‘Do you think these tents are worth living in?’Written By Bivek Mathur | Published on Oct 7, 2022, 08:47 IST | 1665112630426Women and paralytic patients among the worst-hit as 36 families in Jammu’s Bassan accommodated in leaky tents for the last two months after landslides rendered them homeless
Reasi, Jammu and Kashmir: The residents of Bassan in Dharmari block of Reasi district were visibly relieved when the skies cleared up after a week of continuous rains. Little did they know that what was about to come would render them homeless. For three consecutive days starting July 29, Bassan saw recurring landslides, something the village had never seen before.
Mohammad Yaqoob (50) was busy helping workers at his under-construction house when he heard cries for help. Even as he scrambled over to see what was happening, two of his washrooms were gone. “The moment I stood atop a pillar, the washrooms located just beneath it began to cave in. I screamed out to the masons and labourers to run to safety,” he said.
Two days later on the evening of July 31, when the landslides had finally stopped, Yaqoob and others came back to assess the damage done to their households. Though a major portion of his house was intact, Yaqoob was shocked to see the decomposed body of his late father Haji Bashir lying in the open. Bashir had passed away almost a decade ago.
“The landslides had torn through all the graves and buildings in the village. I searched my place the next morning and found the decomposed body of my late mother Khateeja Begum, too,” he said.
While Yaqoob was lucky enough to rebury his dead at a nearby location as per the Islamic rituals, eight small graveyards were irrecoverably lost under the debris from recurring landslips.
A visibly shaken Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din (43) said he had no means to look after his paralysed wife and jobless children. “We have lost everything. Our home, land, over 15 fruit-laden trees of walnut and over a dozen trees of apricot, apple and plum — everything is gone. The standing crops of maize and paddy have also been damaged.”
The deluge that marked the landslides washed away 43 houses belonging to 36 families, affecting around 220 people. It destroyed around 400 kanals of agricultural land. According to villagers, over 1,000 trees of apple, apricot and walnut were uprooted. The only solace was no life was lost.
‘Not a fair deal’
Though the district administration acted quickly to provide Rs 5,000 per family, the villagers claimed it was not sufficient to rebuild their houses or manage food, travel and medical expenses.
A day after the first landslide, Reasi District Development Commissioner Babila Rakwal visited Bassan along with Dharmari Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Tariq Aziz and other officials. She arranged for tents from the Indian Army’s 58 RR unit to house the affected people and stationed a tanker from the Public Health Engineering Department nearby to meet their water needs. Several NGOs, including Delhi-based Goonj, socio-political leaders and people from across the Union Territory provided them with clothes and food items.
According to Red Cross volunteer Aijaz Ahmed, also the husband of village panch, Rs 15,000 to 20,000 will be paid from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) for a partially damaged kutcha house, while Rs 1 lakh will be given for a fully damaged one. For pucca houses, it will be above Rs 1 lakh. However, Bassan residents said the amount was not sufficient as all families have lost material goods valued at Rs 10 to 15 lakh.
Despite the initial flurry of activity, the full compensation of Rs 1 lakh per family is yet to be paid. “We have provided Rs 5,000. The rest will be paid soon,” said SDM Aziz. Asked if Rs 1 lakh was sufficient to rebuild houses, he said, “This is what the administration could pay under the SDRF norms.”
On whether some alternative lands would be provided to the affected families, he said, “Most of the affected families have their own alternative lands in different parts of Dharmari.”
However, Mohi-ud-Din said the administration was not telling the truth. “Only 10 of the 36 landslide-affected families have alternative lands. The rest have nowhere to go.”
Patwari Sanjay Kumar said the department was yet to assess the land-related losses. Meanwhile, Reasi District Mineral Officer Shafiq Ahmed told 101Reporters that a team from Geology and Mining Department will visit Bassan to conduct a ground-level assessment and file a report to ascertain whether the area is safe for living.
Life in disarray
Now living in tents, the landslide-hit residents of Bassan dread the downpour. Every time it rains heavily, water seeps in through the tents. People then have to rush to the houses of their relatives in nearby villages.
"Imagine how difficult it is for a person like me, who has been living with paralysis for many years now," said Sheikh Mohammad Iqbal, who is in his sixties. His daughter-in-law Sofia Bano (24), who was in labour, had to be shifted to the Government Shri Maharaja Gulab Singh Hospital in Jammu on August 1 itself as no doctor was available in Bassan.
"The block/district administration did not provide an ambulance to shift her to the hospital. I had to borrow money from people in my locality to arrange a private ambulance. Until the payment of compensation, the administration should have accommodated us in a government building," Iqbal said.
The other two pregnant women have also moved out to the houses of their relatives in other villages of Reasi, where they have access to roads and hospitals.
Mohi-ud-Din’s wife Rahila Begum (45) has been shifted to a relative’s house in Bassan. “I was alone at home when the earth began to shake on July 29. I do not know what happened afterwards. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in the house of a relative," said Rahila, who has remained paralysed for the last six years.
Asked why she opted to stay at a relative’s place, she retorted, "Do you think those tents are worth living in? The basic requirement for any woman is a toilet facility. A paralysed woman like me cannot go into the forest for daily ablutions.”
The temperature in hilly Bassan remains comparatively low even during summers. “In winters, the village experiences snowfall. The mere thought of living in a tent in frosty weather gives us goosebumps,” said Iqbal.
Edited by: Rekha Pulinnoli
Cover image is of the tents provided by Army's 58 RR unit to Bassan residents for shelter due to the devastating landslides. Photo sourced by Bivek Mathur
(The author is a freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)