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.