virtually rejected the Gujarat Government's rehabilitation package, it has received accolades at least from one quarter, the United Nations Development Programme.

Mr. Praveen Singh Pardeshi, an IAS officer of the Maharashtra cadre, who is on one year deputation to the UNDP as its programme manager to implement the earthquake rehabilitation programme in Kutch district, termed the Gujarat Government's rehabilitation package, particularly for rural Kutch, as the best possible in the given situation.

``Gaining from the past experience, it carries the essence of all the good aspects of the earthquake rehabilitation project of Latur, the cyclone rehabilitation project of Orissa and such other natural disasters the world over,'' he said.

Mr. Pardeshi was the district collector of Latur when the Maharashtra town was hit by earthquake in 1993 and could see the difference between the two. The State Government's decision to merely act as a facilitator empowering the people themselves together with the voluntary organisations to construct their own houses was the most appreciative aspect of the rehabilitation project.

Mr. Pardeshi admitted that more than half of the people in the worst-hit villages in Latur still do not occupy the houses constructed after the quake because of lack of confidence in the buildings being earthquake-resistant. ``Where we went wrong is the fact that the Government itself constructed the 52,000 odd houses in the villages which suffered more than 70 per cent destruction. The people were mere watchers getting the houses free of cost and free of labour, they never developed a sense of belongings to these houses,'' he felt.

He also agrees with the Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, that the Government was not late in finalising the rehabilitation package. Considering the intensity and the extent of damage which was 30 times more in Gujarat than the Latur quake, the three months time taken to finalise the package was not late. ``It was good that the government took that time to study all the aspects of the situation, the divergent views of the people on the government's re-location plan, and take the essence of similar rehabilitation projects elsewhere.''

Shelving of the re-location plan was another aspect of the State's rehabilitation programme appreciated by the former Latur Collector. The re-location plan, if carried through, would have met with disastrous consequences. Besides, it would have been costlier since the entire infrastructure facilities needed to be re-constructed and re-location could also cause loss of cultivable land, which already is scarce in Kutch district, as well as the loss of aquifers. It was a mistake the Government committed in Latur where the worst-hit villages were re-located some five to 20 kilometres away from the original village sites.

``It was good that the government did not try to impose its will on the people, otherwise the rehabilitation package would have remained only on paper, the unwilling people cannot be forced to move to the re-located village,'' he agreed.

But where the Gujarat government went wrong is that it was still too slow to implement the short-term temporary shelter schemes. Most of the people in Kutch are still without a roof over their heads and are becoming restless over the delay in implementing the rehabilitation package.

Also the use of galvanised sheets to provide temporary shelters was unsuitable in Kutch where the summer temperature hover around 45 degrees Centigrade and was also a highly cyclone-prone zone.

The people of Anjar, however, are not happy with the rehabilitation package and its `Group 2001' has again planned to march on to Delhi to represent their case before the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee. The Group, which terminated a long march to Gandhinagar earlier this month on an assurance from the Chief Minister of a ``satisfactory deal,'' viewed the package announced on April 24 as a ``pro-builder lobby'' programme.

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