Two days ago, the Election Commission of India delayed announcing the date for assembly elections in Gujarat, saying the state government had informed the commission that it needed time to complete flood relief work before enforcement of the model code of conduct.
But in Banaskantha and Patan, two districts worst hit by the floods which claimed over 200 lives, much of the flood relief work is already over. The delay in announcement of the model code has led to purse strings being opened and leaders scrambling to inaugurate projects and hand out sops.
Patan District Collector Anand Patel told The Sunday Express that “100 percent of relief and rehabilitation” work in the district has been completed. Banaskantha District Collector Dilip Rana said: “The majority of relief work in the district is over. Only Rs 300 crore (compensation for soil erosion) remains to be given to farmers. We need not contact them personally. The relief money will be going directly into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries… This will be given in the next couple of days before Diwali.”
Banaskantha, a large district with nine assembly constituencies, has been a Congress bastion — six MLAs are from the Congress, and three from the BJP. Shankar Chaudhary and Keshaji Chauhan, two of the three BJP MLAs, are ministers in the Vijay Rupani government. The district has a large OBC population, a constituency being wooed by the BJP.
Making most of the delay in the announcement of polls, local leaders are on an overdrive, busy organising a string of events across Banaskantha. On Friday, when The Sunday Express visited the district, a foundation stone ceremony was held for a medical college in Moraiya village.
In Deesa, Gujarat Health Minister Shankar Chaudhary and MoS (Welfare of Socially and Economically Backward Classes) Keshaji Chauhan held a Garib Kalyan Mela where “gruh pravesh” was organised for 65 beneficiaries who were allotted houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Gramin). A foundation stone was also laid for 2,121 houses under the same scheme.
“The government is organising gruh pravesh for your homes. Normally only relatives and close friends remain present, but today the entire region is present to celebrate,” Chaudhary told the gathering at the Garib Kalyan Mela organised in the main market yard of Deesa Agricultural Produce Market Committee.
“Today, the BJP government is using this event to provide some help or the other to about 10,000 beneficiaries. These include gas stoves and cylinders, sewing machines, cycles, milk collection vessels and other kitchen items. Today, families are getting Rs 1.2 lakh as assistance from the government to build homes. The initial payment of Rs 30,000 has already been deposited in bank accounts,” Chaudhary told the gathering.
“We want to give all that has evaded you in the last 60-70 years,” the minister said before personally handing over the items to the beneficiaries. Colleague Chauhan said: “Let us pledge to remove the label of being a backward district. Let us make ourselves more able and strong with the help of government schemes.”
In Nagla village of Tharad taluka — it is one of two villages, the other being Khanpar, where flood waters have not receded since July, and residents have been camping in tents — 50-year-old Anandha Chaudhary was trying to salvage a red plastic chair and table for his grandson from their flooded single-storey house.
The Banaskantha administration, which is yet to disburse Rs 300 crore of the Rs 1500-crore relief and rehabilitation package announced for the district, has deployed over 200 water pumps in the two villages. “We expect the 200 de-watering pumps in Nagla and Khanpar to dry up the two villages that are still flooded. Work in Dodgam just got over,” District Collector Rana said.
During the floods in August, Chief Minister Rupani had camped here five days. He made most of the absence of the Congress MLAs who had been herded to a Bengaluru resort ahead of the election for Rajya Sabha seats from the state.
The state government has given assistance to 11 lakh residents of Banaskantha, including three lakh farmers. That’s one-third of the district’s total population of 33 lakh. “Every farmer in the district has got Rs 50,000-60,000 as relief,” a state government official claimed.
Relief provided in Banaskantha include Rs 60 crore cash, Rs 400 crore as crop damage compensation, Rs 700 crore as compensation for soil erosion and rest as compensation for damages caused to 2,300 shops and commercial establishments.