In Kerala, poor people wait endlessly for assistance

In Kerala, poor people wait endlessly for assistance

Mary, 81, of Upputhod in Idukki whose house was damaged by a landslide during August 2018 floods; (right) houses being constructed by raising pillars at Kuttanad in Alappuzha to survive the floods. dh photos/arjun raghunath

Living in a flood-ravaged dilapidated house at Pallamthuruthu in North Paravoor, about 30 km from Kochi city, widow Girija Arumugham is unable to sleep peacefully for the last one year as she is constantly worried about the safety of her two teenage daughters in the house that doesn’t even have a proper door. 

Equally heart-rending is the plight of Mary Kutty, 81, who stays alone at Krishnapuram in Alappuzha district. Without even a proper approach road, Mary’s life is confined to her house which is surrounded by water bodies.

A year after the devastation, Kerala is now flooded with grievances of those affected by the flood. While the state government has big plans of building a new Kerala, there are hundreds like Girija and Mary who are still struggling to recover from the damages caused by floods. Many received only the initial assistance of
Rs 10,000 so far, while some did not receive even that amount.

Lapses in evaluation

About 2.60 lakh petitions regarding lapses in evaluating loss caused by the floods have been received by the government. Victims allege that favouritism by local politicians and flaws in the estimation of loss are the major reasons for the lapses.

When DH revisited flood-hit parts of Kerala, one aspect was very evident. Houses of middle and upper class families that were damaged in the calamities were almost repaired and renovated, while houses of the poor in the interior parts have not got any assistance.

Reconstruction of many ravaged areas like Cheruthoni in Idukki is under progress, but not at the desired pace. However, restoration of roads like the ghat roads of Wayanad is worth appreciating.

Usha Baby, a social worker at North Paravoor in Ernakulam, one of the worst flood-hit areas, told DH that those who could afford to rebuild their houses at their own expenses received considerable compensation, while those who were finding it difficult to make both ends meet did not receive adequate assistance.

Girija of North Paravoor, who received only Rs 10,000 as compensation, said that she had been constantly urging the authorities for genuine compensation. “I am not making big demands, but only want to have a secured house for my teenage daughters,” said Girija, who is working as a maid to eke out a living.

Sachu, another resident of North Paravoor, said that the building materials she bought for renovating her worn-out house on the bank of a canal were washed away in the flood. But those were not considered during loss assessment.

“There are many poor families like that of Girija and Sachu in this locality who received only the initial assistance of
Rs 10,000 despite the huge loss occurred,” said Usha. Many lament that students with no practical experience were deputed as volunteers to collect data of the extent of damages. They only collected data based on prescribed yardsticks like water level. Structural damage of houses was not considered. Many houses that had no visible damages immediately after the floods later developed cracks. These cases were also not included.

A government official who was part of the evaluation process admitted that there were many complaints regarding the assessment.

Though the government instructed the engineers of the local self-government institution to make reassessment, owing to the strict deadlines prescribed by the government and the huge quantum of work, many could do only armchair evaluation, he said.

Many people like Usha who were staying on rent also incurred loss as electronic gadgets and home appliances were damaged. But they only received Rs 10,000 as compensation.

At Kuttanad in Alappuzha, which was under flood waters for about two weeks, many families alleged that they did not receive even the minimum assistance. About 25 families at Krishnapuram lament that they received Rs 10,000. “There is serious disparity in the distribution of compensation. While many who suffered lesser damages received huge compensations, we only got only Rs 10,000 despite huge damage to properties and livelihoods,” said Mathew P A, an ex-service man.

Lessons learnt

Learning lessons from the floods, many families of Alappuzha, which is highly prone to floods, are now constructing houses by raising pillars.

In the hilly districts of Idukki and Wayanad that suffered massive damages, many roads that were fully washed away could be restored. However, Cheruthoni and Panniyarkutty towns of Idukki that suffered worst damages are yet to recover fully. In Cheruthoni, a bus stand, shops, lodges and small houses were washed away when the water from the Idukki reservoir gushed out through the shutters of the Cheruthoni dam.

Jose Kuzhikandom, president of Cheruthori traders’ forum, said that apart from the initial compensation of Rs 10,000, there has been no assistance from the government yet. Most traders resumed their business by taking personal loans, he said.

A revenue official said that many persons were staying illegally at revenue lands in Idukki and Wayanad and hence they were not entitled for compensation. Vijayaraj, a resident of Cheruthoni, bought 30 cents of land several years back for cultivation without being aware of its possession status. “The land was washed away in the landslide. But I was denied compensation citing that it was revenue land,” said Vijayaraj.

The nearly 70-year-old Cheruthoni bridge that survived the heavy flow of water and debris of landslides remains intact as a proud example of the quality of construction of the past years. It has now become a tourist attraction, said Satishan Nair, a local cab driver.

Many people of Idukki, like 81-year-old Mary of Upputhodu, are still being haunted by the memories of the calamity. “We had a narrow escape,” recollects Mary, sitting on a portion of her house that was sliced away by a landslide on August 17. Five of her neighbours were killed in the landslide. Many families in Idukki, which suffered the maximum landslides, were shifted to other places, while many like Mary are still staying at risky places.

While the Pinarayi Vijayan led government initiated several rehabilitation measures, it lacked a foolproof mechanism to ensure that the benefits were reaching the deserving people. It’s time the political leadership does a realty check and provide basic amenities to the people at the grassroots.