A year after the Kashmir quake
Still picking up the pieces
Ehsan Fazili
reports from the affected areas of Baramula and Karnah districts

Living in a shelter shed made of CGI sheets in a row at Boniyar Bela, three-year-old Iram, may be unaware of the trauma she suffered on October 8, 2005. She had been retrieved from the debris a day after the earthquake shattered her home in Bandi Sarai, Kamalkote, 50 km away. Houses fell down like a pack of cards in the devastation, shattering their aspirations, recalls her mother, Zareefa Bano, nursing her four-month-baby, Zaheer Ahmad at the camp, near Boniyar on the Baramulla-Uri road. Inayat Hussain, her father, says that they had lost all hope of finding Iram. Two women of the family too lost their lives under the debris. "Disappointed, we still looked for her under the debris the next day", said Inayat Hussain. He recalled how Iram, then only about two years old, was "held between a pot and a wooden box" while sitting with the debris over her head. As he removed the broken pieces of debris, Iramís right foot came in sight.

Village head, Mohammad Sadiq Shah, stands on the rubble of his old house at Tetwal. In the background is the shelter shed where he has been living
Village head, Mohammad Sadiq Shah, stands on the rubble of his old house at Tetwal. In the background is the shelter shed where he has been living 

A labourer clearing the plinth area for reconstruction of a house in Tetwal
A labourer clearing the plinth area for reconstruction of a house in Tetwal

It was life after death, he recalls overwhelmed by emotions. Today, Iram looks around in the open in the cluster of temporary sheds at the Boniyar Bela camp, as her parents await the reconstruction of their dwelling away from their home in Bandi Sarai, in the Kamalkote area of Uri. Her elder sister Zairam, five, looks around in the strange locality where they have been living for the past one year in Helpage sheds.

Her father, Aftab Ahmad, a labourer like many others in the 250 member cluster, has got Rs 70,000 and awaits the remaining amount by the time a plinth for the house is constructed on land that has been provided for the 250 families at the camp. Aftab Ahmad, his father-in-law, Inayat Hussain, who also lives in a nearby shelter shed, and others have lost all hopes of resettlement at their native place. "On one side there is the sliding mountain and on the other a nullah", they recall. There is no hope of return. Stretches of land on the steep green mountains are of no use due to the earthquake.

In Kamalkote village, where the Congress President, Sonia Gandhi spent her birthday on December 9 last year, only shelter sheds made from CGI sheets are in place. Sixtyfive families from Kamalkote live in the Boniyar Bela camp. The house of Hashim Bi, a widow, is under construction with the help of the village elders Kamalkote has been the worst-hit village of the area. From there, 85 deaths were reported, apart from damage to public property to two high schools, one middle school and 11 primary schools.

Poverty has caused delay in reconstruction even as the government promised relief measures. The locals maintain that the relief amount has gone into maintenance and livelihood so far. Exorbitant rates of construction material, with additional charges for carriage to the heights, have hampered reconstruction of houses. A 22 km-long steep winding un-metalled road from Salamabad on the Uri-Kamaan post takes an hour-long drive to reach this remote locale.

"We do not have funds for infrastructure", laments senior Congress leader and Minister for Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Taj Mohiuddin, who represents the Uri constituency. The infrastructure in Uri requires Rs 50 crore. He said restoration was so far possible in some of the sectors, while key sectors like schools and hospitals were yet to be touched. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi on their first visit a day after the tragedy had assured of Rs 630 crore assistance, but so far the state has got only Rs 300 crores, he laments.

The fast-approaching winter is posing more problems, as it would be difficult for many to spend the second winter in shelter sheds, says Mohiuddin. At least 15000 houses are yet to be reconstructed. An amount of Rs 5.5 crore has been spent in Kamalkote area alone where 300 families have been benefitted against the 230 registered families, admits Taj. However, many locals blame the government for selective disbursement of relief. Mohiuddin also bemoaned the fact that none of the neighbouring state governments like Punjab and Haryana had come forward despite making promises to adopt some of the villages. Three villages have been adopted each by Indian Air Force (Uroosa), CRPF (Kamalkote) and the Army (Churonda). Uprooted by the devastating earthquake a year ago, the affected population of Karnah in Kupwara district and Uri in Baramulla district near the LoC in north Kashmir, is yet to go a long way to put their life back on rails. A year after the devastation that fully damaged 23831 residential houses and hundreds of public structures like schools. There were 950 deaths across Kashmir valley, mostly in Tangdhar and Uri sectors. A lot remains to be done as far as reconstrcution goes. Though most affected people are living in temporary sheds after passing through harsh winter last year, they are likely to encounter the same hardships in the coming winter.

