Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, July 7, 2013

In the name of relief

While co-ordinating with different NGOs and small support groups in Uttarakhand in the wake of the recent Himalayan tsunami, I realized that there was hardly any effective co-ordination between the groups.
In fact, it was the other way round. There was colossal wastage of money and resources at such a crucial juncture due to sheer mismanagement and mindless approach. For example, there were several trucks of rice and wheat (flour) that had come in by way of donation, but there wasn't a single kilo of lentils, pulses or vegetables. What I mean to say is that there was no synergy between the material needed and the materials made available.
The Great Famine of 1876-1878 lead to the constitution of the first Famine Commission of 1880, India probably has the world’s oldest disaster relief code which started in 1880. This relief code provides details of the relief to be given by the government to the affected people. In spite of such a long history of relief work, India hasn't moved on much or else how does one explain the chaos during relief work.
It also dawned on me and I realized that how correct the Uttarakhand Chief Minister was when he said “.... give us what we want and when we want, instead of just sending truck loads of materials.” The situation can be explained by the fact that there were food provisions and match box but no oil or fuel. Of what use would these relief materials be of even if it reached those starving pilgrims stranded in remote mountainous terrain. Is it possible to cook food without fuel! There was a need for paediatric medicines but instead there were packets full of painkillers.
Likewise, many vital links in the support chain were missing which derailed the entire effort rendering it meaningless wasteful exercise. In some cases, the social groups, instead of coordinating, seemed to compete with each other.
I feel sorry to write about this but it has become a fashion to seek photo opportunities in the name of relief work with political leaders, VIPs and trucks with national tri-colours carrying relief materials.
Also, nobody asks who is going to receive these trucks. Apart from a dozen top notch NGOs, who have their counterparts to receive the consignments, the entire relief material is dependent on the transporters to be delivered to the needy. Also, there is hardly any accountability to ensure that the relief materials actually reached to those who need it the most.
When a local Government has already announced that the trucks carrying the relief materials are not being allowed inside. Why the competition to despatch relief materials.
We must salute the Indian Army for the historic role played during this crisis. We must also express our condolence to our own Aditya Nandy's family whose wife Piu could not bear the shock of his death and set herself on fire. We must thank Anupam Kher who came forward to take care of a 3 year-old-baby who survived the ordeal.
As far as the Kolkata scenario is concerned, Emami created a trust providing a seed money of Rs 1 crore for reconstructing Uttarakhand. Rupa & Co contributed to Uday Foundation while Pawan Ruia made his contribution to the Prime Minister's Relief fund. But hats off to all the employees of Baisakhi Florists who contributed a day's salary towards relief work in Uttarakhand.
As far as the city celebrity circuit is concerned, only two persons have approached me to help the Uttarakhand victims - Kishore Bhimani and Koel Mullick. Thanks Koel.
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