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Middlemen swindle flood relief, victims left high and dry


Priyanjana Dutta,CNN-IBN
Aug 28, 2007 at 03:27pm IST

Belgaum (Karnataka): A temporary tin shed has been Afsar Bano's home for the last three years. Afsar Bano and her husband Anwar Sheikh were landless labourers in Kudachi village in Chikkodi Taluka of Belgaum district.

In 2005 when the state's worst floods ravaged the district, Afsar Bano lost home, hearth and every meager belonging to the furious waters.

"Three years ago, there were heavy rains. Peoples' houses, vessels, clothes, everything got washed away and everybody was ruined. The government gave us these temporary shelters that time to stay in," says she.

The flood victims were relocated to temporary sheds that were provided by the state government. But these shelters are just that - temporary - and have their own problems.

They provide no sanitation or privacy for women, water seeps into the sheds during the rainy season and there's always the danger of an epidemic waiting to break out. The rains this year have been severe and made things only worse.

Says Afsar Bano's husband, Anwar Sheikh, "Once in five years, when they need us to vote for them, the politicians come. After that we are left to rot. There's no help from the government at all. They told us they would build our homes in three months, but we have been rotting here for the last three years."

The state government took three to construct permanent structures for the flood victims of Kudachi village, but ironically, the place where the permanent shelter has been constructed remains a ghost town.

The villagers can't move in because there's no water, no electricity or even toilets. Is the government unaware or does it simply not care?

Villagers like Beebari, whose home was destroyed in the floods, were handed out Rs 700 to rebuild their homes -- their only fault lay in their caste.

"I don't know how much other people got, but all the lower caste people got Rs 700. And what good is Rs 700? What can we do with it?" asks Beebari.

Says Father Martin De Silva of the Vimukti Social Action Group, "See, money has come, but always it comes through local leaders. In gram panchayats, local leaders, they have their own political affiliations, their own likes and dislikes. Accordingly they dole out relief. The government does not give money directly to the affected. They give it through panchayats and local leaders."

The state government says that it spent Rs 670 million from the calamity relief fund in 2005. Clearly, there's very little that actually filtered down to those who needed it the most.

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