Ten relief camps and 10,000 inmates: that’s District Collector K. Srinivas’s official figure for Ahmedabad for the PM’s ears. According to a study, what he won’t hear is that there are 15,000 more in 15 camps, ‘‘officially closed’’, and hence ‘‘officially’’ out of the government’s sight and mind.
Harsh Mander, the country director of Action Aid and a member of the Forum for Relief and Reconciliation who found this in a survey of the relief camps, says these 15,000 ‘‘invisible’’ refugees don’t get either ration or medical help. Mander, who resigned from the IAS over the Gujarat riots and the state administration’s ‘‘indifference’’ towards them, submitted his report to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Tuesday night.
Organisers of the ‘‘closed’’ camps say they have been taken for a ride by Collector Srinivas, who made them write applications requesting closure with oral promises.
‘‘On June 15, a number of camp organisers met the Collector and asked him to issue ration cards to inmates who were ready to return home for the next six months, arrange 24-hour CRPF protection to those who return home, order a fresh survey of damaged properties and immediate compensation. He orally promised us these would be implemented in two-three days and in good faith, we wrote the applications saying we were ready to close the camps if these arrangements were done. We thought he would keep his promise,’’ says Abdul Hamid, organiser of the Bakhar Shah Roza relief camp in Gomtipur which is officially closed but has 900 inmates still living there.
The organisers say they received a notice from Srinivas three days later — by when the Collector had promised to implement all the demands — informing them that the camp had been officially closed after receiving a letter from the organisers. It also said the inmates still living in these ‘‘closed’’ camps were the sole responsibility of the organisers.
From that day, ration supply, water supply, sanitation facilities stopped as did the visits of doctors. Since then, the organisers have been depending on local NGOs and donors for food and water. As far as sanitation and health is concerned, the condition is appaling.
At Bakhar Shah Relief Camp in Gomtipur, the toilets have not been cleaned for over a week. Kitchen garbage lies strewn all around and a stray dogs loiter around. Over 900 people have been living in these conditions since June 18. ‘‘The condition is very bad here as we are forced to sleep under plastic sheets when it rains. The toilets are very dirty, but there is no option,’’ says Hameed Shaikh, a camp inmate.
Mohammad Ajmeri from the Vatva Relief camp says the inmates can’t go back and can’t even stay in such pathetic conditions. ‘‘They haven’t got the compensation, so they can’t repair their houses. People are sleeping on handcarts and under the open sky,’’ says Ajmeri.
On Wednesday, the camp organisers — who have formed the Refugee Rehabilitation Committee — and members of Action Aid submitted a memorandum to the Collector, the NHRC, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and K.P.S. Gill bringing to their notice the fact that many camps are still functioning but the ration and water supply as well as sanitation and health services have been stopped. It also points that the camp organisers have been pressured to shift the inmates to Dariakhan Ghummat and Shah Alam relief camp but the inmates are not willing to go.
The committee has threatened that if their demands are not met within three days, the victims and organisers will hold agitations.
Despite repeated attempts, Collector Srinivas was unavailable for comment.
Relief Commissioner C.K. Koshy clarified that the Collector had stated that there were six relief camps which had been closed but people continued living there apart from the 10 official relief camps. ‘‘There are only 800 people living in these six camps and we have requested them to shift to the bigger camps as they are living in unsafe conditions,’’ says Koshy.