Caste-based discrimination of Dalits, OBCs in relief distribution work following Amreli floods 2015

amreli1Amreli district in Gujarat received a rainfall of 2,580 mm on June 24, 2015, four times of the annual average over the last ten years.  The human death toll in Amreli Districts was at least 47.  Around 585 villages were affected in some way and 110 villages saw some damage and 73 villages were severely affected.  The Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) records the number of damaged houses to be 3988, the loss of crops to be spread over around 13,700 hectares and erosion to soil in over 9200 hectares. 

Following the disaster, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad, carried out a survey of some of the affected villages, interviewing 1,055 to know the impact of the floods on society. Excerpts from CSJ ‘s “A Report on the Intervention in the 2015 Amreli Flood”:  

The District Administration put up a sincere first response to the flood. To its credit the response teams worked hard to have the basic services such as electricity, healthcare and road connectivity was restored within a few days at most places. Necessary public infrastructure also did not take very long to be repaired. The Primary Health Centre at Kukanvav which was completely flooded was back in operation the following day.

The relief operations began with an initial assessment that was carried out at the village level. A second damage assessment survey was later carried out based on which the relief sum was evidently decided. This was done by taluka (block) level officers. The biggest howlers were made at this stage of the relief process. A reasonably high number of persons (269 people or 25%) attest that the survey teams did not even visit their homes or localities. Many said that the teams only visited houses closest to the main road.

Caste based discrimination has been very apparent in the process. Dalit colonies and some OBC colonies in many villages were those that were completely left out from the survey. This has been the case in Chandgarh and Kukanvav.

In Kukanvav, several persons from the Dalit and Devipujak colony  were sitting in protest against the neglect by the State Government. Kishorebhai Solanki, a Devipujak was one of the persons from the colony who had joined the Amreli MLA Paresh Dhanani in his fast-unto-death.  On 18th August, Kishore self-immolated on the road when his family of agriculture labourers was away working. It took Kishore’s death for taluka level officers to finally notice his colony and they soon carried out its survey. While Kishore’s family did eventually receive relief, most of the other families in the colony had to continue to wait.

When met with and asked about the suicide, the Kukanvav Taluka Development Officer and an associate said that they should not be faulted for the death since Kishore had not made a petition to them expressing his desire to kill himself. If he had, they would have carried out a survey earlier.

Harsukhbhai Makwana, a dalit agricultural labourer hung himself to death when relief refused to come. This reason is reported in the initial report of the Police and is what is maintained by his uncle and other kins. Their caste and occupation may not be co-incidental. The suffering out of the flood fell disproportionately in the laps of particular sections of the society and this is abetted by State’s policies. The report will deal with this aspect a little later.

Even where the surveys were carried out, people were denied adequate or any relief. Adequacy here is defined by entitlements under the relief package not normatively. The discrepancies are severest in cases of assistance for loss or damage to house and for damage to crops and agricultural land. In CSJ’s survey, only 173 of the 982 people who suffered damage to their houses received any assistance. 691 of the 982 were people who had either completely or substantially lost their homes.

amreli2

372 people had suffered from serious damage (loss of 3 inches or more of top soil) to their farmlands yet none of them had received assistance. Similarly, crop loss of over 33% was suffered in farms of 352 people and only 6 had received assistance for this. 8 out of these 454 people who had lost their animals received assistance. This was at a time when senior district officials claimed that 60% of the people had already received farm assistance and 90% had received other assistance. Three months after the initial survey, the situation had virtually not improved. CSJ met some of these people again in December and January and none of them had received assistance.

An assistance of Rs. 7000 for loss of household goods and a cash dole, as CSJ discovered were the most commonly distributed items. There were however 376 and 259 entitled persons respectively, who did not receive even this. The problem with the distribution of cash dole was that administration found it convenient to distribute it uniformly for 10 days.

Cash dole is given for subsistence against the loss of livelihood and there were many whose livelihood continued to be jeopardy. If the administration had to make a crude calculation of the cash dole period, it should have decided on 30 days, given that this is the “default” period for cash doles under the Central Government’s norms of assistance. The period itself is extendable to 60 days first. Instead of monitoring progress, the cash dole was prematurely capped at ten days on the second day of the flood, official circulars reveal. Amreli district and indeed many residents deserve a far greater livelihood assistance. The state of normalcy has not in fact returned till the time this report goes into publishing.

It was the Taluka level officials who should bear most of the responsibility for the fiasco that was the relief process. The Kukanvav TDO according to residents of the taluka left Kukanvav on the day of the flood only to return after two months’ leave. Responsibility cannot be evaded by the District officials including the District Collector and the DDO, on whom the DC had entrusted the responsibility of the process. There was a clear failure of supervision at this level.

Assistance for loss of crop, damage to business, as well as loan facilities etc. are essentially special livelihood protecting measures befitting certain occupational groups. The assistance for damage to land may be argued to benefit a larger population including everyone whose livelihood is dependent on it such as sharecroppers and agricultural labourers. The relief policy excludes any measure directed towards protecting livelihood of certain groups of people. These groups include mainly agricultural labourers, sharecroppers and cattle rearers.

Agricultural labourers having no control over the production forces are, by and large, still completely unemployed. Between June to December, when a family of four could make Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 80,000, most had only earned a maximum of Rs. 10,000 this time and many still completely unemployed. This situation is expected to persist for another agricultural season. For agricultural labourers who lost their homes, the circumstances were extreme. A family of six in Motha Gokharvada faced severe damage to their house and were not given any kind of assistance for this. They took a loan and now all adult members of the family will do provide labour to pay off their debts in an arrangement which in definition is bonded labour.

The cash dole, in most cases the only relief that the labourers received, was barely adequate. The same family in Motha Gokharvada were given a cash dole of a grand total of Rs. 520, not even the amount for ten days that was being uniformly supplied. It didn’t help that it was a family of Dalits. Dalits in Chandgarh were also given cash dole for merely two days. In the case of Vitthalpur, CSJ noted that while all of the agricultural labourer population was unemployed five and a half months after the flood, the land owners of the same village had resumed cultivation in over 60% of their lands. This is because the cultivators in this village employed migrant labourers to work in their fields for lower wages. The agricultural labourers in Vitthalpur were employed by cultivators outside the village. The problems of the migrant labourers will also be dealt with later.

Download full report HERE

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