Homeless still

Published : Feb 13, 2009 00:00 IST

On Elliots Beach, Chennai, after the December 26, 2004, tsunami washed away fish workers' huts on the shore.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

On Elliots Beach, Chennai, after the December 26, 2004, tsunami washed away fish workers' huts on the shore.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

FOUR years after the December 26 tsunami brought death and destruction of an unprecedented magnitude to at least three States and two Union Territories, thousands of survivors are still on the streets, literally. In the worst affected areas, particularly in Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, hapless people are awaiting their promised new homes. This despite tall claims by the governments concerned that hundreds of crores of rupees was pumped in for relief and rehabilitation in the past four years. Even more distressing is the fact that as against the target of 10,000 houses, only 250 were built for the victims in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; hundreds of families could not be accommodated even in temporary shelters.

The shocking revelations came in the course of a public inquiry conducted by the National Peoples Tribunal on Post-tsunami Rehabilitation: Housing, Land, Resources and Livelihoods, in Chennai on December 18 and 19, a few days before the anniversary of the tragedy. The seven-member tribunal was chaired by Justice H. Suresh, former Judge of the Bombay High Court. The others in the tribunal were Miloon Kothari, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing; Professor Gopal Guru of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi; Janki Andharia of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; Amitabh Kundu of the JNU; Dr. Shiva, Member, Central Council of Health, Government of India; and Henri Tiphagne, Director, Peoples Watch, Madurai. The public hearing was organised by a number of human rights and social service organisations.

Fifteen persons representing different sections of the affected people in several parts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands deposed before the tribunal. Many more had filed affidavits. Most of the depositions were from Tamil Nadu and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These presented in great detail their grievances, most of which related to delays in providing permanent houses, allotment of houses for fish workers and their associates in places far away from their workplaces, the non-availability of basic amenities such as water and power, poor infrastructural facilities, unhygienic conditions around their houses, and lack of infrastructural facilities such as good roads, transportation, schools and medicare facilities. There were also complaints of discrimination against certain sections of people (see box) in the distribution of benefits. Lack of transparency in issues relating to rehabilitation was also highlighted by many.

The tribunal observed that it learnt from the testimonies and documents placed before it that in most parts of the tsunami-affected States and Union Territories, the rehabilitation of survivors was far from adequate. It said that many families had still not received any benefits in respect of housing and restoration of livelihoods and that the alternative houses provided were too small and grossly inadequate and were, in many places, already showing signs of damage. In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the situation is even more critical with the majority of families still living in tin shelters and awaiting permanent housing, the tribunal said.

The tribunal observed that despite allocation of funds running into thousands of crores of rupees for rehabilitation and reconstruction, many people had not benefited. The total funds mobilised in India for the survivors came up to Rs.11,907.29 crore, of which Rs.3,644.05 crore came from the Rajiv Gandhi Rehabilitation Package for tsunami-affected areas; Rs.3,610.35 crore from multilateral agencies, and Rs.4,652.89 crore from Plan assistance, banks and financial institutions. While Rs.752.30 crore was earmarked for permanent housing, Rs.854.71 crore went for other permanent infrastructure.

The tribunal made a pointed reference to the finding of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament, recorded in its report for 2007-2008, that funds allotted to the States and Union Territories for tsunami-related schemes were diverted for other purposes. The PAC report, submitted to Parliament on April 25, 2008, brought to light many lapses and financial irregularities in the implementation of relief and rehabilitation schemes in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the Union Territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. The report said the diversion of funds at the cost of the beneficiaries and other related irregularities involved about Rs.230 crore. There were cases of improper verification, non-achievement of targets and provision of relief to unaffected and ineligible persons, the report said.

The tribunal also referred to the Performance Audit Report (2006) of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, which said, A review of tsunami relief works revealed incorrect initial assessment of fund requirement, incorrect adoption of compensation rate/norms, retention of unutilised funds, improper selection of sites for temporary shelters resulting in unfruitful expenditure and delay in construction of permanent houses necessitating continued maintenance of temporary shelters. The report said that there were delays in the construction of permanent houses because of delays in land acquisition and plan approval, and the failure of the Union government to release funds in time.

