A 10×10 sq foot tin shack is all the space that Abdul Qayoom Bhat and 24 members of his family have had to call home for the past seven months. On September 6 last year, a large part of their two-storey house crumbled and was washed away after the Jhelum flooded their village.
Hakermulla, Bhat’s neighbourhood, is on the outskirts of the city, close to the flood-spill channel the water breached. A month later, after the water had receded, three government officials visited the village and handed over to the Bhats a relief cheque for Rs 3,800 — for their damaged home.
“It was a shock and a joke. With this money, we couldn’t have purchased rations for a week. We refused to take the money, and decided to meet senior officials and politicians,” said Sara Begum, who is married to Abdul’s brother Ahad Bhat.
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“My husband had built the house. We lived there along with my children and four brothers-in- law,” she said. The only help the government provided them was a tarpaulin tent and free rations for the first six months, she added. “The tent didn’t last for even two months.”
The story of the Bhats is not unique. The state government’s compensation to flood victims who lost their homes has been extremely meagre.
As per the government’s estimates, 2,61,361 structures were damaged — 21,485 of these completely. An official document obtained by The Indian Express reveals Rs 312.53 crore was disbursed to 2,56,801 families as per the State Disaster Relief norms, and resolution of the remaining cases is ongoing. The money was disbursed from the State Disaster Relief Fund and the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.
The payouts have invited frustration and contempt: Rs 75,000 to rebuild a fully-damaged concrete house, Rs 3,800 for a partially damaged one, and Rs 1,500 for damaged possessions. One reason why people in the Valley have been unable to put the flood behind them has been the way in which the government has handled relief and rehabilitation. The state has pleaded a resource crunch, and has knocked at the Centre’s door for assistance.
A resident of Nageen, Ali Mohammad Dar, 72, received Rs 75,000 after losing his entire house, including belongings. He has not claimed the compensation, and continues to stay on rent in Rainawari. “When officials handed over the compensation, they promised Rs 10 lakh more. But this never came. My loss is over Rs 40 lakh,” he said.
The government’s compensation is laughable, said Yonus Ahmad, whose single-storey house in Basantbagh was under water for 10 days. He received Rs 3,800 as flood relief — and an electricity bill for Rs 4,000.
There was widespread expectation of a special financial assistance package from the Centre, especially after the PDP joined hands with the BJP. The Omar Abdullah government had asked for financial assistance of Rs 44,000 crore — earmarking Rs 4 lakh, Rs 6 lakh and Rs 9 lakh, depending on the extent of damage to homes.
Mixed signals have come from the PDP and BJP. Top PDP leaders have said they would not plead for money from the Centre, and have pointed to the contrast of speedy rehabilitation in Uttarakhand, which was ravaged by a flash flood in 2013.
On a visit to Srinagar recently, union Minister of State in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, said the Centre had been generous whenever the state had asked for funds for flood-affected people. “There is no dearth of funds,” he said. But the money has not come.
“Everybody in the administration assured help, but it never arrived. The officers and politicians promised that our problems would be redressed once the Centre’s package was announced,’’ said Sara Begum’s son Abdul Latif Bhat. So the family decided to help themselves.
“When nobody came to our rescue, we had no option but to construct this place with tin sheets. This is now our home,” Qayoom Bhat said. “After losing hope, we raised small loans from our neighbours and relatives and constructed this tin shed.”
Sara Begum added, “We have a big family, with nine children. In winter, it was unbearably cold, and now, it is so hot that we can’t stay inside the shed. We have to send our children to the homes of relatives to escape the cold winter and the hot summer, but how long can this work?”
Qayoom and his four brothers head to the city every morning to find odd jobs to make a living so they can pay back their loans.