India has hijacked tsunami relief - Red Cross

Red Cross officials in India’s remote Andaman islands accused the government of ”hijacking” their relief materials today, as squabbles over aid continued in the archipelago devastated by the tsunami.

Red Cross officials in India’s remote Andaman islands accused the government of ”hijacking” their relief materials today, as squabbles over aid continued in the archipelago devastated by the tsunami.

A Rotary Club official also said the group had been given the cold shoulder by government officials when they offered to build hundreds of homes for tsunami victims.

In the weeks since the waves battered the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Indian and international relief agencies have complained that the government of the federally run territory does not appear to want them to travel to the faraway islands, where survivors say relief has come very late.

The Indian Red Cross Society said relief supplies it had in Port Blair, the territory’s capital, had disappeared from the docks and were later found to have been taken by government workers.

“They hijacked our relief material. They robbed it,” said Basudev Dass, joint secretary of the Indian Cross Society. “They want to take all the relief material and distribute it. We are very clear that we will go and distribute it to the real beneficiaries.”

Lieutenant Governor Ram Kapse, the territory’s head of government and the head of the Red Cross Society in the Andamans, declined to comment on his organisation’s complaint.

“Not only us, but all NGOs are facing this,” said Dass. He also said that 12,000 litres of mineral water intended for tsunami victims had been used as bath water by a district official. Residents say the official, who has been recalled to Port Blair, was attacked by local villagers. Officials confirmed he was assaulted, but said he was called back because he was “suffering from fatigue.”

The aid stand-off appears rooted with officials who want to control the distribution of relief supplies, rather than allowing aid agencies to deal directly with survivors, many of whom are taking refuge in relief camps on several islands.

It’s a policy that infuriates many residents.

“The camps are being run well here in Port Blair by these NGOs, but why aren’t these NGOs being taken on our islands? Things are so bad there,” said John Paul of Car Nicobar, the worst-affected island. He is currently in a camp in Port Blair.

But Federal Tribal Affairs Minister PR Kyndiah, who toured the region this week, insisted the relief work was going well.

“The relief operation is splendid. It is the way we in the government of India expect it to be,” Kyndiah said. “There was no serious complaint.”

But an official of the Indian branch of Rotary International said the organisation had offered to build homes for 1,500 people on remote Campbell Bay Island, but the offer was turned down by local officials.

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