Citizens' Issues
Uttarakhand floods: Two years on, life in 'Village of Widows' at standstill
The trauma of the incident was so intense that even after two years, those who survived are terrified to go back to Kedarnath, 30 km away, and work
 
Rain symbolises doom for this tiny speck of Uttrakhand that saw nature's worst fury in the form of floods caused by a cloudburst two years ago, leaving thousands of people dead and causing widespread devastation. Despite efforts made by the government, NGOs and other social organisations to restore normalcy in the region, people continue to be in the grip of despair and helplessness even after two years.
 
Among many stories of grit and hopes in the valley is one such tale of Deoli Brahmgram -- a village nestled on the hills of Guptakashi with a population of 1,100. The village, that was completely dependent on the earnings from temples, where the residents worked as priesst, porters and guides for the pilgrims, witnessed 70 deaths - leaving behind over 60 widows and giving it the "Village of Widows" tag.
 
The trauma of the incident was so intense that even after two years, those who survived are terrified to go back to Kedarnath, 30 km away, and work. This has not only caused unemployment among the people but also compelled them to become daily wage earners.
 
Although in the first year, government showed interest in resolving the issue, but with time that too faded away. The lack of earning has even prevented widows from sending their children to school.
 
"I am not even able to fulfill the basic needs of my children since my husband died in the floods two years ago. At times, my kids starve which makes feel that I should also die to get rid of all these problems. We received about Rs.10,000 from the government in the name of compensation after which they never turned up," Dhanita Devi, a 30-year-old widow told IANS.
 
Dhanita was four months pregnant with her third child when the disastrous floods killed her 33-year-old husband who had a grocery shop in Kedarnath.
 
"My husband used to earn Rs.30,000 to Rs.40,000 every month, but since his death the situation is such that we even have to struggle to make Rs.4,000 to Rs.5,000 a month," she said, adding that she was ready to go to any part of the country to earn money without being worried of any odds.
 

Dhanita Devi is not alone. Lela Devi, Savita Mali, Savitri Rawat and 60 other widows are among those struggling hard to continue living.
 
Leela Soni, 45, who lost her son and daughter-in-law told IANS: "My elder son used to look after the entire family. Whatever he used to earn from the shop was sufficient for us. But in the last two years the situation has deteoriated so much that I am even thinking of telling my younger son to discontinue his studies in Dehradun and take up some minor job so that at least we can tackle the poverty."
 
"I didn't even get the dead body of my son and his wife. My son's absence has also made me worry about my daughter who needs to be married this year at any cost, but the problem is that I neither have the money nor any other resources," Soni said, as her eyes welled up remembering her sufferings in the past two years.
 
Currently, people have to travel at least 200 km to seek medical help as the medical centre at Kedarnath was washed away by the floods and the government never attempted to rebuild it.
 
"The disaster has caused my son mental trauma. He used to work in Badrinath as a porter. Witnessing deaths and his house being washed away in the flood waters not only has made him mentally sick, but has also scared him so much that he does not want to go out of the house," Ayodhya Prashad told IANS.
 
Although the government has repeatedly assured the people in the region of their best efforts to restore normalcy, Sulabh International --an NGO working for the social upliftment -- has adopted the village and is providing widows, elders and children Rs. 2,000 every month.
 
Along with this, every affected family in the nearby six villages is being given an allowance of Rs.1,000 a month. The organisation has also set up 12 computers and 25 sewing machines for the village people to gain some skills.
 
Speaking to IANS, Sulabh founder Bindeshwar Pathak said it Sulabh will make efforts to bring back the normality the villagers had in their lives two years ago. This will not only act as the basic economic support but also help them get training in some particular work in which they can gain expertise.
 
The money paid to the widows and the senior citizens is for five years and till then Sulabh wishes to help all the women gaining expertise in sewing, candle making and handling computer related work, which will further economically empower them.
 
"We learn sewing and the computer related work in batches. I won't say that our life has completely come back on the track, but Sulabh has at least given some economical stability," Vindoo Negi, a 23-year old widow, who attempted suicide twice to get rid of the sufferings caused by the nature's doom, told IANS.

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COMMENTS

Narendra Doshi

2 years ago

Commendable work. Cheers for Sulabh Team

Complaint filed after worms found in Nestle's Cerelac in Coimbatore
Still fighting the Maggi noodles crisis in court, Nestle India on Tuesday was hit by another potential trouble-spot with a consumer filing a complaint with the food safety watchdog saying that a packet of baby food Cerelac was found infested with worms in Coimbatore.
 
"We have received a complaint about a worm-infested packet of Cerelac. We have sent the packet for tests. We will be collecting three more samples of the same Cerelac variant and send it for tests," R. Kathiravan, the designated officer of the food safety and drug administration, told IANS over phone from Coimbatore, around 500 km from the Tamil Nadu capital.
 
M.S. Sriram, the complainant, also told IANS over phone from Coimbatore: "We bought the Cerelac packet on Sunday. It was opened only on Monday around noon by my wife to feed our baby. To her shock, she found worms in the powder and called me."
 
