Even after the death of 42 people at slum locality of Gandhi Camp around three months back, the administration has not learnt a lesson as residents of the area are still being forced to live in unhygienic conditions.
Although, the district administration is claiming to have taken all the necessary measures to ensure adequate cleanliness at Gandhi Camp, a visit to the area, where about 20,000 people are living, shows a complete different picture. Filthy drains, contaminated water, heaps of garbage, dilapidated roads, choked sewers and open pipes of water supply are a common sight in most streets, where even the employees of sanitation department are scared to enter.
In October, 42 people of this locality had died due to gastroenteritis. The entire state administration, including the chief minister, had assured to provide adequate sanitation facilities to the residents, but to no avail. Apparently, to take political mileage out of the situation, a battery of political leaders, including CM Parkash Singh Badal, health minister Madan Mohan Mittal, MP Partap Singh Bajwa, Rajya Sabha member Avinash Rai Khanna and others had announced huge grants for the development of the locality and for the kin of the deceased.
However, apart from 21 people, who were given a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh each, the rest have failed to get compensation.
Badal had also assured that the state government will organise a mega health camp in the city in December to diagnose patients with serious ailments in general and those suffering from gastroenteritis in particular, but the assurance yielded no result. Peeved over inhuman conditions in which the residents of Gandhi Camp were residing, the chief minister had also ordered the Gurdaspur deputy commissioner to draft a rehabilitation policy for these people, but nothing has been done in this regard even after three months.
Dharampal, a resident of the area, said he lost his twin brothers within 20 days in October. His brother Gopal Chand died on October 21 after he lost his younger brother Sohan Lal on October 4.
"Gopal Chand started vomiting and soon he was rushed to a local dispensary, where doctors referred him to the civil hospital. After giving him treatment for one and half hour, the doctor told me to shift him to Amritsar but because of financial issues I could not take him there and within a few minutes he died." said Dharampal.
"Even now, living conditions have not changed. We are still forced to drink contaminated water," he added.
Criticising the government for ignoring Gandhi Camp, Manju, who lost her husband Ganesh, said: "I can't understand what else it will take for the authorities to step up the efforts. Although the district authorities are claiming of making efforts, the ground reality is quite different.
Even after this epidemic, regular cleaning is not done. I had made several rounds to the office of SDM and deputy commissioner to seek compensation, but I was told that the exact cause of death of my husband was not ascertained, thus they can't give me compensation. He was the sole breadearner and now I see a bleak future ahead along with my three kids."
Similar is the condition of Seema Devi, who lost her husband, Amar Singh (45) to gastro on October 16. On that day, the CM declared compensation of Rs. 1 lakh each to the kin of the deceased, but as her husband died after the announcement, she was deprived of compensation.
Demanding a strict action against the officials, whose laxity led to the death of 42 people, local Congress MLA Ashwani Sekhri said the responsibility should be fixed and FIR should be registered against officials responsible for the outbreak.
Seeing no action from the state government, he had brought the matter to the notice of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who had assured him that appropriate action will be taken in this regard. He said he even got sanctioned Rs. 11.5 crore for development of slum localities in Batala from the Centre. "Even as Rs.3.5 crore has been released by the government, the money was lying unused in the treasury due to the apathetic attitude of the administration," he said.
When contacted deputy commissioner Abhinav Trikha said the state government had constituted a team under technical adviser, local bodies department, VK Bhatt. The team had already submitted his report and deputy director, local bodies, had started working on the recommendations, he said.
On the issue of compensation to the remaining 21 families, who had lost their kin due to the epidemic, the DC said the health department had already found the exact cause of death of all those 21, who died after October 16, and the report had ruled out the possibility of gastro as the cause of their death.