04 July: Both the teams left at 6.15 am after a cup of black tea that the hotel thoughtfully provided, and we separated after picking up an ITBP soldier each from the camp. I had Mr. Neeraj as our driver and Mr. Suresh, an ITBP soldier as our companion, along with Rahul and Bharati, my team mates. As the car climbed through the hills, Bharati took ill, and we stopped quite a few times, and at Thal for breakfast. When we reached Munsiyari at 12.30, our stay had been booked at KMVN guest house, a government run building. The lady at the front desk told us that the cost of the rooms would be 1250 per night. I was surprised that it is pretty costly with the rooms not so well maintained, with no AC etc. However, we thought of continuing to stay there. We visited the Munsiyari block office and had a brief by the Addl. District Magistrate Dr. Raghav Langer who was stationed there to coordinate the relief operations. He gave us a lot of information verbally asked one of the block officers to give further information to us in printed formats. As it was taking time, we thought of collecting the information on the next day, have lunch now (it was 3.00 pm), so that we can visit a village on the same day.
We asked Bharati to stay put at the hotel since she wasn’t feeling well, and we three men (me, Rahul and Suresh) proceeded to Madkot. Our journey to Madkot took over an hour, although the distance was hardly 16 kms. The road had been damaged at several locations, but it had been “mended”. When we crossed the river Gori just ahead of Madkot, we saw the crumbling village. Its school and several buildings had been damaged or gone in the water about 90 – 100 feet down the valley. We had discussions with families, shopkeepers, the village leader and finally we visited also the relief camp where 12 families whose houses had been fully damaged were living.
Madkot village is an entry point to several other villages, and so it had lots of shops and the houses were well built. My first impression was that the people of the village cannot be too poor here. Purely looking at the houses, there were about 30% of families who can be classified as poor, as other families lived on shops or jobs, and they seemed to be better off. We were even surprised that there were two hotels in the village! One of them was just on the river bed, and might be threatened soon if the river doesn’t change its course, and the other was a lot more interior and in a secure location.
The relief camp had been set up on an abandoned building by a failed / attempted hydro power station in a nearby location. When we visited the camp, we saw the place to be clean. After a brief with the staff at the camp, we went to visit the families in the camp. (I am not discussing programmatic issues in this blog, because this is a personal one. And so such have been presented in official reports. Only human stories and personal experience are mentioned here.)
We saw a man on wheel chair, two other men, few children and a old lady, and we started talking to them. Other family members had gone into the village as they go about their normal work and they return whenever they think off to come to stay at the camp. They had come with all their properties as they saw the river beginning to eat up under their houses. We saw dish antennas, parked cars, heaters and even power generators! As I said earlier, many of these families were not poor. But nature had punished them, and have been left homeless and landless now. The three buildings in the camp had two floors each, and in each floor two families were staying! So, well set!
Where politics steps in: We were told that the local Member of the Legislative Assembly has told these families not to quit the camp as this place is better secured, unless and until the government gives them a better house! Arrogance of leadership.