According to both government records and officials in charge of disaster management, much of the flood relief operations were complete before the Himachal Pradesh elections were announced on October 12.
New Delhi: Chief election commissioner A.K. Joti recently tried to justify his decision to delay the announcement of Gujarat’s election dates by saying that the application of the model code of conduct would have hampered the state’s flood relief efforts. The explanation was rejected by the opposition because the model code of conduct – which kicks in as soon as poll dates are announced and bars the government from announcing any fresh policies or development package – does not come in the way of relief measures. Now it emerges that Joti’s assertion is flatly contradicted by details of the state government’s flood relief operations – and the statements of officials in charge of them.
“And at a time when restoration work is done, it involves a lot of government force. A total of 26,443 employees of the state government will be given election duties. So the staff, which manages the restoration work will only be assigned the election duties as we don’t supply staff,” Joti had said. “So, once the moral code of conduct is implemented these government employees will have to leave all the revamping and start performing their duties in connection with elections.”
However, officials working in flood-affected areas have said that most of the relief work was over weeks – if not months – ago. Even in Banaskantha, the worst affected district, disaster management in charge Romilaben Patel told NDTV that only the last leg of relied work remains. “Civic work is all complete long ago, and survey work for land and crop damage due to floods is ongoing. This will be complete in the next 10 to 15 days,” Patel told the channel.
When Indian Express visited the district, they found that of the total Rs 1,084 crore released and disbursed for relief so far in the district, two-thirds (Rs 727 crore) had been disbursed by August 15. The remaining Rs 357 crore was distributed in instalments of Rs 174 crore and Rs 183 crore, mostly towards crop damage, in the two weeks since October 12 – when the Himachal Pradesh election dates were announced.
District collector R.J. Makadia told the newspaper that the model code of conduct would have no impact on flood relief work. “The announcement of election dates and the model code of conduct will have no implication on relief work. Since this is ongoing work, the pending compensation will continue in the coming days.” Makadia refused to comment on the number and quantum of tenders awarded after October 12, Indian Express said.
In Patan district, where 140 villages were “badly affected”, 100% of the flood relief work was completed before October 12, the Indian Express quoted collector Anand Patel as saying.
Morbi district disaster management in charge, S.A. Dodiya, said work was ongoing but “mostly over”, according to NDTV.
Rajkot district collector Vikrant Pandey said only one taluka was flood affected in the district and the compensation for agricultural loss there was already complete.
In other districts listed as flood-affected – Surendranagar, Mehsana, Aravalli and Sabarkantha – officials said the heavy rain did not lead to flood-like situation, NDTV reported.
The Indian Express quoted official records in Sabarkantha as saying that a total of Rs 63 crore has been disbursed as crop loss to over 54,000 farmers covering all ten talukas of the district.
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Principal secretary (revenue) Pankaj Kumar, who is overseeing relief operations in the states, said that by August 9, 643 of the 650 damaged roads had been opened in Banaskantha and Patan districts. In addition, all 202 community and primary health centres in the two districts were operational by August 9, Times of India quoted him as saying.
Speaking to NDTV, Joti said the Election Commission’s decision to delay the decision was based on two letters received from the Gujarat chief secretary on September 27 and October 2. “If the model code of conduct had been in place, we would have had to approach the EC for every single thing,” chief secretary J.N. Singh told the Indian Express. Why the state government wrote such a letter when the situation in the flood affected districts did not warrant it is a question only chief minister Vijay Rupani can answer.
The Election Commission had been widely criticised for not releasing the Gujarat election dates earlier, when it announced Himachal Pradesh election dates. Standard practice is that dates of elections to be held within six months of each other are announced at the same time. “It is strange that Gujarat has been left out of today’s announcement when the state’s elections are due in December. In fact, the long gap between the Himachal Pradesh polling date of November 8 and the counting of ballots of December 18 can only be because the Election Commission intends to squeeze the Gujarat election in between,” a former chief election commissioner told The Wire on October 12, when the Himachal Pradesh dates were announced. “What does the delay in announcing the Gujarat election dates mean? It gives Narendra Modi more time to announce sops and packages for the state.”
Opposition parties have also alleged that the Election Commission’s delay was mainly motivated by the consideration that Prime Minister Modi and the BJP could announce more schemes and sops for Gujarat without violating the model code of conduct. While the BJP has denied these charges, on October 22, Modi inaugurated and laid foundation stones for a host of projects worth more than Rs 1,600 in poll-bound Gujarat.