Drought relief measures inadequate in Banaskantha: PUCL report

The People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Gujarat State branch, has alleged that relief measures in the drought hit Banaskantha district have not yet reached the affected people effectively. The People's Union for Civil Liberty, which undertook the tour of the district last week, reported that the conditions of the villagers who were seen working in temperatures reaching forty-four degrees Celsius were pitiable. PUCL report demanded that the government take immediate steps to speed up the slow moving relief operations.

In Naliya village in Radhanpur Taluka, men, women, and even children were found working at relief camps from morning to evening. Workers were seen trying to make temporary structures to protect their children from the sun.

The People's Union for Civil Liberty reported that around 30-35 children below the age of 14 and some pregnant women were seen working at the sites for a daily wage of Rs. 10 or Rs. 21

In Sui village, it was reported that due to the searing heat, workers had left the relief campus and had returned to their villages.

The people's Union for Civil liberty stated that a similar situation prevailed in other villages like Morwada, Dungla and Dhadhachana the villagers complained of official apathy. They said that Rs. 40/- a day was too less to meet their needs of food and water and demanded that the supply of essential goods should be increased.

People's Union for Civil liberties team Convenor, Dhiru Mistry, said that the government should make arrangements to provide shade to the workers.

Warning that if immediate steps were not taken, the situation should only worsen. The PUCL demanded that adequate health services should be provided in the area and that child labour should be stopped. The drought had worsened because of a lack of a coherent policy to tackle to such a situation after the '87 drought.

The people's Union for Civil Liberty will visit the drought-affected areas of Saurashtra in the coming ten days to make an assessment of the situation.

The State Government also came under flak for its failure to prevent the drought situation arising out of last year's failed monsoon and the insensitive and inhuman nature of the relied works started by it.

The state Government could have taken a cut from the failed monsoon and acted in time, the report said. The team members opine that if the state Government failed to effectively administer relief to the affected people, situation might go out of hand for monsoon in still a month and a half away.

In Santalpur and Vav Tharad areas nothing green is visible over a stretch of 80 KM People are suffering due to lack of basic amenities. Their miseries have been compounded by the fact the mercury had been soaring till a couple of days ago.

PUCL's Dushkal Pratirodh Samiti had carried two truckloads of food grains to the affected areas. The report said that the conditions under which people worked to earn Rs. 40/- per day reminded the PUCL members of the dark days of slavery.

The worst part of the relief work was employment of a number of child laborers. The were seen toiling at many places some of them were as young as ten years of age, which violated the relief norms which clearly state that children below fourteen years of age could not be engaged for work. Even pregnant women were seen working at some places.

The laborers, narrating their views to team members, alleged that drinking water was a luxury, and at times, they received very little or no water at all. Government officials, including doctors, hardly visited the areas where relief works were on.

In Morwada, Dungla, Dadhachana villages of Vav Taluk people had migrated. In village after village the same story of scarcity and Government apathy was repeated.

Thirteen villages of Katau Block received water with high fluoride content, which was unfit for human consumption.

Members of the PUCL team: Dhirubhai Mistry, Dwaraknath, Damini Shah, and Tapan Das Gupta. May 7, 2000


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(PUCL Bulletin, 2000)