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     CURRENT ISSUE JANUARY 01, 2007
 
   NATION: TSUNAMI RELIEF
 

Ground Zero

Even two years after the tsunami, government relief operations are in a pathetic state, says a CAG report

 
  PICTURE SPEAK
Foreign aid worth Rs 2,939.85 crore* was availed by the centre. Of this, only Rs 249.88 crore has been disbursed as of June 20 06. The balance Rs 2,689.97 crore is parked with the centre.
It is the saga of callous and pathetic implementation of relief work and rehabilitation of the tsunami-affected. The tsunami that hit the Indian coastline on the morning of December 26, 2004, swept away 1,089 villages, claimed over 10,273 lives and rendered 2,39,024 families homeless. By all accounts, it was the biggest natural calamity to hit India. You would expect the Central Government and the states to pull their might to provide not just immediate relief but also long-term rehabilitation to those affected. Typically though, as the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) released to Parliament this month reveals, the relief and reconstruction operations are marked by a combination of political indifference and bureaucratic inefficiency. And it's not just one state.

A week after the tsunami, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, apparently moved by the plight of the affected had declared: "We will do everything possible for you. I have come from Delhi to lend my support to you." The sentiments unfortunately have not translated into action. Neither at the Centre nor at the state levels. Recall the war of words between the Centre and the then Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. She had accused the Centre of denying funds. The truth, however, is bitter. Tamil Nadu had asked for Rs 4,805.82 crore and was sanctioned Rs 2,347.19 crore. Of the Rs 820.31 crore released, only Rs 597.67 crore was spent.

DRIP RELIEF
States demand: Rs 11,796.40 crore

Centre recommends: Rs 5,690.81 crore

Home Ministry sanctions: Rs 3,644.05 crore

Planning Commission given: Rs 1,607.01 crore

States got: Rs 1,759.05 crore

Funds utilised: Rs 1,074.98 crore

States spent less than 10 per cent of the money originally demanded

Worse, Rs 228.58 crore was misutilised or diverted

AID DIVERSION
CAG finds that the states diverted as much as Rs 44.88 crore from the tsunami relief and rehabilitation kitty

Andhra Pradesh sent Rs 2 crore for relief to earthquake victims in J&K and Rs 25 lakh to Andaman and Nicobar for tsunami relief

Kerala diverted Rs 11.51 crore to meet administrative expenditure

Pondicherry used Rs 19.66 crore for unconnected works and Rs 10.07 crore for unapproved fishermen's subsid

PREVENTIVE FAILURE
Gross violation of Coastal Regulation Zone guidelines by commercial and industrial outfits was the biggest culprit which led to the loss of human lives and property
A 1993 Supreme Court order for coastal zone maritime authority was implemented but none of the states drafted a management plan

A September 2003 home ministry directive to create systems for emergency procurement of supplies was not implemented in any state

Only Rs 3.40 lakh of Rs 90.32 lakh was used for coastal forestation in Pondicherry. A bio wall would have helped prevent the onslaught of water.

NO LESSONS LEARNT
KERALA: There has been no review of Town and Country Planning Act, zoning and coastal land use regulations even after the tsunami.

ANDHRA PRADESH: Proposals for amendment to AP Town Planning Act 1920 and Municipalities Act 1965 on land use are pending.

TAMIL NADU: New land use and building bye-laws yet to be proposed by the Revenue Department and Disaster Mitigation Department.

ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR: No review of bye-laws or zoning regulations, no identification of vulnerable structures. Worse, despite guidelines and funding of Rs 2.63 crore for establishment of five emergency response centres, only one has been set up.

HOUSING CHAOS
ANDHRA PRADESH: While 481 houses were damaged, till September 2006 only 59 new houses were reconstructed.

KERALA: Out of 4,053 houses to be constructed by NGOs, only 2,431 have been completed.

TAMIL NADU: Only two of the 14 site plans approved and 51 layout proposals are pending in Chennai.

PONDICHERRY: Only 197 of 5,245 houses to be constructed by NGOs have been completed.

*International Development Association, Asian Development Bank and International Fund for Agricultural Development

It's not just Tamil Nadu. The four states and Andaman and Nicobar Islands had asked for Rs 11,796 crore for relief works. The Centre sanctioned Rs 3,644.05 crore, of which Rs 1,607.01 crore was earmarked for long-term reconstruction by the Planning Commission. Of the Rs 1,759.05 crore actually released by the Centre, only Rs 1,074.98 crore was utilised. The states could use less than 10 per cent of the sum they originally had demanded. Worse, Rs 228.58 crore was misutilised.

Today, none of the states (or for that matter the NGOs) are anywhere near fulfilling promises of rehabilitation (see chart). Neither are systems-be it the emergency response systems and disaster relief procurement contracts-suggested by the Sharad Pawar Committee in place yet. If there is any semblance of normalcy, it is because of the work done by civil society. Despite the fact that since 1999 the country has been hit by a calamity almost every year, there is little evidence of commitment to set up disaster relief and rehabilitation systems. The UPA regime, with its penchant for committees and commissions, may see this as an opportunity to appoint one when what is needed is a serious crack of the whip. The CAG report could be the first step in getting it right. Finally.

 RELATED STORIES

Tsunami: One Year After The Tragedy

Tsunami Aftermath: Support For Survivors

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