Lost homes and forgotten promises

BHUJ (KUTCH) Jan. 25. No more than two years have passed since an earthquake shook Kutch and the quake-hit people have been left wondering where all the sympathy generated in the wake of the disaster have gone.

The State administration seems to be working with a "vengeance" to "harass" the people in the four worst-affected towns — Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar — in the border district. The promises of sympathetic consideration of their problems have been forgotten. The Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB), the local bodies and other Government agencies have come out with schemes that have generated a lot of dissatisfaction among the hapless population.

After controversial town planning schemes brought the rehabilitation process to a standstill, the GEB served the people living in the tin sheds with hefty electricity bills breaking its earlier promises. For months the quake-victims had waited for power supply for the "Hangami Vasahats" (temporary shelter townships) set up for them. None sought payment of electricity charges for all these months, but apparently GEB had run out of patience, waiting for them to shift to their permanent resettlement colonies. The dwellers have no objections to pay for the power they consume.

For some inexplicable reasons, the GEB installed one power meter for every 10 tin sheds, each sheltering a family.

The GEB assured them of providing individual bills by dividing the total units consumed by the number of dwelling units. However, while preparing the bills, GEB did not divide the units consumed but the total amount. Since the meter readings generally exceed 1,000 units — the consumption of 10 families put together — commercial rates were charged.

The GEB energy charges vary between Rs.2.80 a unit to Rs. 6 a unit, depending on consumption and it gives a 25 per cent discount if consumption is up to 100 units per billing cycle.

Haridas Joshi's family received a bill for Rs. 657, which he said was at least three times more than the charges he paid when he lived in his own three-room house in Ganga Bazar locality. Jobless, he is worried how he is going to pay the electricity bill.

His woes did not end here. His daughter, Pallavi, was promised a term loan for starting a cottage industry to prepare pickles, papad and other articles. But, when she applied for assistance there was no response.

The Government agencies washed their hands of the problem and banks sought a deposit of Rs. 25,000 and "physical possession of a workshop" for sanctioning a loan of Rs. 50,000.

The quake-hit were promised tin sheets, which the Government had received from donors, but after construction of the temporary sheds.

But, they were charged Rs. 315 a slab, which was deducted from the amount of Rs.12, 000 announced by the Government for each shelter. In addition, they were also made to pay "handling charges."

Nitaben Kishorebhai Rajgor, who lost a leg, was certified by the Gujarat Gram Kamdar Kalyan Board as eligible for a compensation of Rs. 20,000 under the land-labourers group insurance scheme.

No money has been paid to her, as she could not retrieve any document from her house to prove that she is a land-labourer.

To top it all, she was made to sign an "advance receipt" of having received the money.

In Bhuj, for the 4,000-odd families of a temporary township in the G.I.D.C. estate the local urban development authority, set up in the wake of the quake, had gone back on its promise to provide sewerage connections and waste water stagnates all around the houses, posing a health hazard to the inmates.