Fifteen days on, the situation in the flooded villages of Banaskantha in north Gujarat is far from what can be called normal.
Gujarat: In the wake of the massive floods that hit north Gujarat in late July this year, two districts of the region – Patan and Banaskantha were declared “disaster affected” by the revenue department of the state, a status that will be effective till August 15.
As the district is gearing up to celebrate Independence Day, Dilip Kumar Rana, the collector of Banaskantha, announced on social media that Dhanera, a taluka in the district is back to normal. However, the situation in the villages of Banaskantha is far from what can be called normal.
After the water receded, what prevailed was widespread death, the stench of rotting crops and dead cattle, and a sense of loss and fear among people who now have to build their lives from scratch. However, there has not been a disease outbreak yet.
While Dhanera, the commercial hub of Banaskantha is limping back to normalcy, locals claim that there are about thirteen villages where no form of government relief has reached yet. In many villages, residents have not received the exact amount of money which was announced by the state government.
“About a thousand houses have been destroyed in my village but we have not got any money for assistance as was announced by the government. Neither have we got any compensation for our dead cattle. We were told that the government will pay Rs 600 per person, giving a family a substantial amount to begin rebuilding life from scratch. But we are being given Rs 1000 per family. Officials are making us sign on a blank form. We are homeless, penniless and have no food to eat. We have been accepting whatever we are being given helplessly,” said Manshabhai Raymalbhai Paradiya, a resident of Vasan village in Banaskantha.
Paradiya and his family used to depend on the agricultural production from the piece of land they owned. In the flood, Paradiya lost his home and crops. Bajra and groundnut, which he had sown in his three hectare of land and had cost him Rs one lakh, is completely destroyed. What remains of the plot are layers of sand and silt.
“It will take around Rs five to six lakhs to just level the land. Who will give that amount of money? I don’t know how long will it take to be able to grow crops in my own land again,” he adds.
In Aeta village of Dhanera that saw two deaths, more than hundred houses were filled with water, thirty houses were rendered completely damaged or washed away. However, villagers claim nobody from the government has visited the village yet.
“No taluka development officer, no collector or any other official has visited nor have the flood-affected people got any cash or help from the government”, says Dalpatbhai Bhatia, a social worker and the leader of Banaskantha Dalit Sangathan (BDS), an organisation whose volunteers have been working relentlessly for the flood victims since water receded.
In most villages, the sarpanch is identifying the villagers. People are being given Rs 45- 60 per day. However, there are also some villages where the sarpanch has been side-lined and local heavyweights have taken charge of their own accord.
“The sarpanch is nowhere to be scene. In fact, the deputy sarpanch, along with some other men, has taken over and is distributing money. The sarpanch belongs to a lower caste,” tells Versibhai, a resident of Thawar village.
“There are about two hundred families affected by the flood in Thawar. Some villagers have got only Rs 1000 while some have got up to Rs 4000. None of us, however, have got any compensation for our dead cattle or for rebuilding our houses. We even apprised the taluka panchayat of the situation but we were not taken seriously”, adds Versibhai, whose family of ten is homeless and has lost the shop the family used to run in the village, their only means to earn livelihood.
“The Talati (village accountant) has even asked for bribes from some of the flood-affected villagers. The villagers were told they will get the cash only if they give Rs 2000. Helpless villagers have agreed to that too,” claims Bhatia.
After water receded, the first relief to reach the victims was from private sources like non-governmental organisations (NGO), groups of social workers and local volunteers. There were teams from various religious and community based organisations like Jamiat Ulema-e Hind, Jalaram Seva Kendra affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BDS, Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, Umiya Mitra Mandal of Patidars from Ahmedabad who distributed water, ready-made food, utensils and tents to camp in.
Jagabhai, a 33-year-old man and his family have been living in the tent provided by the BDS. He had a kucha hut and had managed to build two concrete rooms where his family lived. The hut is now washed away and the rooms are filled with silt. No one in his village Khoda has got the money the government had promised.