Relief instalments

The state government decided to disburse the cash relief of Rs one lakh each for the fully damaged houses in three instalments. The first instalment of Rs 40,000 was disbursed on a war footing within the first couple of months as immediate relief. Many were paid Rs 30,000 for construction of temporary sheds as a preventive measure for the coming winter. Many of the sufferers who completed the construction of temporary sheds before December 31 last year were paid an incentive of Rs 5000. Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Basharat Ahmad Dar, says that the second and third instalments of the relief would be disbursed shortly and the process for this has been set into motion.

There were 667 deaths with 12435 cases of fully and 5118 partially damaged houses in Uri sector (100 km north of Srinagar) in Baramula district, affecting a population of 1.05 lakh, according to SDM Uri, Bashir Ahmad Dar.

The officials admitted to delay in the execution of work because of the lack of requisite manpower for reconstruction of schools and other government buildings. Enquiries into the complaints of misappropriation of relief funds are on, but no one has been implicated so far.

Across the 10400-ft high Nasta Chhun or Sadhana Pass, the Tangdhar bowl known as Karnah area in Kupwara district with a different culture and language, very often remains cut off from the rest of the valley and the world due to bad weather and difficult terrain. There were 273 deaths with 9113 fully damaged houses, mostly in Tangdhar bowl, where the first instalment has been disbursed. In Karnah, around Tangdhar, there were 6108 fully damaged houses. Only 50 per cent of the sufferers have completed the construction of houses up to plinth level, officials said. About 70 percent of the schools, mostly primary and middle, are without the accommodation, Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara, A.M. Khandy said.

Army to rescue

"We have been involved in immediate relief and provided the affected people food and temporary shelter", Brig. Ravi Thodge of Tangdhar Brigade said "Thereafter we were involved in the distribution of aid for which a joint control centre was set up to get life back on the rails", he added. The Army has adopted Tetwal village close to the LoC, about 15 km from Tangdhar, and 174 km from Srinagar. The drive to Tangdhar, about 70 km from the district headquarters town of Kupwara, takes over three hours through the 10,400-ft Sadhana Pass passing through a kutcha road prone to landslides and slush during rains. The projects selected in Tetwal are keeping in view the needs of the locals and those having long-term benefits in development of essential services, education, medical infrastructure and social uplift. The quake-affected Tetwal is spread over three pockets, Chilayan, Kathban and Khokar. There were 24 deaths and damage to 168 houses. The Rs 306 crore project under Operation Sadhbhavana conducted by the Army envisages augmentation of the schools, an Army Goodwill school, community centre, children park, amphitheatre, solar-powered light, electrification, water supply scheme, two mini buses and a health centre. The hamlet looks like an urban cluster and remains abuzz with the movement of residents on either side of the LoC every second Thursday. The process of crossing over on foot had started on November 19 last year, alongwith opening of relief exchange points following the earthquake. Around 25 residents on either side of the foot-bridge over Kishenganga, that serves as the LoC, cross over every fortnight to meet their relatives on the other side.

Far away in Tetwal, the residents have gradually picked up the threads with the Armyís help. The village head, Mohammad Sadiq Shah, is still haunted by the trauma. He was at work with other family members in the nearby maize fields. "When the earth started shaking I thought it was doomsday", he said. Sadiq added that the very thought of it being a Saturday and not a Friday, "Yeh housla thaa ki qayamat nahin hai", but something different. "The mountains were moving to and fro in yards and this was followed by deafening sounds", he recalls. "All of a sudden it was like explosions taking place in a war," the village head recounts. The rolling stones from the mountains on either side of Kishengaga river, created dust storms. "The earth kept shaking for 40 minutes", he recalls. As a result, all houses in the vicinity were razed to the ground, but his family members were out in the field. Two children had incidentally come out of the house and the third child ran out feeling the tremors, recalls the elderly village head.

Today he stands on the heap of stone and debris of his house partially cleared by the side of a temporary shed where the family resides.

High cost

The affected residents have taken shelter in temporary sheds and are complaining of delay in disbursement of the relief amount and sky rocketing prices of construction material. Truckloads of construction material like sand, bricks and cement have to be transported across the Sadhana Pass, becomes costlier since it is 70 km away from Kupwara. In this remote area, a truckload of bricks costs Rs 20,000 and that of sand Rs 9000 said a resident, Imtiyaz Hussain.

How was it possible for residents to reconstruct their houses within an amount of Rs 1 lakh government assistance. "It is only a relief and not sufficient to reconstruct oneís house", admits Kafeel-ur-Rehman, MLA Karnah. He laments the fact that the government did not "fulfil its commitments". He blames the government for "mismanagement, administrative lapses for delay in disbursement of relief". There had been tall claims from the President of India to the local administration, but not even 10 per cent of the commitments were fulfilled, the National Conference MLA feels. Only about 10 per cent of those affected have been able to reconstruct their houses, said Abdullah Khan, a resident of Chiterkote village on Tangdhar-Tetwal road. "We are heading for a harsh winter and it may not be possible for it to reconstruct the houses", he added.