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PUCL, November 2008

PUCL report on flood relief in Supaul and Saharsa relief camps

-- By Arun Kumar, Vice President, PUCL Bihar and
Ramashray Prasad Singh, General Secretary, PUCL, Bihar.

Photo: Raghopur Refferal Hospital Photo: Raghopur Refferal Hospital

Raghopur Refferal Hospital
Photos by Ranjan Rahi
(Click on photo to enlarge)




A two member team consisting of Bihar Chapter PUCL Vice President, Arun Kumar and General Secretary, Ramashray Prasad Singh made a pilot survey of some of the Supaul and Saharsa district flood relief camps to take a bird's eye view of relief works going on in the relief camps set up for the flood victims in these two districts.

The team visited these camps on September 9-10. At Babhangama Middle School in Triveniganj Block of Supaul district the team found a state government run relief camp which apparently gave a look of smoothly run relief camps - canvas tents, relative cleanliness and some sort of orderliness in a relief camp. However, when visited inside the camp, the flood victims interviewed by us gave an entirely different picture. It was mostly about lack of a systematic medicare. The relief camp sheltered a total 688 flood victims having inadequate toilets. To meet the requirement of these flood victims this camp had just 6 toilets - 3 permanent and the rest temporary.

A government employee Sheoshankar Prasad, a tehsildar while talking to the team members said that more temporary toilets could not be arranged as there was a substantial rise in ground water level in the locality which made it technically difficult. As and when the PUCL inquiry team members reached inside the camp a large number of flood victims surrounded the visiting members. They were more concerned about absence of medicare inside the camp. These were complaints about accomodation of the flood victims there and also shortage of hand-pumps. To meet the requirements of water of the flood victims taking shelter in this camp there were only 5 hand pumps. Flood victims like Ashok Ram of Chatapur, a relatively old member of the camp complained that no doctor used to visit the camp. A good number of flood victims like Ghoolam Rasool of Koria Patti Khunt village (Triveniganj Block) who had reached at the camp alongwith 18 other flood displaced co-villagers. They were all not given a place to settle. Similar complaints were also made by Saeed Akhtar of Koria Patti Khoont village, Dinesh Yadav - a resident of Kushaha (Triveniganj Block), Bindeshwari Yadav of Chatgaon and numerous others. They all said that they were not provided a place to settle inside the camp.

When contacted Sheoshankar Prasad (Tehsildar) representing the district administration at the camp site candidly admitted that there was no frequent visit of medical doctors at the camp site. However, he said that medical team used to visit the camp time to time. He informed Dr Surendra Das was in charge of the medical camp in this relief camp. Talking about the flood victims' non-accomodation the Tehsildar said that because of space constraints these flood victims could not be accomodated here in huge number as it would lead to further mismanagement at the camp site. He said that a good number of flood victims not ready to go to relief camps to nearby Bhura and Gambhirpur relief camps in spite of their being provided government transportation facilities. The team was at a loss to take stock of the situation as to why in spite of availability of space for accomodation in nearby Bhura and Gambhirpur government run camps - the flood victims of nearby villages were reluctant to move there. No one either from the flood victims or the government employees manning the camp were ready to speak anything on this count. After much prodding, a local villager of Babhangama - Ramesh Choudhary revealed the secret about insistence of flood victims to stay at Babhangama relief camps in site of all odds and their not being ready to move to yet another nearby relief camps. Revealation was shocking for the PUCL team members. It threw a light on a darker aspect of the social life in Bihar's country side. There was no love even at the time of flood crisis.

Choudhary explained that Babhangama being a Brahmin dominated village - the flood victims - Muslims, extremely backwards (EBCs) and the others which surprisingly also included the poor Yadavs felt that the camp was safe for them as a shelter here and not to move to other two nearby camps - Bhura and Gambhirpur - two Yadav dominated villages. Interestingly when Choudhary disclosed the reason behind the flood victims' insistence on their not being sheltered at the two nearby relief camps almost all admitted in unison. They said that they felt safe here. They felt that the honour of their womenfolk was safe here. They said that they were apprehensive that honour of their womenfolk would not be safe in the nearby relief camps. They also expressed their apprehension that their belongings too would be looted there. The PUCL team members were aghast on this disclosure. One more striking discrepancy was noticed in almost all the camps the team visited in these two districts. There was no special arrangements for the physically challenged, old, invalid and ailing flood victims. It was found the same both in the government run and the camps run by the NGO partners of the funding agencies. The diabetic patients had no option than to consume rice - normally not prescribed for the sugar patients.

Physically challeneged victims were cursed to face further problems in their day to day routine life because of their handicap. Old, invalid and ailing people had their own problems. Interestingly with the advent of the flood - Babhangama Camp was initially set up by an International Funding Aency - actionaid -through its partner NGO - Bihar Gram Vikas Parishad, Sitamarhi on August 28. Later on the district administration took over the command of this camp. The actionaid NGO partner was left with no option than to move to the neraby village, Lal Patti - at Satsang Bhawan. A large number of food victims from nearby villages - Sheonagar, Chatgaon, Laharnia, Lagunia, Parahi, Lakshminia, Gadha Rampur, Sakiaha, Barkurwa, Mazurwa, Kushaha, Bhagwanpur, Harhar Patti, Tilathi, Tengraha of Supaul and Saharsa and Madhepura districts were taking shelter in make-shift polythene covered tents at Baghla river embankment braving scorching sun. 18 physically challeneged - Blind, lame and polio-stricken were also among those taking shelter in these camps.