“Some of the villagers were given Rs 600 against an adult and Rs 400 hundred against a child. But no one has got any assistance for rebuilding houses or compensation for dead cattle. Besides, there is no arrangement for water. We have been using contaminated water of the well that got submerged. Some families are completely dependent on the food given by private organisations. Our family, however, was able to salvage two sacks of bajra and we have been living on that”, shared Jagabhai.
Noticeably, an amount of Rs 1500 crore by the state government and Rs 500 crore from the central government was announced for the flood hit areas.
“About 650 teams have been working for the cash doles in Banaskantha and Patan. Till now, Rs 84 crore have been distributed to 1.35 million families. Rs 48 crore has been given out for house assistance to 81,000 families. Besides, we have also been giving out funds against cattle deaths,” informed Pankaj Kumar, principal secretary of the revenue department, who has been in charge of the relief operations post floods.
Kumar claimed he did not receive any complaints about the irregularity in distributing the money and said, “Relief work is almost on its completion and the team has done a wonderful job. If there is any such complaint, it can be surely dealt on a district level.”
Kumar stated that in the second round of the work, damage to agricultural fields shall be surveyed.
Cause of flood, its assessment and the role of GSDMA
Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) is yet to announce a flood assessment report. Meanwhile, a fact finding committee headed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Janpath, a Gujarat based NGO under the banner of Gujarat Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee visited the flood hit Banaskantha and Patan.
The team of five – Mahesh Pandya, an environmental engineer, Deepak Jargela, a civil engineer, Sanjay Bhave, a professor, Pankti Jog, a social activist and Gemarbhai, a local resident of Banaskantha – who visited the flood hit areas on August 5, found gross negligence and mismanagement on part of the authorities which led to such massive floods.
“The Dantiwara dam was full and the authorities opened all the gates at once without warning the villagers. Water came faster than anticipated and before anyone could understand what was happening, there was about 11 feet water already,” narrates Gemarbhai who survived the flood in one of worst hit villages.
The situation on the second day of the incessant rains compounded because of a major breach in the Narmada canal near Kankrej in Banaskantha. In a non-descript village of Khariya, 17 of a family died in the first 48 hours of the flood. Khariya lost 30 villagers to the flood and is one of the worst affected.
“The canal supplies the water of Narmada to Rajasthan. A tributary of Narmada flows above the canal where a siphon is structured. The one-kilometre-wide siphon is located at Totna-Kahas village that proved to be not wide enough for the gush of water that was released when all the gates were opened at once. The canal was breached at ten or fifteen places and this resulted in the destruction of Kharia and Runi villages,” tells Mahesh Pandya.
“The width of that siphon should have been 1.5 kilometers at least, as villagers had been suggesting for long,” he added.
“Dhanera got flooded because the Jetpura dam broke down. A river named Rail which mostly remains dry, overflowed against everyone’s expectations. Meanwhile, the gates of the dam in the neighbouring (40 kilometres from Dhanera) Jetpura village in Jhalod district of Rajasthan malfunctioned and did not open, leading to the flood in Dhanera and its villages. The gates of the dam have reportedly not been opened for a long time due to which they could not be opened in time of need,” explained Deepak Jargela.
“An engineering audit should be carried out of the dams and a dam manual should be in place,” he added.
Reportedly, a timely information about the malfunction from Jhalod’s collector to the Banaskantha’s collector gave the Banaskantha district authority just enough time to evacuate about 90% of the population of the Dhanera taluka.
Nonetheless, three rivers of the area that overflowed, Rail, Vasanni and Siyano Vakro, affected Thavar, Runi, Rampura, Sonawada, Malega, Dhaka, Aeta, Pegiya, Nani Duglol, Bhatib, Shergad Gora, Jariya villages of Banaskantha, as per the fact finding report.