J&K flood: PM announces Rs 745-crore package for flood-hit
Srinagar (Oct 23, 2014): In the end, a package of Rs 740 crore was announced for the state, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand Diwali gesture for Kashmir’s flood affected played out behind closed doors in a city shut down by the separatists’ bandh and slowed down by security deployment where it wasn’t already closed for business because of the floods.
Arriving here mid-afternoon, the PM met delegations, political (in which the Congress stayed away) and non-political, at the state Raj Bhawan. The identity of those who got an audience with the PM was kept secret by officials who shepherded them into buses that carried them to the venue from a convention centre close to the Raj Bhawan.
Many had arrived with memorandums listing their demands, but at least one of them, Mohammad Yousuf, representing the Kashmir Motor Driver Association, said he was informed at the last minute, barely a couple of hours before the appointed time, leaving him no time to prepare.
Those selected to meet the PM were heads and representatives of associations of fruit growers, hoteliers, houseboat owners, shikarawalas, among others. There was a Kashmiri Pandit delegation and a Sikh group asking for minority status.
“But it would have been much better if the PM had ventured into the city’s affected areas and seen the devastation for himself,” said Shakeel Qalandar of the Kashmir Centre for Scientific and Developmental Studies, who said he asked the PM to open up the state to international aid.
For G M Thramboo, president of the People’s Republican Party of Jammu and Kashmir, the PM’s most pressing imperative was to delay the elections. “We told him that first there must be rehabilitation, and only then polls must be held. Also, that civil society must be involved in the distribution of relief”.
Tramboo’s latter demand — for wider participation in relief distribution and other reconstruction activities — appears to have been echoed by many others who met the PM. It is born of a widely shared distrust of the state government.
“A state rehabilitation and reconstruction authority must be created comprising Central and state officials, civil society members and donors and it should be made responsible. We also demanded a high level judicial probe into the state government’s response to the largescale devastation,” suggested Qalandar.
Modi seemed to sense the opportunity to reach out directly to the people, over the head of a discredited government. “My attempt today was to meet people from different social and business organisations, to understand their problems and to listen to their suggestions. And this whole day has been helpful in understanding the situation here.
One of the major demands of the citizens here is that whatever help they get, it should reach directly to the affected families. I have given them the assurance that the government would seriously think about it. Especially where the houses have been damaged, the relief (money) should go directly into their bank accounts,” he said later, speaking to Doordarshan.