Amid buried homes and washed away fields of Kuda village in Banaskantha district, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has been camping for the last four days as part of his relief and rehabilitation effort following the devastating flood that claimed over 200 lives in the state. As the chief minister travelled from one village to another, ravaged by the flood, he had one suggestion for the affected families — “move out before it is too late”. He warned villagers that if a decision is not taken on time, then “only God could save them”.
“Pan aapne nakki karvu padse ke 2015 ma pann jyan thi ven niklyu, 2017 ma jyan thi ven niklyu havey aapne shu tyaan ne tyaan rehvu chhe?.dar vakhte rahat kamgiri karvi chhe? havey ven ma thi bahar nikalvu padey, biji jagya jau pade, sarkar jameen apshe sthalantar karavshu, aakha gaam ni jarurat pade toh aakha gam nu sthalatar karavshu, aakhu gam vasavi desu, ame baitha chhiye (We have to now decide whether we want to live in the same place as the (Banas) river’s course which got flooded in 2015 as well as 2017. Do we have to do relief work every time?… We now have to move out of the river’s course…have to shift to another place. The government will provide you land and will help relocate. If required we will relocate and rehabilitate the entire village, we will settle a whole new village, we are here (for you)…,” Rupani told a gathering of flood-hit villagers at Dhunsol primary school after he visited Kuda village, which is located just 35 km from Banas river. In the last week of July, the swelling Banas had wreaked havoc in the villages situated in its floodplain as torrential rain hit the northern region of the state. The state administration evacuated nearly 20,000 people with the help of 13 choppers from the IAF — a first according to the chief minister.
Referring to the severity of floods in Banaskantha this time, Rupani said, “I met a 75-year-old. He said that in his entire life, he had not witnessed so much water. Whether in Radhanpur or Lakhani or Vav or Patan, everyone said this “Saheb we have not seen this much water in our entire lives.”
He stressed again on the importance of relocating the villagers. “For Banaskantha, it is necessary to be concerned because water will now surely flood the river as now water from Rajasthan reaches here,” the chief minister said.
He cited examples of Kutch where some of the villages that were badly hit by the earthquake in 2001, were relocated by the government. “After the earthquake in Kutch, a number of villages were relocated because the death toll was high. This time (here), too we have seen many deaths. Which is why this thought has come to our mind. The leaders should sit and decide on relocation,” he said as he assured people of all the help from the government. “Have faith. All your demands are on our mind,” he said, promising cash doles by Wednesday.
As per the Revenue Department records, as many as 25 villages of Banaskantha district were affected by flood in 2015 and now again in 2017.
Principal Secretary (Revenue) Pankaj Kumar had told The Indian Express that a breach in the main Narmada canal in Kankrej taluka complicated the flood situation in the district this time.
“At the meetings with the district administration in Palanpur on Sunday, followed by another in Patan on Monday, there was a proposal to relocate villages worse affected in 2015 as well as 2017. Is wise to relocate and incur one-time cost, rather than lose lives and bear (financial) losses,” said Revenue Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama
The villagers were, however, sceptical about the CM’s suggestions and cited previous instances when similar proposals were made but failed to materialise.
Residents of Kuda village said that a similar proposal was mooted in 2015 by then Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. “We were assured land in lieu of our holdings and family members. As a result, the village sarpanch, after conducting meetings and survey, submitted a proposal of 15 hectares land. However, we were assured only one third land, which is 5 hectares. To settle in new places, we had to leave half of our family or cattle behind. So what is the point in such relocation,” asked Kukabhai Kapadi, who owned three bigha land.
When contacted, Banaskantha District Development Officer Amit Arora said that he will have to check with the records of the case. “Since we cannot force them to relocate, it can only be a proposal from the administration. I need to check the records of these specific villages,” Arora said.
The villagers claimed that relocation was not an issue, The only constraint, they said, was the limited land assured against their requirement. “The proposed land was only half a kilometre away and on a high altitude, so there was no other problem,” said Shyamalbhai Kapadi, a resident of Kuda.
The Chief Minister turned 62 on Wednesday. He spent the day among the villagers. There was no celebration. “As a people’s representative, it is my duty and opportunity to spend my birthday among you during your days of crisis,” he tweeted. Before leaving the village, he told the gathering: “We are here because of your love, and are connected to your hearts… the entire government is here with you.”