Centre’s policies are hurting flood victims

Time for action The Modi regime should involve national and international experts in assessing the flood damage, Photo: PIB
Time for action The Modi regime should involve national and international experts in assessing the flood damage. Photo: PIB

It is now almost two months since devastating floods struck Jammu and Kashmir. Hundreds of thousands of families were affected, vast areas were inundated, infrastructure and key economic sectors were ruined and an already weak economy was shattered.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah acknowledged that his government collapsed at a critical juncture and the Centre initially stepped in to support the beleaguered state. However, notwithstanding the media hype surrounding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Diwali visit to Kashmir, the reality is that the Centre has adopted a policy that is inconsistent with past practices and not at all in the public interest.

This is best exemplified by a lack of consensus on the estimated losses suffered by the state two months after the disaster. Without such an estimate, a proper long-term recovery and reconstruction programme cannot be developed.

The state government assessed flood losses at Rs 44,000 crore. Some have called this figure exaggerated while others think it is too small. As was clear after the prime minister’s visit, the Centre isn’t too sure of this figure.

Accordingly, the Centre will now verify the state government’s loss estimate. This avoidable delay will hurt the state. If the Centre had been more action-oriented, it would have partnered with the state government to produce a joint assessment report.

But, given that the governments at both the Central and state levels face a credibility problem, especially after the floods, it would have been far better to involve national and international experts to conduct an assessment using methodologies that are internationally accepted and which have been adopted in states such as Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and, most recently, in Uttarakhand.

However, it appears that the Centre has become a victim of its own rhetoric and is loath to be seen as asking for international help in an era of hyper-nationalism that the bjp has created.

More on that later, but let us first understand the context by looking at the experiences elsewhere in India.

After the massive flash floods in Uttarakhand in 2013, the then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, visited the state and announced an interim relief package similar to what Modi announced in Jammu and Kashmir. However, that is where the similarities end. Within two weeks of the disaster, the Uttarakhand government, through the Centre, invited a team of international experts to collaborate with local officials and experts to prepare a “rapid needs assessment”.

To quantify long-term recovery and reconstruction needs, the Centre sought help from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. These agencies worked with both the state and Central governments as well as local experts to produce an assessment report that everyone was comfortable with. As a followup to this report, the Centre provided a relief and reconstruction package worth almost Rs 8,500 crore, including $400 million in soft loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

By all accounts, the flooding in Jammu and Kashmir was on a far bigger scale and it will require a lot more help. But, we don’t even have a credible assessment that everybody can agree on. The Centre has shown no inclination to request expertise from international institutions. This appears linked to the BJP’s stance that nationalism demands that we do everything ourselves and that we have sufficient human and financial resources to take care of the needs of Jammu and Kashmir. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that during major disasters, national and international expertise is routinely called in; the Gujarat earthquake and Tamil Nadu tsunami examples are among the prominent ones.

Inconveniently, 18 states currently receive financial assistance from the World Bank. This list includes the ‘model’ state of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Mizoram. This assistance is typically in the form of zero-percent interest loans that have a maturity of over 20-25 years or more. Why nationalism does not prevent other states, many of which are more developed than Jammu and Kashmir, from receiving such help is a question that the Centre and the BJP must answer.

We must remember that it is not just money that countries need from the World Bank; it is also the expertise that comes with the funds. That is why countries such as China also work with the World Bank and that is also why India signed a three-year $18 billion programme with that institution.

The Centre’s actions should go beyond event management and match the enormity of the task facing us in Jammu and Kashmir. The starting point must include a credible, independent assessment of the state’s medium- to long-term recovery and reconstruction needs. For this, the technical expertise of the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery are critical. This assessment should involve the state and Central governments as well as national and local experts, and civil society stakeholders. The state government cannot deal with the flood aftermath on its own. The Centre must be an active partner to promote the public interest.

Salman Soz is National Spokesperson, Congress

(The views expressed are the author’s own)


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