“Three classes are sitting together in the open. We face a lot of problems in studying since there is a lot of noise and disturbance,” Ahanger added. His friend Surinder Kumar seeks immediate attention of the government towards the plight of students and demands reconstruction of school building on modern pattern so that the life of over 1500 students could be saved.
Just a few hundred meters away from the school stands the earthquake affected Government Girls Middle School where over 150 students are enrolled, “We were in classrooms when the earthquake took place. We ran out and left our bags, shoes and everything behind,” said Sobiya Banoo, a student of Class 7.
Sobiya recalls that everyone was helpless at the time of earthquake on May 1, “The teachers dragged many students out of the school building. Many of them fainted. The school is totally unsafe. We don’t even have tents where our teachers could teach us,” she said.
As per the government assessments and the data revealed in a joint meeting chaired by Group of Ministers and officers of different government departments, 29000 houses have been partially damaged, 10500 severely and 655 fully in the May 1 and May 14 earthquake in Doda district alone. While 494 schools, 12 PHCs and 273 Community Centres have suffered severe damage, government property suffered damages worth over Rs 80 crore. In Kishtwar district, 18000 houses were reported partially damaged, 2700 severely and 70 fully which included 374 schools. Damage worth Rs 12-14 crore has been reported to the government property. In Ramban district, private property worth Rs. 15 lakh and government property worth Rs 1.5 crore has been reported damaged. Beside, the earthquake has claimed the life of two persons and injured nearly 90, mostly school children.
As against the requirement of 30000 tents, the government has provided only 3000 tents of which around 2000 have been offered by International Committee of the Red Cross. In addition to the state government, Red Cross is also helping in relief efforts, “We provided tents and medical help to the earthquake victims. All our volunteers are working on ground in close coordination with the administration,” said Asgar Ali Sheikh, Incharge of Red Cross in Kishtwar.
Road connectivity and communication to far flung areas is becoming a major hurdle in relief and rehabilitation efforts. At places, roads have caved in, making it difficult for officials to assess the damages. It takes two to three days of journey on foot for the officials to reach villages like Machail and Suti in Chenab valley.
‘’Government airdropped officials at some far-off places like Marwah, Warwan, Dachhan and Machail to assess damages. Preliminary assessment suggests that nearly 32000 families got affected due to earthquake. We are compiling the data,’’ said Additional Deputy Commissioner Kishtwar, Rajesh Kumar Shavan. Mr. Shavan added that the requisition in terms of demand and requirement has been submitted to the government and the victims would be compensated soon.
Alarmed by wide-spread destruction, the Jammu and Kashmir government sought a relief package from Delhi for relief and rehabilitation on the lines of Ladakh cloud-burst tragedy which had left more than 255 people dead. Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad visited the area after which the centre committed Rs 350 crore for reconstruction aid but, given the damages suffered, the state might need more doles. The state had promised Rs 25 crores for the victims out of which only around Rs 50 lakh have been distributed among the victims of twin districts of Kishtwar and Doda so far.
With the state ministers, legislators and political leaders making beelines to visit affected families in Chenab valley and circulating photographs of their visits among local newspapers to gain political mileage, the relief work has been affected by political mudslinging among the local authorities. There have been widespread allegations of discrimination in distribution of relief. Victims have complained of being ignored at the cost of extending benefits to those enjoying blessings of political leaders.
Consider this: Tents are not given to affected families but to the local political activists who have worked for a particular minister or legislator during the previous elections. Thousands of people in Doda and Kishtwar are spending nights under open sky. In upper reaches, no relief has been provided and whatever has been given is not enough to cater to the population of over 3.5 lakh affected people.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah seems barely interested, partly because of political compulsions and partly due to the fact that National Conference doesn’t have a strong vote bank in the hilly region. Twenty four days have passed since the first earthquake shook the region but the administration has failed to meet even the basic needs of the affected families. The victims have even held protests against the government but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.