The siege within

  • 14/03/1995

While the Marathwada quake victims waited for succour, lucre and its distribution ensnared the NGOs, the voluble critics of government's callous habits, in attritious squabblings. S Parasuraman's paper on NGO activity, presented at the workshop, does not exactly do them pride.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, more than 130 groups and NGOs from neighbouring states flocked to the area. But none of them tried to coordinate relief distribution with others. Most left after the initial phase.

Manav Lok, headed by Dwarkadas Lohia, the Action for Agricultural Renewal in Maharashtra (AFARM), and even a businessman from Latur, Nand Kishore Bhargav, formed mutually exclusive coordination committees. But by the second day, everyone accepted Lohia's leadership. Oxfam-India was willing to act as the funding body for the coordination committee. All the funds were to be directed through Manav Lok.

Initially, 67 organisations came together. During the rescue operations, it was agreed that the NGOs would divide the villages between themselves. During the relief phase, however, wherever the distribution in different villages was undertaken, a centralised system was followed, with all purchasing and distribution undertaken by a centralised body. All the members of the coordination committee were engaged in relief work for the first 20 days. After that, the various organisations took over.

In the first 3-4 days, the plans of the committee were changed continuously. The committee worked in both Osmanabad and Latur. One of its time-splurging preoccupations was preventing the acquisition of relief material by other groups.

Another Latur businessman, Nalin Chapsi, and his Voluntary Organisations Coordination Committee, channelising relief flowing in from business and religio-political groups. Some NGOs listed as part of this coordination network, however, denied any association with it.

Yet another common coordination forum under the auspices of the Latur Collectorate sought to gather the warring committees together and became the meeting ground of organisations, like the Churches Association for Social Action and the Jain Sangathana, who were not a part of any of the other formal coordination efforts. But it was a dwindling effort. Meetings were initially held every 3 days, then every week, and finally every fortnight till early November 1993. None are held now.

The entire relief distribution was ad hoc and unplanned, leading to duplication and wastage of resources and skills. Many accused the committee of being a mere distributing agency without a clear long-term vision. In several instances, funds were given to the individual NGOs without the members of the coordination committee knowing. Consequently, the committee could neither check the entry of NGOs with profiteering motives, nor clearly maintain the NGOs-coordination committee link.

Coordination efforts were finally put to grave when Swarnabhumi, a Latur-based NGO, tried to muzzle its way in to the chairmanship.

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