Bawana Fire – A month later – ActionAid India
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Bawana Fire – A month later

Author: Abhilash Babu
Posted on: Friday, 24th May 2013

Part 2. That joke called compensation

So what’s the government doing? Well a month later, as I stood among the remains, there were no official accounts on the exact number of the families whose houses were gutted. The news is that the families of the deceased will be given a monetary compensation of Rs. 100,000 and the rest of the affected families will be given a compensation of Rs. 5,000 each. That is about $1800 and $90 respectively. 

Apart from the monetary support, the government has provided temporary ‘shelters’ (which to me at best qualifies as an open shed) one mobile toilet (for a population of close to 3500 or more!) and a mechanism to provide for food thrice a day.

That compensation amount is a cruel joke.

The average monthly house hold income of these families, as told to me by the members, is anywhere between Rs.3000 to Rs. 5000. So the compensation, so as to speak, is barely a month’s salary, despite the fact that these people lost everything that called their ‘own’. The open sheds that they have been provided with, cannot block the sweeping heat wave.

On the 22nd of May 2013, the day’s maximum temperature in Bawana had touched 45 degrees. One of the residents told me that the heat had become so unbearable that they were now thinking of taking shelters on rent in a nearby block. How much is the rent? I ask. I was told its Rs.1, 500 or above. That’s almost 40-50% of their monthly income, forget the token compensation. I checked out the mobile toilet. It is a good 200 metres away from the place that they live.  Obviously nobody uses it.

“We rather use the community toilets here, which are far more spacious and accessible to old women and children.”

They are right. The mobile toilet is at a certain height and there are no ladders to climb. Some of the ‘solutions’ we offer to the poor, in their times of distress, completely baffles me. This is one of those. Have a look at this picture. 

I asked about the deadline that the government has set for itself to disburse the compensation amount. There is no such date. Most of these families have lost all their identity cards to the fire. The local administration has stated that all the compensation would only be provided through a bank. Almost all the families were engaged in either applying for a new identity card or a duplicate one, when I visited them. (The pic below shows those applications). It will be quite awhile before these families lay their hands on those scrimpy amounts being offered as solace. 

Read Part 1. When the levee breaks