Outrage in Kashmir as Indian Army Bills It For Flood Relief

By Adeel Shah

2015-07-03
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150703-IN-KASHMIR-FLOODS-620 Kashmir residents ride in an Indian Army raft during floods in Srinagar, India, September 11, 2014.
AFP

Anger is simmering in Jammu & Kashmir over news that the central government deducted the cost of a military relief operation from an aid package announced after devastating floods in the north Indian state in September 2014.

According to NDTV, which broke the story Monday, the central government cut Rs 500 crore ($7.8 million) from the Rs 1,667 crore ($26 million) allotted from the State Disaster Response Fund for the rehabilitation of flood victims.

The Home Ministry on February 6 sent a letter to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary Iqbal Khanday, informing him that the Union government had already subtracted Rs. 500 crore from the aid package “based on the bills raised by the ministry of defense.”

During the floods in September, which claimed more than 300 lives and destroyed tens of thousands of homes and businesses, the Indian Army and Air Force launched rescue operation Megh Rahat (Sky Relief), delivering food and supplies to the flood victims.

On Thursday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Srinagar, the state capital, but made no mention of the controversy, telling reporters only that the central government was committed to helping flood victims. He took no questions.

His statement did little to alleviate widespread anger across the state, where violent agitation against Indian governance has claimed more than 50,000 lives since the early 1990s.

A senior army official said presenting the bill was a routine affair.

“It is not new. Whenever there is any relief operation, the army has always sent the bills to the concerned state,” he told BenarNews, requesting anonymity.

He did not mention which other state was also billed for such operation.

‘A stepmother’s attitude’

Mohammed Ashraf Mir, J&K minister of state for power and industries, called the army billing “surprising and unfortunate.”

“If the government of India claims that the army is a helping hand, then how can they bill us Rs. 500 crore for the relief operation?” Mir told BenarNews.

“By deducting this huge sum, the union government has rubbed salt into the wounds of the Kashmiri people,” he added.

“The Center also helped people during the Nepal earthquake. If they are charging their own people for rescue operations, would they also charge the Nepal government for carrying out such operation,” Mir said in separate comments reported by First Post.

The opposition Congress party blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “insulting the Kashmiri people”.

“It is very disturbing that army has charged 500 crore for helping people during the floods,” Ghulam Nabi Monga, vice president of J&K Pradesh Congress, told Benar.

“The central government has shown a stepmother’s attitude towards the Kashmiri people.”

Civil society members and separatist leaders are also up in arms.

Hurriyat Conference Chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani termed the bill as “robbery”.

“The role of the Indian army in the floods has been merely a PR exercise and they didn’t show any sincerity in rescuing and helping the common Kashmiris,” Geelani said in a statement Tuesday.

Hameeda Nayeem, chairwoman of the Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), called the whole thing “ridiculous.”

“Whenever there is a disaster, the world comes to help the victims. But it is very ridiculous that the Indian army has produced a bill for the rescue operation,” she said.

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