More than a year after rains led to unprecedented death and destruction in the hill state of Uttarakhand (UK), Uttar Pradesh (UP) is still busy ‘sorting’ out its dead spread across 60 districts. As the state grapples with numbers – from initial figure of 5500, the ‘missing/dead’ were vetted down to 2500, then to 1956 and 1150 before settling for 948, only to see a recent addition of three more names – hundreds of victims despite having got the ‘death certificate’ of the near ones still await the promised Rs 5.5 lakh ex-gratia.
The financial relief comprises Rs 2 lakh from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, Rs 2 lakh from the UP CM’s Relief Fund and Rs 1.5 lakh from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF). The PM’s relief fund amount and NDRF amount of Rs 33.18 crore sanctioned by the centre was routed to UP through the Uttarakhand government. The UP government has only recently begun disbursing the amount directly into the account of the victims’ kin – a first for the state – but the disbursal process, apparently hit by some ‘dubious claims’ has been very slow.
In fact it was only on June 2 that the government summoned local administration officials from 60 districts to hand them death certificates of 948 victims, paving the way for disbursal of the amount to the intended beneficiaries. Yet, many haven’t received it so far despite the matter being raised in the UP assembly too.
“I had inquired from the government whether it was aware that the UP’s Uttarakhand victims were still awaiting relief and was assured that the process would be expedited,” says UP BJP legislative party leader Suresh Khanna. How long would the state take to verify its victims and provide them relief?
Relief commissioner KS Atoria said the home department was looking into the matter. Home department officials while admitting that not all the beneficiaries have been reached so far, however said, of the 948 confirmed cases of ‘presumptive death’ nearly 700 have received the ex gratia relief. Presumptive death is death from proof of any person's long and unexplained absence, usually after seven years.
The bodies of the Uttarakhand victims have still not been found but the ‘presumptive death’ clause was relaxed keeping the monumental tragedy in which thousands were either feared dead in the mountain floods or buried under the debris following massive landslides that followed the rains. Even if one goes by the government’s claim of “having disbursed claims to 700” it still means that kin of the 151 of the total 951 ‘presumed dead’ are still to be reached.
An inquiry is still on to ascertain the claims of another 199 odd claimants whose name figured in the list sent to UP by the Uttarakhand government. Of these, four have been found to be false and the government suspects more such cases of ‘dubious claimants.’ “In fact in one case family members of a person from Mahoba who had gone to the hill state well before the tragedy made a claim for the amount. In another case, a person from Ghaziabad in order to be eligible for the ‘presumptive death’ category kept hiding till January this year in a bid to stake claim to the relief,” said an officer. For the presumptive death clause to come into play it is essential that no one has seen or heard the person.