Kodagu: faced with apathy, survivors are giving up

Kodagu floods

Five months into the Kodagu disaster, a young survivor has taken his life. The young man had lost his house and property in the devastation. He gave up the fight to survive. The tardy rehabilitation work in Kodagu had claimed its first victim, said the local media. The administration, after two days of scrutiny, said it has paid all the monies due to him — Rs 1,01,900 for the loss of land, Rs 50,000 for the loss of household items, an emergency fund of Rs 3,800, a monthly rent allowance of Rs 10,000, and he was also included in the housing beneficiary list. The statement said the government is not responsible for his death. It added that the reason was depression.

After a week, an elderly victim of the devastation who had lost his house also gave himself up to ‘depression’. This time, there was no response from the administration. Perhaps the executive thinks its duty stops at doling out money and material. The government must realise that the ‘depression’ is not of the victims’ own making but a result of the disaster, and so it is its responsibility to deal with it. This casual and routine way of treating survivors needs to stop.

It is clear to any layman that money or material alone is not the solution to the myriad problems faced at this point by the victims of the devastation. There is no denying the fact that physical needs — housing, water, food, road connectivity — are important and to be taken care of fully. At the same time, it is as important or even more that the psychological and social needs of the victims are to be attended to. Physical needs when unmet accelerate the psychological disintegration. The two unfortunate events are the examples.

The administration is struggling to meet the basic physical needs of survivors. Not even a single house has been built out of the 840 promised. A promise was made that 50 would be built within a month of the ground-breaking ceremony. Neither has the promised Rs 10,000 per month rent allowance been disbursed consistently, leaving the survivors in a precarious position finding it hard to rent a house. These harsh realities are rubbing salt into survivors’ wounds. Without the safety of a house and livelihood built around farming that was wiped out by the floods, the future looks bleak to the surviving victims.

The administration cannot ignore the two unfortunate deaths. It cannot wash off its hands by doling out some money to the victims. It could have prevented this unfortunate aftermath had it been a bit more proactive. If the administration had kept in touch with the victims on a constant basis, updating them on the efforts being made to secure their needs, clarifying their doubts, taking their suggestions, building their confidence, all of which can be easily done in a decentralised manner.

Unfortunately, the administration is carrying on with its one-way approach and has remained incommunicado. There is hardly any interaction and discussion between the victims and the administration. The frustrated victims were forced to protest in the city centre, demanding speedy implementation. The victims need reassurance on a weekly, if not daily, basis. There could be other potential victims on the threshold — and deaths that can be prevented if the administration acts now.

The much-anticipated Kodagu Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Development Authority was established over a month ago with the chief minister as the head and with the minister in-charge of Kodagu district and ministers of revenue, housing, public works, rural development and panchayat raj, elected members and officials from the district. It has not met even once so far to discuss the situation.

Let it be clear that the review meeting by the chief minister at his home office with the housing department is not that of the authority, which is supposed to cover all dimensions, not just housing. The authority has remained on paper. It shows the level of concern towards victims. There is plenty of time for resort politics, but none for suffering people.

But the members of the authority have been quick to produce enormous figures — 3,916 cases given house damage allowance of Rs 10.61 crore, 5,720 cases provided with daily needs allowance of Rs 21.73 crore, to list just a couple.

How do we know that all this reached the deserving and not the bogus or non-existent? Why doesn’t the administration put up the list of beneficiaries in public domain as mandated under the transparency law? Let the people know who got what. Let there be no doubt that if the list is not in public domain, then the money is being swindled collectively by the executive.

A recent municipality meeting in the district witnessed members raising objections to officials demanding bribes from victims to provide allowances. How can the authority respond to this heartless situation? How will a review meeting held at Bengaluru come to know of this? Have a heart. Come and stay with the victims. Not in air-conditioned rooms, consuming readymade stories and figures fed by officials. If the authority visits and listens to the victims and visits the project areas on a monthly basis, it will do much for their confidence and the desire to overcome the adversity, rather than to give in out of helplessness.

But then, how is one to make this authority move? What will it review when there still is no rehabilitation plan? How will it anchor the project implementation without a dedicated officer? Will the elected representatives of Kodagu take responsibility and sit in the well of the House in the upcoming session till the voice of the victims is heard? The people of Kodagu are watching.

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Kodagu: faced with apathy, survivors are giving up

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