MUZAFFARABAD, Oct 7: Two years after the killer earthquake, administrative wrongs seem to keep without proper homes most of people made shelterless in the NWFP and Azad Kashmir.
Complaints of inefficiencies and corruption mainly in the distribution of compensation were galore on the eve of the second anniversary of the region’s worst recorded 7.6 magnitude quake of Oct 8, 2005, which killed more than 100,000 people and made over three million homeless.
Besides difficulties faced by families in rebuilding their homes, problems abounded about the reconstruction of the region’s two most devastated towns – the Azad Kashmir’s capital of Muzaffarabad and Balakot in the NWFP.
The Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (Erra) says the reconstruction of only about 92,000 houses have been completed while 250,000 are still in various stages of completion. That will mean most of them will face their third winter without proper homes, though the population seems to be generally satisfied with other facilities, such as health, education and supplies from non-governmental organisations.
Many people in the region blame both military and civilian authorities for their housing problems, such as delays in the disbursement of even a paltry compensation of a maximum of Rs175,000 for a totally destroyed house and complained of widespread corruption such as bribes allegedly received by officials of joint teams for approving construction of homes of approved designs.
Such complaints were more widespread in the quake-ravaged villages but were heard on Sunday also in Muzaffarabad town, where some quake sufferers spoke of bribes ranging from Rs5,000 to Rs10,000 taken by petty officials such as patwaris or other members of local overseeing joint teams to approve payment of compensation.
MASTER PLAN ROW: But the most serious problem holding up reconstruction of Muzaffarabad town seemed to be a reported disagreement of Azad Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan with a master plan prepared by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) and approved by Erra as well as the Planning Commission.
The prime minister appeared to have earned the ire of many of the quake sufferers and his own government’s Muzaffarabad Development Authority (MDA), whose outspoken chairman Zahid Amin told this correspondent that Sardar Attique was insisting on the inclusion of what he called “expansion and extension” of the capital that would mean an unnecessary additional expenditure of about Rs20 billion.
“What the prime minister says is contrary to the concept of the master plan (to reconstruct what had been destroyed by the earthquake),” Mr Amin said, adding that buildings of the prime minister’s secretariat and the government secretariat that Sardar Attique sought to be included in the plan had not been destroyed.
Mr Amin said though his MDA had been involved with the preparation of the master plan from the beginning, the prime minister had now asked the state Public Works Department to look into the plan in what he saw was a move to bypass the MDA that could lead to ‘fasad’.
“I too will give a fight,” he added and called for an intervention by President Pervez Musharraf to ensure the implementation of the master plan as it stood now.
It was not immediately possible to get the views of the prime minister on the issue, although he has been denying another charge frequently voiced by opposition lawmakers and dissidents within the ruling All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference that he wanted to transfer the state capital somewhere else after his party lost most of the state legislative assembly seats in Muzaffarabad district to the Azad Kashmir chapter of the Pakistan People’s Party and other dissidents in the 2006 elections.
Another Muzaffarabad figure, former mayor Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, also complained that withholding the master plan was keeping the local people from reconstructing their houses because of an uncertainty about how much space must be left for streets.
He said that ‘a tremendous amount’ of foreign aid promised or received was beyond the comprehension of the present state government which, he added, was lacking interest in the job.
He called for supervision of projects by donor agencies. “Whichever agency provides money should be allowed to work,” he said and cited good work done by donors like Jica and Turkey.
Asked about complaints of corruption, Chaudhry Manzoor said: “Corruption permeates through their blood. There is no sphere left where these is no corruption.”
He said he and his four brothers got no compensation for their destroyed homes in the town’s Shahnara Mohallah “because we cannot stand in the line”.
Another resident of the neighbourhood, Malik Younus, said he received only Rs25,000 for a devastated three-storey house of four families, although its repair cost him Rs500,000 and that an assurance for a review by state President Raja Zulqarnain Khan during a visit to the area a year ago had borne no fruit yet.
He said he knew his two cousins had to pay Rs10,000 and Rs6,000, respectively, to get things done.
One-time sweetmeat seller Wali Mohammad Meer, a resident of the town’s Ward 16, said his house was totally destroyed, but he got only Rs50,000 in compensation because he did not pay any bribe and got nothing for his destroyed shop.
In some localities, men and women were seen sweeping small graveyards where their dear ones killed by the quake were buried, painting the graves, or offering prayers there on the eve of the quake anniversary.
FOUR-WHEEL SPLENDOUR: In contrast to quake ravages, expensive four-wheel drive vehicles were seen plentiful in Muzaffarabad.
“Local government ki shan hai (it’s local government department’s splendour),” a 12-year-old 5th class student, who gave his name only as Zain, said when asked about owners of three four-wheel drive vehicles with green government number plates parked on a sloped road on a holiday.
A passer-by, who declined to give his name, said he did not know if all these vehicles belonged to the local government, but he knew that even grade-17 government officials in Azad Kashmir had official cars that a grade-20 official in Pakistan would not get.
“They are used also to fetch water and cement (for reconstruction of houses),” he said about their alleged misuse.