A year on, flood victims cry for rehabilitation

A year on, flood victims cry for rehabilitation

An excavator works on road construction at a group housing site in Made, near Madikeri.DH Photo/chiranjeevi kulkarni

When M E Haneef’s house of 20 years was cut in half and fell into a ravine during last year’s floods in Kodagu, the video clip of the disaster provided for one of the most dramatic moments on television. A year on, the vegetable vendor is still living on the monthly subsistence, as the government has failed to crossover from relief to rehabilitation.

Haneef is luckier than B Y Povappa, who is denied of the monthly aid of Rs 10,000 because the house in Hebbetageri, that was washed away by a rolling hill, was in the name of his mother-in-law B V Rohini, who then decided to live separately. Povappa works as a daily wager to support his family of four.

As per the data provided by the government, the floods brought down 427 houses and rendered another 409 unsafe for occupation. Agriculture and horticulture crop on 1 lakh acres of land has been damaged. 

Though the relief works were swift and effective in the initial days, thanks to an active district administration, the government lost its focus on rehabilitation of homeless survivors as well as farmers in the coming days.

“The initial urgency in helping the victims to get back to their life died down very soon after the media attention waned. Three officials deputed to assist the works were transferred. Even the post of deputy commissioner was lying vacant for nearly a month while the additional deputy commissioner’s office was active only when works had to be awarded,” a senior official in the government said.

Relief vs Rehabilitation

Despite exemption from rules that make tender process compulsory, work on building 770 alternative houses began only by the end of December. The government has failed to meet the deadline for construction of 215 houses.

Deputy Commissioner Annies Kanmani Joy said work on houses was nearing completion but infrastructure works like road, drinking water and drains will take some time.

“About 100 houses are ready for handover. But infrastructure works are pending. We have informed the ministers about the number of houses that can be handed over to flood victims,” she said.

Sources in Revenue Department in Bengaluru said the government’s decision to assign all the construction work to Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation Ltd was a blunder. “Multiple agencies should have been assigned the work with strict deadlines instead of trusting one corporation,”
an official said.

Of the 25 newly built houses at Made inspected by DH, water was seeping through the walls of two. An engineer on site said all the works will be completed in two weeks, repeating an assurance made to this reporter in May. Though 40 houses at Karnangeri were nearing completion stage, provision of facilities, may take some months. The 400 houses at Madapura are unlikely to be built by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, flood victims are facing new problems every day. The Rs 10,000 monthly rental allowance has not been helpful for many who are struggling to meet daily needs of the family.

“Till date, nobody in the government has thought through the relief programme. For example, where will flood victims bring Rs 1 lakh deposit? Landlords in Madikeri have seen the taste of high income through homestay arrangements. Naturally, they do not want to rent a house without a big deposit. A socio-economic survey has to be taken up to understand the plight of the victims,” said B M Devaiah, president of the Kodagu Flood Victims Association.

Ayyappa T M, a member of Makkandur Gram Panchayat, asked how will the families earn their livelihood after moving to government houses 10 km away from their earlier locations. 

“The government should have understood people’s needs before taking up the works. Even landless agriculture labourers will not find it easy to live in the new houses that lack space for animal husbandry, which offers an alternative source of income,” he said.

Some of the flood victims said the government should have consulted them before deciding on a place to build alternative houses. Minnanda Mittu Ganapati, who lost his home at Hebbetageri, said he can’t move to the alternative house allotted in Karnangeri.

“Of my six acres of coffee plantation, three-acre land has remained intact and I need to look after it. I had built a temporary shed on the nearby ‘paisari’ (revenue) land and requested officials to provide 20 cents of space. But officials who came for inspection demolished the shed and told me to vacate,” he told DH.

Despite repeated assurances, many flood victims who lost documents of identity and property are yet to get them. Ganapati said none of the documents of his family have been given in the last one year.

Lack of sustainability 

An official who worked in the district during the crisis last year said the government has failed to infuse a vision for rehabilitation. “Sustainability should be the inbuilt factor for rehabilitation works taken up anywhere. For a fragile place like Kodagu, it is all the more essential as lack of livelihood will lead to the encroachment of forest land or overdependency on forest resources,” he said.

The state government has moved to regulate land use by bringing to halt land conversion for commercial use. The district administration has decided not to approve about 700 applications for land conversion since last year. 

“Wherever the conversion of land is allowed, as per the recent government order, we are inspecting the ground situation to ensure that any development activities taken up on the site will not have a negative impact,” the deputy commissioner said.

But officials said the root of the problem lies in increasing dependence on tourism, which leads to increased commercial activity and change of land use. The Tourism Department’s efforts to regulate homestays have remained ineffective so far. Of the over 2000 homestays expected to be active in the district, only 660 have applied for registration. 

“We have cleared applications from 207 homestays and many others are pending due to lack of necessary documents,” an official said.

 As per the data from Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre, the district received 32% additional rain from August 1 to 19, 2018, when compared with normal rainfall data. The excess of rainfall was about 25% in June and July in Madikeri taluk, which saw the maximum number of landslides, exposing its vulnerability.

“There is a need to regulate development works in the fragile areas of the district. Projects like the Mysuru-Kushalnagar railway line will be the last straw for the district. If officials fail to see the result of destruction even after the last year’s incident, then there is no hope for Kodagu in future,” said former minister M C Nanaiah, who has fought for decades to reclaim forest land in the district.

In a letter to the deputy commissioner written on May 6, Nanaiah has also sought investigation into corruption by Zilla Panchayat officials in repair works and alleged parking of Rs 33 crore emergency relief funds in a private bank recently opened in Madikeri.

Responding to the allegation, the Deputy Commissioner said she has forwarded the letter to the ZP chief executive officer for necessary action. “The 
issue will be investigated and action will be taken against errant officails,” she said.

Tribal hamlets

remain invisible Last year’s floods have also affected thousands of people living in tribal hamlets in the district but they have remained invisible to the officials concerned. At Heroor, situated near the Harangi backwaters, eight houses were damaged following the torrential rain last year. “No compensation has been awarded to any of the families. On top of this, drinking water has been stopped to the 85 families living here,”said J T Kalinga, director of Basavanahalli lamp society.