Pawar Spoke Half-Truths, Says Activist Krishna Das

Sharad Pawar claimed that he gave the country a proper disaster management machinery after the 1993 Latur earthquake

by Anil Singh

LATUR, Oct 3 (The CONNECT) – Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar’s claim that he gave the country a proper disaster management machinery after the 1993 Latur earthquake has been contested by socio-legal activist S Krishnadas, who spent eight years fighting for the rehabilitation of the affected villagers.

“At best, it’s half-truth,’’ said Krishnadas, an alumnus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who was felicitated in several villages last week on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of one of the worst quakes in India.

The temblor which measured 6.2 on the Richter scale killed nearly 10,000 because the thick stone walls typical of the region came crashing down on the sleeping villagers. More than 30,000 were maimed or injured and houses destroyed in more than 52 villages in Latur and Osmanabad (since renamed Dharashiv) districts, 500 km from Mumbai.

Pawar, the then CM, made the claim at a remembrance ceremony on September 30 at Killari village, epicentre of the quake.  

“The Latur earthquake showed that we lacked a disaster management machinery, so Sonia Gandhi gave me the responsibility of setting up one. Today, the country has a robust disaster management system. It has its roots in Killari,” he said.

Krishnadas does not deny Pawar’s contribution in organizing speedy relief in the initial stages but maintains that over the years Maharashtra bumbled its way through the rehabilitation. However, he attributes the enactment of the National Disaster Management Act largely to the PILs filed by affected villagers and activists like him.

The PILs he refers to were on lack of temporary shelters, drinking water, sanitation, primary health care, school education and compensation.

The first three PILs were filed by Krishnadas between February and March 1994 when he was leading a team of local youngsters in Omerga under the banner of Maanvi Hakk Kayda Manch. “Quake-hit villagers complained that the state government was an impediment in the rehabilitation process,’’ he remembers.

The website of the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), which was the petitioner through Krishnadas, says that the decision of the Bombay High Court in S Krishnadas Vs the Secretary (Rehabilitation), Government of Maharashtra, is considered a landmark judgment on disaster relief.

The HRLN website notes that Krishnadas began to live in the earthquake affected villages to carry out a door-to-door survey and he remained in the area for three years. “It was on account of his painstaking work and the data that he provided to the High Court that ultimately resulted in the government being forced to fully implement the rehabilitation package,’’ says the website.

In mid-1995, the Aurangabad bench of the HC under Justice B N Deshmukh, who went on to become its chief justice, appointed the M G Gaikwad commission to examine the series of PILs on inadequate relief and rehabilitation from Latur and Osmanabad.

The commission found that a substantial number of the PILs had merit. In fact, Gaikwad slammed the government for its “callous’’ behavior. Following this, Justice Deshmukh issued a series of detailed directives to the state government.

When it was found that these directives were not implemented, Justice Deshmukh hauled up the Shiv Sena-BJP government for contempt in August 1995. The then CM, Manohar Joshi, was summoned by the Aurangabad bench of the HC.

The Shiv Sena-BJP government pleaded that it did not have the resources to implement the HC’s directives. Subsequently, it went in appeal to the SC, where it met with withering criticism from the then Chief Justice, J S Verma. The CJI remarked that the urgent matter of rehabilitation needn’t have come to the SC. CJI Verma directed the appellant to follow the directives of the HC.

As a result, seven villages which had been excluded from the list of 52 villages were included in the rehabilitation package. Strange as it may seem today, these seven villages were excluded despite widespread destruction in them just because none of its inhabitants had died.

The panchayat of Madaj, one of the seven villages, felicitated Krishnadas on September 30.  “Whenever there is a calamity, God sends a saviour,’’ said Chandrakant Wale of Wadaj at the function attended by nearly 100 villagers.

Krishndas was also felicitated at a remembrance function at Sastur village, where the toll was nearly 2,000. One of the dignitaries on the dais with him was Dyanraj Chowgule, three-time Shiv Sena MLA from Omerga, who was associated with Krishnadas’ team in the initial stages.

Reverting to the SC, CJI Verma, hearing the Maharashtra government’s appeal, also remarked that India had a ministry for everything except one for disaster management. He recommended that the Centre enact a law and an appropriate authority for it. “That’s what set the ball rolling,’’ says Krishnadas.

In 1995 came the National Centre for Disaster Management for which Pawar took credit in his speech. After the transfer of the subject of disaster management from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Home Affairs, it was upgraded as the National Institute of Disaster management (NIDM) on 16th October 2003. The National Disaster Management Act came into force from 2005. (Anil Singh, independent journalist based in Mumbai, toured Dharashiv (formerly Osmanabad) district with socio-legal activist S Krishnadas to commemorate the 30 years after the Latur earthquake)