Criminal Apathy of State and Central Governments

The cyclone Thane that hit Puducherry as well as Cuddalore and Villupuram districts of Tamilnadu recently caused severe devastation. On 4 January 2012, a team led by Comrade Balasundaram (State Secretary, Tamilnadu) and Comrade Balasubramanian (State Secretary, Puducherry) visited the affected areas. Other members of the team included Comrades M Venkatesan (District Secretary, Villupuram) S Ammaiyappan (District Secretary, Cuddalore), S Ilangovan (District Secretary, Nagai-Thanjavur), TKS Janarthanan (State President, AIALA), Kaliyamurthi (Block Secretary, Thirunavalur), Thanavel (District Organizer, RYA, Cuddalore), Rajasankar (District Organizer, AISA, Cuddalore) and N Ganesan (AICCTU). A report of the main observations of the team as well as some of the initiatives of the party on the issue by Balasundaram.

The Government had ample warning about Cyclone Thane, more than six days before it hit. But it failed to initiate any precautions, and this has been the main cause of the worst damage. The only ‘precaution’ the Government thought fit to take was to shut down the power supply. For several days after the cyclone, the government machinery remained a passive spectator, while the affected people themselves led the relief work, removing debris and assisting the wounded. The Cuddalore general hospital was dysfunctional, and the District Administration took no steps to make it functional.

The CM Jaya was busy in handling storm caused by Miss. Sasikala and she should have thought it is unworthy to tackle the damage of caused by the cyclone. She allotted a mere Rs 150 crore towards the first instalment of relief work, though she knew the extent of damage. It took four days for her to enhance the amount to Rs 750 crore. She visited the affected area five days later.

Even one week after the cyclone, all villages of Cuddalore and Villupuram districts were left in the dark, without drinking water. Lakhs of people struggled, for food, shelter, and even emergency medicines were not provided. The District administrations could not say when the power supply would be restored.

Disaster for Agriculture

A total of 10 lakhs acres of farm land of 8 districts (Cuddalore, Villupuram, Nagai, Thiruvarur, Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur, Tanjore and Ariyalur) faced disastrous damage. The Government is deliberately underestimating the damage, saying that only 5 lakh acres were damaged. In Nagai, 1.5 lakhs acres of paddy fields were damaged, and 75,000 acres in Thiruvarur. The loss was around Rs. 1000 crores. The value of damaged huts, houses, cattle lost and lost electric transformers and distribution system were wilfully underestimated. The number of trees has also been underestimated.

Not even a single hut can be constructed with the relief amount of Rs 2500/Rs5000, (an amount 4-5 times less than the market rate) declared by the Government. Paddy farmers are asking for Rs 10,000 per acre lost, while the Government has declared Rs 4000 per acre.

Cashew gardens from which a farmer earns more than Rs. 30,000 per year are totally destroyed in Cuddalore and Villupuram Districts. The Government has decided to provide a paltry amount of Rs 3600 per acre, whereas the estimated loss faced by cashew farmers is Rs 300 crores in Cuddalore District alone. If a farmer wants to get back to cashew farming, he has to invest a huge amount and has to wait for 10 to 15 years. All crops including paddy, sugarcane, cotton, pulses, coconut and Casuarina were totally destroyed. Till date the total loss due to uprooted trees has not been calculated. Losses due to the breakdown of electricity distribution network alone is estimated to be Rs. 1000 crores. In Cuddalore and SIPCOT, SIDCO industrial estates, more than 10,000 tiny, small and medium industries were damaged causing joblessness for around 1 lakh workers.

Poor people who lived in huts had lost everything. The Government had declared that there were 3.5 lakhs huts were lost in Tamilnadu. The estimate is wrong. There were 4 lakhs huts damaged in Cuddalore and Villupuram districts alone.

The cyclone will have long-lasting effects, leaving farmers debt-burdened, distress migration increased manifold, and livelihood of fisherpeople, farm workers, construction workers, small and marginal farmers and urban workers badly affected.

