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No relief in centres of refuge
Disease scare looms large

- Counting days

Guwahati/Kokrajhar, Aug. 4: Dispur is staring at a major health scare if the inmates of the relief camps, set up to house the affected in the Kokrajhar riots, do not return home at the earliest, health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma warned here this afternoon.

According to figures released by the minister, more than half of the 8,000 babies below the age of two were not in good health even before they reached the camps, the atmosphere of which will take a toll on them if the camps are not decongested soon.

There are also 2,428 pregnant women in the 303 relief camps.

The worry stems from the 13 deaths, including five minors, in the camp so far since July 31.

So far, 117 doctors, including 30 sent from the Centre, have treated 93,789 inmates. Over four lakh people have been displaced.

“Against a capacity of around 400, the camps are housing nearly 1,500-1,700 inmates. You can very well imagine the condition and what toll it will take on those ailing. Most of the children have to sleep on the ground, compounding their health issues. We have 8,076 babies in the camps but more than half of them are ailing from before. It is a huge concern for us and we are on full alert. If the camps are not decongested soon, we will have a serious problem at hand,” Sarma said.

Given the crisis it apprehends, the heath department has started distributing basic items like mosquito nets, soaps, towels and cots for the babies.

“We will be holding a review on August 15. If there is no decongestion then we will have to draw up a contingency plan like moving the babies and the ailing to new and safer camps,” Sarma said.

The government is also worried that if the schools used as camps are not vacated at the earliest, education will take a hit.

“At the most we can extend it till August 15. Beyond that will be a real problem for even those not affected. That is why I appeal to affected Bodos and Muslims and their leadership to ensure their return home as early as possible and wherever possible. We should try and meet the deadline, August 15, set by our chief minister or there will be more avoidable complications,” Sarma said.

One of the highlights of today’s media interaction was Sarma denying any rift with chief minister, speculation fuelled by his not being in the list of ministers sent to the affected areas.

“Our priority now should be to provide relief and rehab, not talk about things which don’t exist. We should not talk about politics in this hour of crisis,” he told The Telegraph after the media briefing. However, inmates have started “testing” the security waters before returning home.

The men in the three relief camps in Gendrabil are visiting their villages and working there during the day but return by evening apprehending trouble at night.

Though the situation is slowing limping back to normal in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri, the people are still wary about the security situation.

“We go to our villages in the morning and work in the fields and do other chores in the village but return by evening. But we are still worried about safety during the night,” said Sailen Basumatary of Diabari village.

Another person from Batipara village and a camp inmate said, “We are farmers and we still have to plough the field. We go together to ensure that we are safe and return by evening.”

Kokrajhar deputy commissioner Jayant Narlekar said many inmates have expressed their desire to return home and many have started going from the relief camps. “People have already started going from the relief camps. Though not in large number but they have either started going home or expressed a desire to go. Many have started tilling their fields. The men are going to the villages during the day. That means there is a sense of security," he said.

Narlekar stressed on the need to build confidence and urged upon people, irrespective caste, creed and community, to come forward and work together.

According to official sources, 98,710 Bodos, 80,281 minorities and 522 people from other communities are still living in 23 relief camps in Kokrajhar sub-division, 39 camps in Gossaigaon and in 10 in Parbatjhora camps sub-division in the district.