Sitting Congress MLA from Bhaderwah M S Niaz has pitched a tent outside his house in his native Changa village to spend the night with his family. Fellow party legislator Naresh Gupta also stays with his wife under a tin shed in Bhaderwah town. Their security personnel keep a watch from tents nearby.
It is unlikely though that their presence makes Niaz and Gupta feel safer. What keeps all of them outside their homes,along with nearly 50,000 people in Bhaderwah,Bhalesa and Chirala of Jammu,is the fear of an earthquake.
Since a moderate tremblor measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale shook this region of the Chenab valley on May 1,people have been spending nights in the open and not in concrete buildings. Their fears are not unfounded,they say: most of the structures in the area have developed cracks,while there are aftershocks almost on a daily basis. Nearly 40 aftershocks including some measuring 4.8 on the Richter scale have hit the area in the past fortnight.
The May 1 earthquake,felt in Doda,Kishtwar and Bhaderwah tehsils,left three dead and over 60 injured. The worst-hit areas were Bhaderwah,Bhalesa and Chirala.
Such is the panic that Principal District and Sessions Judge,Bhaderwah,Brij Mohan Gupta,held his court in the verandah of the court premises for two days after the quake,as his courtroom had developed cracks. The judge has since moved back inside,to the admiration of the not-as-intrepid lawyers,who point out that the court premises had actually been declared unsafe nearly three decades ago.
Most of the educational institutions are closed in the tehsil as parents have stopped sending children in view of the aftershocks,while the Bhaderwah campus of Jammu University has postponed exams for various postgraduate courses which were scheduled between May 18-22. The examination centres for second and fourth semester students of MBA have been shifted to Jammu.
While officially all government offices are functioning normally,their staff too can be seen mostly in the open. Showing the cracks on the walls and the ceiling of his room,a senior government official shrugged it was too risky.
Come night though,no one takes a chance. Families have taken to early dinner and by the time the clock strikes 8 pm,they start settling outside for the night. With tents limited,many sleep in the open.
How can we sleep inside our houses when aftershocks are giving us no time to get our premises repaired? says Mohammad Shafi Ganai,councilor of municipal ward No. 4 in Bhaderwah.
With Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad hailing from Bhalesa,part of the Bhaderwah assembly constituency,the Centre has been prompt in announcing a relief package of Rs 30 crore for the quake-hit people,besides sending 1,000 tents. Another 10,000 are on their way,sources said.
Deputy Commissioner,Doda,Mubarak Singh,admitted that people by and large were reluctant to stay inside their houses. Teams had been sent to all the quake-hit areas to assess the damage due to the May 1 tremor,Singh said.
The protests by people alleging a lackadaisical approach by the government have been joined by local ruling Congress leaders,who allege irregularities in the distribution of relief material.
People have been visiting the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate with applications for tents. Mohammad Iqbal Malik of Haveli mohalla,whose mother recently underwent a heart surgery,has been coming for nearly a week for a tent. Khurshid Mohammad of Dandi,5 km from Bhaderwah,wants a tent for nearly 200 families. Sanjay Kumar of Butla panchayat complains that not a single tent has been given in his area.
The state government had enacted the Jammu Kashmir Disaster Management Act in 2009 and also constituted a Disaster Management Authority to meet eventualities as the May 1 earthquake. A committee headed by then financial commissioner, Revenue,and comprising several technocrats submitted a report to the state government in 2010 on how to tackle such situations,but so far it has seen no action on the ground.