Referring to the relief works in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the tribunal said that although many packages had been announced, the victims had to run from pillar to post to get compensation. The administration insisted that the claimants produce certain documents, failing to understand that these documents could have been lost in the tsunami. The tribunal said that there was no transparency in the matter of rehabilitation. The victims had never been consulted. There was also no transparency in respect of the funds the government received and the money it spent, the tribunal observed.

Referring to the mass displacement and resettlement of coastal communities, the tribunal said that the post-tsunami scenario had triggered a step-by-step violation of human rights, orchestrated by none other than the State government. In Tamil Nadu, the displacement process commenced with a spate of Government Orders, many of which apparently had objectives other than rehabilitation.

The tribunal said that coastal communities who had been residing within 200 metres of the High Tide Line [HTL] for years were suddenly to be relocated, ostensibly for reasons of safety. Most of the affected people had no choice but to move as the government refused to support housing reconstruction within 200 m of the HTL. Government Order 172 states that all the house owners of fully damaged and partly damaged katcha and pucca houses within 200 metres of the High Tide Line, will be given the choice to go beyond 200 metres and get a newly constructed house worth Rs.1.50 lakh free of cost. Those who do not choose to do so will be permitted to undertake the repairs on their own in the existing locations, but they will not be eligible for any assistance from the Government. The most affected were those who resided within this controversial 200 m of the HTL.

Despite the fact that the crucial link between housing and livelihood of coastal communities is well established and acknowledged, there were high rates of displacement of coastal communities from the coast on the pretext of safety, the tribunal observed.

In Tamil Nadu, more than 88 per cent of the entire land identified for the construction of houses in 11 coastal districts were at alternative sites. Only houses on 12 per cent were termed in situ as per the government records in the first phase of the States housing programme. Moreover, the proposed second phase of tsunami housing poses a deadly threat as it seeks to displace 5,556 houses under the Rajiv Gandhi Package for Tsunami Affected People, the tribunal said.

It added that in the coastal districts of Chennai and Thiruvallur the threat of relocation was serious because of the large number of families that were proposed to be displaced. In Chennai district there are plans to relocate 16,839 families to alternative sites situated in another district and about 15 to 25 kilometres away from their original places of habitation. In Thiruvallur district there are plans to relocate 6,635 families beyond 200 m from the HTL and an additional 6,435 families beyond 500 m from the HTL.

Coastal communities have many a time raised demands for in situ houses as they fear loss of their customary rights to the coast, which would also result in loss of their livelihood, the tribunal pointed out. It also recalled that in Campbell Bay in the island of Great Nicobar, five persons died during the process of forced eviction from temporary camps for purposes of resettlement in intermediate tin shelters. The Nicobarites have lived along the coast for centuries. The new shelters are built inland, and the roads connecting them to the jetty have not been completed.

Another issue highlighted by the tribunal is the absence of basic infrastructure in the tsunami housing package. Water, electricity, transportation, schools, shops selling essential articles under the public distribution system, and primary health centres are not available in many of the new habitations. The tribunal observed: Displaced populations face further marginalisation.

It added that while on the one hand their livelihood was at stake as they had been displaced from their original places of residence, on the other the inadequate infrastructure and living conditions were draining whatever income they had earned earlier. They had to buy drinking water because there was no supply of pure drinking water. The relocated people are forced to live in artificial settlements where inter-community strifes and a host of other social problems occur. The new habitations are devoid of transportation facilities and access to health care centres and schools, and this leads to an increase in the drop-out rate in schools and negative health effects on the population. The tribunal refers to a case of non-supply of electricity to temporary shelters at Wandoor in Port Blair for one full year.

The tribunal also criticised the State for its inadequate and discriminatory housing policy. It took strong exception to the violation of norms concerning provision of houses to the people and international covenants on housing and the denial of the right to decent and adequate housing. It also stressed the need to end discrimination in rehabilitation and to protect especially human rights of women, children, Dalits and tribal people, besides ensuring the fishing communities right to the coast.

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