Those who expected major overhaul in the system post floods must be disappointed. The system that governed the distribution of relief checques runs on principle of might is right, reports Tasavur Mushtaq
Mohammad Ramzan, a 78-year-old frail man, is the first person to arrive outside the business unit Parimpora of Jammu and Kashmir Bank Ltd. Wrinkled face, sunken eyes, chronic cough, stinking clothes and a bank passbook is the permanent feature of this old man’s journey of last one year. He visits this branch everyday to check his account balance. A resident of Barthana in Qamarwari, Ahad’s only income is the old age pension of few hundred rupees per month. Survived by his wife, 74-year-old Mughli, Ramzan’s two sons have left him in lurch after getting married.
With pension and help from a few locals, Ramzan used to manage his life with intermittent difficulties. He had also turned his small patch of land into kitchen garden. The produce of which, most often, would go in his kitchen. Then came September 2014 floods. His one storied house was submerged along with his household items. When the water receded, Ramzan along with his wife returned to see the wet and weakened walls, dampened floor and stinking environs. The garden turned into heap of mud. Pension continued, but the shelter was lost.
Ramzan, like many others was shattered. With government announcement of relief, he rushed to Tehsil office and completed the requisite formalities. Though the announcement of relief amount was made according to the extent of damage, Ramzan got a cheque of Rs 3800 only. Since then he visits bank everyday to check balance of his account. The only answer he gets is ‘Winn chuv neh woathmut (It is yet to come). On many occasions, bank officials contributed money for him from their own pockets.
Contrary to this, Ajaz Ahmad, 32-year-old property and car dealer had cheque credited to his account for Rs 12,600. Besides crediting to his account, Ajaz managed to have around six bearer cheques of same amount which he managed to cash from different banks. Not only this, Ajaz was sort of ‘broker’ in case somebody needed the relief cheque. When this reporter talked to Ajaz informally, he said, “One cheque of Rs 12,600 costs me around 10,000 and I will sell it at Rs 12,000.” When asked why somebody would buy it for Rs 600, he said, “this is not matter of Rs 600, but the recipient will be registered in the list of flood victims and also will receive Rs 75,000 in next phase.”
Ramzan and Ajaz represent hundred of people on each side. In fact this is how the relief distribution took place. The victims allege that the cheques of Rs 75,000, Rs 12,500 and Rs 3,800 were distributed, but to influential people under undue relief.
“There’s not only discrepancy in the distribution of cheques but also in the amount sanctioned. Some of the houses which were not fully damaged have been given Rs 75,000 whereas poor people have been left to fend for themselves,” said Muhammad Maqbool, a resident of Karan Nagar.
The accusation came true when the five member panel, which had been given mandate by the Apex Court to ascertain the efficacy of the relief operations in the J&K, has discovered major discrepancies between the claims of the State Government and the situation on ground. The Committee visited Kulgam, Pulwama, Islambad, Srinagar districts in Valley and Udhampur, Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu region. The panel members observed, “Relief was made subject to might, influence and political affiliation.”
Though government constituted special teams to assess the damage, but victims alleged that there was selective approach.
Reportedly revenue officials used to sign the cheque book in advance and names were written by the ‘brokers’ from whom they collected money. “In many cases father and son were given two relief cheques despite living together in one house,” a fresh recruit Pathwari told Kashmir Life on condition of anonymity.
While talking to Kashmir Life a bank officer said that “I was shocked to see relief cheques being credited in account of minors who had opened student accounts only few months ago.”
Officer further added that once we tried to ascertain the veracity of the cheque, “we were rebuked by revenue officials.”
There are allegations that the list of flood victims included households which were not hit by the floods. For instance, Abdul Aziz of Chattabal has received Rs 12,600 cheque from Tehsildar duly credited in his account. Aziz’s house was not hit by floods and also prior to floods he had shifted to his new home in Lal Bazar.
This according to observers led to denial of rights to genuine victims. “See might and muscle influenced the cheque distribution. The uninfluenced lot suffered,” said Abdul Basit of Mehjoor Nagar.
A revenue official on condition of anonymity told Kashmir Life that the department partly relied on the feedback of the elders of particular areas. “We have to trust somebody. As the destruction was huge and demand of distributing relief was pressing, we took elders of the areas in confidence. If it is true what you say, then it is the fault of locals.”
Ramzan continues to visit his bank’s branch even after one year. His health may fail him, but his hope is alive. He had recently again submitted his bank statement in Tehsil office. His wait will end with entry in his passbook and official declaration by bank official, “Woatmut chuv relief (Relief has been credited).”