Less than a fortnight after the monster earthquake devastated Uri and Tangdhar areas of Jammu and Kashmir, allegations of malpractices in relief distribution have surfaced, forcing the authorities to issue a stern warning to the concerned officials.
"No revenue official has come to assess the damages caused by the earthquake but the government has said distribution of cash relief has started in the affected areas. I don't know where has the relief gone," Mohammad Iqbal, who used to live in a hamlet on a hill close to Line of Control here, told PTI.
Iqbal, who now lives in a tent shelter after his entire village was flattened by the 7.4 magnitude quake on October 8, said relief work was tardy and only VIPs were visiting the area.
"We have not seen any ground staff here for assessment of the damages. But VIPs have been coming over the past couple of days," he said.
Admitting that complaints of malpractices have been received, Jammu and Kashmir Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Hakeem Mohammad Yaseen said stern action would be taken against erring officials.
Mohammad Akram, an elderly man who lives in Sultan Daki village, alleged that revenue officials who had come to assess damages in his village were favouring influential survivors of the area.
Several families who were living under one roof have been shown as a single family, while in certain cases a single family has been divided into three to get more cash relief, he said.
"All the officials who are guilty of manipulating the relief distribution, no matter what their rank, will be taken to task as per the rules," Yaseen told a gathering of people during a visit to this worst-hit village.
To prevent any corrupt practices in relief distribution, the government has decided that those who assess the damages will not be handing out relief supplies, he said. Revenue and relief officials said they were proceeding strictly according to the government guidelines on issuing relief to the affected people.
On not reaching out to far-flung areas, they said the villages are small and located miles apart from each other, which has made it difficult to reach there. "We will be completing the assessment process in the next couple of days," they added.
However, the ground reality contradicted some of their claims.
Villagers in some areas in Uri tehsil, which were not badly affected by the quake, were also receiving the relief material. The government is distributing four blankets and an equal number of biscuit packets to each ration card holder, irrespective of the family strength.
"What is the logic behind this move? I have a family of eight and we have been given four blankets while those families with only three members have also got the same amount of relief," said Salima, an elderly woman of Boniyar village.
It is pertinent to mention here that most of the Boniyar residents and those in adjoining villages should not have been entitled to the relief material, as most of the structures are standing and intact.
Following complaints of malpractices, many quake survivors have demanded handing over the relief operations to the Army.
"The civil administration seems to be bound by political considerations and pressure from their bosses. It would be better if the entire relief operations would be handed over to the Army, which has done a splendid job so far and is not bound by any affiliation," Abdul Rashid Khan, a resident of Uri town said.
Even separatist Democratic Liberation Party, headed by Hashim Qureshi, has filed a Public Interest Litigation in a Srinagar court, seeking handing over of relief operations to the Army.
In many places of Uri, which till recently were traditional strongholds of opposition National Conference, the quake survivors alleged that the government was distributing relief keeping an eye on their vote banks.
"Priority has been given to areas that have voted for Congress in the last assembly and parliamentary elections while NC dominated areas have been ignored so far," Khan, a self-proclaimed supporter of National Conference alleged.