CL Bulletin, 2001

Distressing human rights situation in Gujarat

The state of human rights in Gujarat, especially during the last three years that the BJP has been in power, people's life has been one of distress, and dissatisfaction. Far from being a model state, Gujarat has lost its high place of pride and esteem. Thanks to the poor, inefficient and sectarian policies pursued by the state, the government seems to have lost touch with the realities of people's problems and complaints and built a castle for itself with complete indifference to the rising tide of people's miseries and helplessness.
Unfortunately, during this very period Gujarat has faced natural calamities of droughts, f1oods, tornado and an extremely high degree of earthquake in quick succession causing unparalleled devastation in Kutch, Ahmedabad and certain parts of Saurashtra.

These calamities required highly skilled disaster management. Thus, the state government had to face a challenge of unusual nature. The government could have done this with success provided they followed a people centric approach involving the earthquake afflicted people as well as several NGOs who were willing and keen to render every kind of service to the people. Gujarat has a rich tradition of service-minded voluntary organizations ready to help with their spirit of initiative and enterprise.

Today, after six months of miserable plight and pain, the work of relief and rehabilitation remain incomplete on account of the vacillating, uncertain, and inept handling of the disaster. Lack of clear or definite policies on the part of the government has left a large number of people completely helpless" Even the public spirited NGOs are on the verge of giving up their work about to run away on account of confused policies followed by the government.

People's miseries have multiplied partly because the state government does not have a properly organised infrastructure at the lower level. The situation is the direct result of the state governments decision not to have village Panchayat elections that were due during the last year - a constitutional lapse for which the government have to blame themselves.

The state government have announced various packages of rehabilitation. But they involve official delay, conflicting interpretations and not clear enough to the general public. Even after six months, a majority have to live in temporary shelters. While attention is being given to cities and towns there are several villages that have suffered from complete neglect. Clearance of debris remains incomplete causing hardships to people. But the biggest problem for the people has been lack of guidance and coordination. They have to run from pillar to post in search of help. As a result, they have started leaving Kutch.
People in Kutch are facing several problems such as:

Lack of coordination between the capital and the bureaucrats working in the field.

Official delay and red-tape

The NHRC visited Kutch and founded that great amount of delay in working out of the task of the rehabilitation. Orphans women, children, and the poor have not received proper attentions or care. People who have been disabled have not received the care that they deserve. Again, the decision making process should have been speeded up. There is also a need for setting a group that can properly and adequately monitor the policies regarding disaster management as well as the urgent task of rehabilitation.

PUCL, Gujarat notes with regret that the government has turned a deaf ear to the repeated entreaties and requests made by the PUCL, including several meetings with tile Governors of the State Minister in-charge of Home Department as well as the police officers of the State or the formation of state level Human Rights Commission. In the course of last two years PUCL representatives met the visiting Chairpersons of the National Human Rights Commission, every time hoping a positive response from the state.
While several other states, like Maharashtra and Rajasthan, have instituted Human Rights Commissions, Gujarat remains a lone example of denying that legitimate and much sought after right of the people of the state. Several serious and highly disturbing complaints have been noted by the PUCL in respect of the poor handling of the earthquake disaster by the state government. For example, the poor have been deliberately and systematically sidelined in providing relief. There have been glaring instances of communal bias in the handling of disaster management and providing relief. Preferences have been given to the higher caste and the well-to-do sections of people. Work pertaining to education has been either ignored or pursued in a half-hearted manner.

What is true in the disaster management is merely the expression of one of the overall policy of saffronization. The minorities of Gujarat live in an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, their legitimate human rights being ignored and neglected. All the outfits of the party in power continue to enjoy the favour and support from the government. They consider themselves above law and often dictate policies of their choice. Whenever and wherever they operate, their writ seems to prevail from government to educational as well as other social and cultural institutions.

Constitutional propriety, protection of human rights, including gender justice and rights of the child are woefully overlooked. Police atrocities, including the tortured death of Colonel Save at Umdegaaon, South Gujarat, have left bitter memories in the minds of people.

Gujarat, no doubt has a government b ut there is no governance. The party in power regard themselves as above the law and corruption of every conceivable type prevails in all walks of life. The nexus between the politicians and criminals, irresponsible elements in society are too obvious to need mention. The overall picture is one of the neglect, inaptitude and loss of credibility.

-- Deva Vrat N Pathak, President, Gujarat PUCL, Gautam Thaker, General Secretary, Gujarat PUCL

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