At one of the relief camps run by a NGO partner of an international funding agency,those living there complained that they were just being served breakfast of flattened rice (chura) in the morning and evening and cooked rice in lunch. They were not being given the dinner in the evening. Members of the visiting PUCL team kept receiving phone calls from flood victims of this camp even after their coming back from their relief camp trips. The flood victims complained that even after their making a complaint before the PUCL team and its being pointed out by the visiting team to the NGO partner the situation was not improved there.

According to a district administration document dated September 3 there were 7 district administration run relief camps giving shelter to flood victims in Supaul district. These were - High Schol Triveniganj (2000), Balika High School Triveniganj (150), Marwari Dharmshala Triveniganj (400-520), Babhangama Middle School (500-700), Primary School Bhura (100-200), Middle School Bhura (400) and Primary School Gambhirpur (50-100).

Interestingly when the visiting PUCL team reached at the Government High School Triveniganj relief camp it found that the camp was being run by Marwari Yuva Manch and not by the district administration as claimed in the district administration document. When pointed out toward this state president of Marwari Yuva manch, Sarita Bajaj - resident of Khagaria - a middle aged lady manning the camp there, informed us that the issue was now decided and the camp was now categorised as a full fledged Marwari Yuva manch run relief camp even by the district administration. She said that earlier for few days Manch had received some rice and cooking gas cylinders and generator facility from the Supaul district administration it was listed as district administration run government camp. Now The Manch has stopped receiving any help from the district administration the administration has also agreed to struck off the name of this camp from the list of government run relief camps. Speaking on behalf of Supaul district administration, a Dy.SP, Manish Kumar Sinha also confirmed the fact.

The team was happy to note that the relief camp run by the Marwari Yuva Manch there was better managed. In spite of the fact that because of a space crunch in the camp it could not accomodate maximum number of flood victims for shelter but it was open to all for food - even for those not staying in Manch relief camp. They used to go for announcment through the public address system inviting all for lunch, dinner and breakfast.

At Government run Lalit Narayan Laxmi Narayan Balika Project High School Triveniganj camp there was rooms available for the flood victims to take shelter but there was not at all any arrangement for their food. The medicare facility was available at this camp as the visiting PUCL team found two auxilliary nurse midwifes (ANMs) namely Aruna Kumari and Meena Kumari attending the medicare camp inside the camp with their stock of few medicines there was no doctor available at this camp. These two ANMs could not even recall the name of the medical doctor - incharge of the medical camp there. This fact spoke voluminously about the state of medicare in this camp. There were 2 toilets and 1 hand-pump in this camp. All the government-run relief camps barring Mega Camps in Supaul town had the similar mismanagement.

Visiting PUCL inquiry team members were disgusted to know that the NGO functionaries of a NGO partner of the actionaid - Muzaffarpur Vikas Mandal - namely Jagdish Yadav, Basudeo Thakur and Mukesh Thakur were thrashed black and blue by Yadav strongmen in the locality when they refused to abide by their dictates of not running community food camp for local dalit flood victims in the Champanagar Panchayat under Raghopur Block of the district.

Mismanagement galore was noticed at all the relief camps visited by the PUCL team which included - Simrahi Dharmshala, Inter College Raghopur, Satyadeo High School Pipra. However contrary to it the condition of Mega Camp set up by the district administration in High School Simrahi was found to be in some order. Though for 5825 flood victims taking shelter there there was 28 toilets and 26 hand-pumps. The camp has also a generator set.

At Raghopur Refferal Hospital there was an anarchic situation prevailing when the visiting team reached there alongwith diarrhoea patients - one old and a teenager boy from Dharmshala Relief Camp. The patients were sent to the hospital by a thela and when they reached there a lady doctor manning the camp asked them to be shifted to a place without attending them. She was about to move outside but when she noticed that the PUCL team members accompanied by a lensmen (Ranjan Rahi) she returned back to her table. Accordingly thereafter the said lady doctor asked the patients to be kept in the hospital where they were given a place on the floor along with other diarrhoea patients. They were administered saline and were given medicines. (See photos above)

The team also visited roadside relief camps falling under Saharsa district. These camps were in Sonebarsa locality of the district. At Patanjali Barh Rahat Shivir Mahavir Sthan Soha Nahar Chowk Sonebarsa the arrangement was found to be satisfactory. Here it was found that the relief volunteers used to carry foods to the flood victims inside inundated villages by boat.

Recommendations

  • The state government should rise to the occasion and should go for streamlining its disaster management department. It was noticed that the government machinery took undue time to streamline its machinery to help the disaster victims. A permanent trained disaster machinery should be set up which could be pressed into service in the time of disaster like - floods, earth quakes, epidemic, fire and similar other situations.
  • Government employees should be trained especially to handle a disaster like situation so that they could develop sympathietic attitude towards the disaster victims.
  • Medical Perssonell should also be trained to tackle disaster like situation and for it permanent infrastructural facilities be made available at each and every district of the state.
  • NGOs should also be asked to train its perssonel to work in a disaster like condition.


People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014