"The expiry date on the pack was printed as February 2016. We always buy food products after checking the expiry date," Sriram said.
 
He said he then called Nestle India's toll-free complaint number and got a "pathetic response".
 
"The response I got at the toll-free number was horrible. Hence I decided to take the issue further by making a complaint to the food safety department," Sriram said.
 
Only after the issue escalated did Nestle India officials start acting.
 
"A company official called me and apologised for what happened to me with their product. He gave a new packet and said the company would also take the issue forward by testing the samples," Sriram said.
 
According to Kathiravan, there was a remote chance of a properly packed product getting infested with worms.
 
Incidentally, this was the second such complaint in Coimbatore with Nestle India's baby food.
 
On June 2, a person said he found larvae and worms in a packet of Nestle's NanPro 3 milk powder.
 
"After that complaint, we collected samples of that product from other shops and tested them. The test results were positive for the company as they were not contaminated," Kathiravan said.
 
He said the product would get infested with worms only when moisture enters the packet.
 
Nestle India officials were not immediately reachable for comments.

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Railways' reforms can transformatively impact 1.2 bn Indians
One will have to wait and watch as to how the strategic restructuring in this critical sector unfolds over the next decade. It truly has the capability to have a transformative impact on the lives of India's 1.2 Billion people
 
The railways sector has seen some activity in the past few months. Not only are operational changes being brought about but a long-term strategic view seems to be in sight. The operation changes in ‘tatkal’ remuneration in respect to cancellation as well as the choice to upgrade to a domestic airline in case of waitlisted seats are steps that are beneficial to customers.
 
The long-term view seems to come from the recently constituted seven-member committee under the chairmanship of economist Bibek Debroy on Mobilizing Resources for Projects and Restructuring of Indian Railways. The report proposes five fundamental points for the IR, specifically and the railways sector to look into: 
 
First, what is the core role of the IR in India? This question is pertinent to understanding the core activities and the peripheral ones and separating the commercial from the social role of the IR. At present, there are a lot of activities that take up considerable time and effort on the part of IR. These include the medical service that IR runs with an infrastructure of 125 hospitals, 586 health units and 14,000 beds. Also, pertinent in this regard is the 1 degree college and 168 schools that IR runs. These along with the railway protection, catering, real estate development, housing and the like, according to the committee, are non-core activities that can be clearly outsourced. 
 
Second the report calls for proper accounting procedures and commercial considerations in IR. A formally reformed accounting system will enable the Ministry of Railways that has administrative control over 6 established production units and 16 public sector undertakings (PSUs) to keep proper accounts. Similarly, it will also enable the understanding the level of subsidization in the 17 zones and 68 divisions into which the IR at present is bifurcated. A case in point that finds mention is the Kolkata Metro rail. Any future suburban systems according to the committee should be built on a JV route with state governments (on a 50:50 basis), and the cost should not be borne by IR. 
 
Third, the report recommends streamlining the HR procedures and processes in IR. It is fundamental to carrying out the organizational transformation. It is primarily to be achieved by merging and consolidating the eight Group ‘A’ services into two services. These could be respectively called the Indian Railway Technical Service (IRTechS) comprising of the existing five technical services (IRSE, IRSSE, IRSEE, IRSME and IRSS) and the Indian Railway Logistics Service (IRLogS), comprising the three non-technical services (IRAS, IRPS and IRTS). Aligned with the streamlining of HR procedures is the decentralization of the authority and responsibility to at least the level of Divisional Railway Manager (DRM). The DRM is in charge of one of the 68 divisions of the IR. The financial authority, as well as the power in handling tenders connected with works, stores procurement, to DRM's, ensures that departmentalism is reduced - and there is accountability within the IR. 
 
Fourth, is the issue of ensuring competition and liberalization in the railways sector. The committee has for specific reasons refrained from calling the liberalization of the railways sector as privatization or deregulation. Essentially the committee recommends and encourages open access to private players who want to operate trains on tracks. It is in line with what is practiced at present in some parts of Europe and Australia. Liberalization and open access also call for an independent regulator for the sector and the committee report recommends setting up the same statutorily with an independent budget. The regulator - Railway Regulatory Authority of India (RRAI) - for economic regulation, including, wherever necessary, tariff regulation. 
 
Fifth, the report proposes progressively phasing out of the rail budget and merging the same with the general budget. It reflects the need to define clearly the relationship between the government and the IR. The recommendations also call for ending the system of paying dividends and reduction in the gross budgetary support carried out between the government and IR. 
 
The recommendations of the report are timely and present a systematic roadmap to restructure the IR behemoth in specific and the railways sector in general. However, as with the previous committee reports much will depend upon the acceptance of the report and ultimately its implementation on the ground. One will have to wait and watch as to how the strategic restructuring in this critical sector unfolds over the next decade. It truly has the capability to have a transformative impact on the lives of India's 1.2 Billion people. 
 

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