Had the Government heeded the recommendations to make coastal shelterbelts after the tsunami seven years ago, the damage could have been contained and minimised this time.

The CPI(ML) has demanded Rs 10 lakh compensation for each victim’s family and a job to one surviving family member. Rs 10,000 should be given as immediate relief to each surviving family and all those whose huts have been partially or fully damaged. All damaged huts must be replaced by concrete houses built at Government expense, and the Government should take steps to ensure secure housing that can withstand nature’s fury, in place of huts, across the state within the next five years. Food rations and other essentials must be given to all affected families for the next six months. All taxes must be waived for survivors. MNREGA must be extended to 200 days at Rs 300 per day in the area, and the scheme must be extended to land reclamation and urban areas too. The Government should provide boats and all equipment to affected fisherpeople free of cost. A complete compensation package must be paid to farmers, and the Government should bear the cost of inputs like fertilizer, seeds etc., so that the farmers can resume farming. All electric connections should be re-established, and pump sets replaced at Government cost.

Since all the trees were wiped away by the cyclone, a huge Green Plan should be implemented to re-establish green cover in these districts.
Shelterbelts should be established along the east coast of Tamilnadu. All the factories and Thermal Power plants located on the shores should be closed and no new Thermal power Plant should be allowed.

Villupuram and Cuddalore districts, which faced the tsunami in 2004, have now experienced a virtual second tsunami now. The State and Central Government must formulate and implement a special package for these districts, to rebuild economy and for social security.

The Central Government too has been callous to the sufferings of cycole-affected people. A central team was sent very late, and the ruling coalition, which include Congress and DMK, failed to ensure adequate central funds.

After the Gujarat Earthquake (2001) and Tsunami (2004), the Government was forced to enact the Disaster Management Act, 2005. But any disaster prevention and management principles remain only on paper. The criminal apathy of the Central and State Governments is responsible for compounding the suffering of the people.


Struggles After Cyclone

CPIML, AIALA and AIPWA held daily road roko, gherao, and protest demonstrations between 4 -21 January in the cyclone-affected areas, protesting for relief and rehabilitation. On 4th January, a demo at the Town Panchayat Office turned into a gherao of the Tehsildar, led by the CPIML State Secretary. For over an hour, a large number of people including a large number of women from the minority community, thronged the Tahsildar’s chamber. The latter assured that electricity, water and PDS distribution would be resumed forthwith.

In Tirunavalur block, several demonstrations, in which angry people encircled the RDO Sub-Collector, Tehsildar and Revenue Inspectors, forcing these officials to order a fresh survey of the affected families. In one incident, the administration deployed forces to disperse the agitators. Party District Secretary Venkatesan intervened, and the protesting people forced the Rapid Action Force to beat a retreat. Protestors led by our party blockaded the NH 45 more than thrice.

More than 3000 people participated in these protests, from both the Dalit and Vanniar (most backward) communities. On 8 January, CPIML and AIALA activists captured government buses in Senthanadu, and the protests spread further. Of the total 44 panchayats in the block, our agitations, demo covered around 20. Of the total 17000 families, 5000 families (20000 people of the total 70000 in the block) got the relief amount of Rs 2500 each. The District administration’s plan was to distribute relief in a very limited section. Now people from many adjoining villages are approaching CPIML and AIALA for help in taking forward their demands.

In Cuddalore district, a road-roko was organized on 14 January, in which more than 250 people participated, forcing the administration to order a fresh survey. Just 14 families were in the initial list, after the fresh survey, the number was around 200!

District Secretaries Comrades Venkatesan and Ammaiyappan and other district committee members and mass organisation leaders are actively organizing the protests. In addition to the ongoing preparations for the 7th State Conference of AICCTU, AICCTU leaders and activists all over the state have collected over Rs 1 lakh in relief funds. Pricol workers, themselves facing hard times, have been more been most enthusiastic in collecting and contributing funds. The relief funds will be distributed in a public programme in Cuddalore, Villupuram, and Puduchery in the first week of February.

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