Edited Excerpts from the interview
While the Muzaffarnagar riot victims are languishing in relief camps, the Uttar Pradesh legislators are going on a junket to Europe. How do you see this?
It is for the legislators to decide whether this is a good time to go abroad when such a situation prevails in the state. The primary responsibility of the government is to provide relief to the victims. I am amazed that senior ministers have not even bothered to visit the relief camps.
The UP government is organising a Saifai Mahotsav that even Bollywood stars are attending. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has made 60 visits to Saifai, but only a few to the relief camps. Do you think the government is not serious about the plight of the riot victims?
The answer is in your question itself and I don’t need to add anything. As far as the Central government is concerned, I first visited Muzaffarnagar and the camps in September last year. I instructed the district magistrate to give a proposal about the requirements. I also announced a package. We gave them the option that if the state government provides the land, we will get all the facilities built there under the Indira Awas Yojana. We also gave a proposal to start skill-development programmes for the youth in the camps. We will give them a stipend and the Central government will also help them find employment. All this will be done by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.
What did the state government do in response to these offers?
The proposals had to come from the district magistrate, but that did not happen. Now, we can give financial aid and other help only if the state government agrees to it. Then we got the minority affairs secretary to write to the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, but there has been no response yet from the state government.
What more can the Centre do? We are still ready to extend help to the riot victims in all possible ways, but there needs to be a plan. After all, it is the state government that will have to take care of the implementation. We will respond favourably even now if a letter or proposal comes to us.
The district magistrate of Muzaffarnagar has written to the chairman of the Minorities Commission, stating that no family has been forcibly evicted from the relief camps. Do you think that is true?
I have not received any report either from the district magistrate or the Minorities Commission. The Minorities Commission had sent a team there. Let’s see what it says. I am not in a position to comment right now, but yes, there have been reports that the victims are afraid of going back to their villages. In fact, when I asked them about this, they did tell me that they are scared to return. How can they go back if the state government does not ensure their safety? And how can they be evicted from the camps if they are not assured of their security in the villages? It shows that the state government has failed to control the situation.
Do you think the camps should be closed down?
Until the victims are reassured that there will be no threat to their security in the villages, it is wrong to close down the camps. That is not the case yet. But yes, ultimately the camps have to be closed because it is the state government’s responsibility to ensure that the people are peacefully settled in their homes. They should not be forcibly sent back to their villages.
Muzaffarnagar has become a hotbed of political opportunism. What is your take?
Whatever happened in Muzaffarnagar is condemnable. The BJP and other political parties have tried to use it to further polarise the people in Uttar Pradesh. Our leaders also went there, but to provide relief and succour to the victims. But the Samajwadi Party is living in denial and the BJP is taking advantage of the situation.
Many unwarranted statements were made about the victims by various leaders.
It is unfortunate that the situation has come to this. Instead of providing relief in the camps and safety to citizens, uncalled for statements are being made. Such statements only vitiate the atmosphere in the state. However, the Centre has gone out of the way in providing assistance to the victims.
What do you think about the conditions in the camps?
Though I am yet to hear from the team sent by the Minorities Commission to the camps, there have been other reports about the shortage of blankets and food. All this is unfortunate. And the state government has to act.