The Guardian February 21, 2001


India: Playing politics with lives

The magnitude of the human tragedy of the January 26 earthquake in 
Gujarat (India) is very difficult to comprehend. In just 40 seconds over 
50,000 people were gone. Thousands of buildings across the state had 
collapsed and many thousands were trapped in the rubble. The catastrophe 
has brought a rapid and generous response from around the world but 
unfortunately this aid is not always reaching the victims.

National and international teams continue struggling to clear the rubble 
and bury the bodies of the victims. Epidemic prevention is a huge priority 
with so many people congregated in close proximity without adequate 
sanitation.

Reports abound of relief materials lying, in fact rotting, at Ahmedabad and 
Bhuj airports. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) says in its 
weekly paper People's Democracy that supplies are not reaching the 
people who need them the most because of the administrative paralysis of 
the central government.

The CPI(M) proposed that a National Co-ordination Committee comprising 
political parties and other agencies be set up to monitor, oversee and co-
ordinate relief efforts. The central Government agreed but so far nothing 
has been done about it.

The communists call the refusal of the Gujarat Government and the central 
Vajpayee Government disgusting, appalling and cruel.

There are disturbing reports that this apparent paralysis of the 
administration is a deliberate ploy to allow the RSS (a paramilitary 
communal organisation with connections to the ruling BJP party which is 
notorious for committing violent acts, especially against Muslims) to 
appear as the sole champion of relief activities.

Earlier reports of relief looting have been linked to some RSS outfits and 
there are confirmed reports that aid has been prevented from reaching 
predominantly Muslim villages.

The impact of the earthquake was made worse where corrupt developers had 
ignored regulations and buildings failed to meet design and construction 
standards. Many developers have fled following the earthquake.

Relief operations are on-going but grave doubts remain as to the political 
games being played by the administration.

"By delaying the constitution of the National Committee the Prime Minister 
is allowing such nefarious politicisation of relief work at the cost of 
death and misery of lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of people", the CPI(M) 
warns.

The CPI(M) also points out that the international response was swift and 
generous  both in monetary and material resources  possibly amounting 
to more than the Indian Government's own estimates of property loss due to 
the earthquake.

The Government has sought US$1.5 billion assistance from the World Bank and 
Asian Development Bank. The UN and its agencies have made a commitment of 
more than US$50 million. Many other countries have made considerable 
commitments  exactly how much the Government is not saying.

There are concerns that the Government will attempt to resolve its 
budgetary problems at the expense of earthquake victims. The communists 
strongly condemn attempts to use the human tragedy for nefarious political 
purposes and demand swift action in organising the much needed help to the 
earthquake victims.

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