Disaster: Cuddalore

Unequal relief

Print edition : January 08, 2016

M. Mridula, holding her slate and books, sitting on the rubble that was once the wall of her house at Thangalikuppam village in Cuddalore district. Her classes were to begin on December 14, after a month-long rain holiday. Photo: T. Singaravelou

A hut damaged in the rain at Paavaikulam in Cuddalore. Photo: T. Singaravelou

In rain-ravaged Cuddalore district, allegations abound of relief and compensation reaching slowly in some places even as others seemingly received more attention.

THE flood-ravaged Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu presents a picture of contrasts. While some villages received all relief material—groceries, milk powder, saris and dhotis —from sponsors and non-governmental organisations, a number of villages have received none at all.

For instance, the district administration rushed in to help the badly affected Visur, Periyakattupalayam and Kalgunam villages and even distributed the compensation—Rs.5,000 for a fully damaged hut and Rs.4,100 for a partially damaged one—quickly. The Central team too visited these villages on November 27. But many villages that were equally affected have been left in the lurch. No village administrative officer (VAO) visited them to enumerate the damage. The “Periyar Ninaivu Samathuvapuram” (Samathuvapuram, meaning “a place of equality”, has houses allotted to people of different communities and castes) near Kadampuliyur has received no relief material at all. The residents of Kadampuliyur erected a big banner saying “Thevai Nivaranam” (We need relief material) on the nearby highway between Panrutti and Vadalur.

There were allegations of discrimination too on the award of compensation for damaged huts, with the VAO being the deciding authority. For instance, in Puliyur, Kattuchavadi and Vasanankuppam villages under Kurinchipadi panchayat union most residents whose huts were destroyed said they received no compensation.

The Annai Velankanni Polytechnic College at Angichettipalayam village, four kilometres from Panrutti town in Cuddalore, is one of the coordination centres for the relief efforts. Government employees led by B. Kanchana and J. Vijayakumar, project director and assistant project officer of Mahalir Thittam (Programme for Women’s Development) of the State government, help donors and sponsors to register themselves at the help desk before taking the relief material to the villages of their choice or sending it to areas that the district administration suggests. After the distribution of the relief material, the donors are asked to send an SMS “Delivered” to a designated phone number.

Vijayakumar said: “We do not direct donors to any particular place. If they have no preference, we suggest places where relief material is needed. Police officials escort the truck. The Block Development Officer and taluk officials oversee the distribution of relief material. Medicines brought by donors are handed over to the Deputy Director, Health Care, Cuddalore district, who despatches them where they are needed.”

Two other members of the core team headed by Kanchana are S. Bose, district project manager, “Pudhu Vazhvu Thittam” (A New Life, the State government’s poverty reduction programme), and S. Arumugam, assistant project officer, Mahalir Thittam, who receive donors, help them fill a form stating the details of the relief material brought by them, and coordinate with donors and the police and monitor the movement of trucks. About 180 trucks carrying relief material used to arrive here every day from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and other districts of Tamil Nadu.

K. Thirumalaichamy, Additional Superintendent of Police (S.P.), Cuddalore district, said how the police ensured that these vehicles were not waylaid. “The entire system was streamlined” after a few incidents of snatching, he said. The district has two more relief distribution centres, at the Collectorate in Cuddalore town and at Vadalur.

Radio for help

On December 12 when this correspondent visited Cuddalore, the Collectorate was a buzz of activity, with an FM community radio station also operating round the clock from its premises. A few youngsters received phone calls, about a child lost in the floods, then a word of appreciation for the police for locating the child, or about a delay in relief supplies reaching a particular village. John Nelson, managing trustee of Saranalayam, a charitable and educational trust, took the initiative to get the licence to operate the FM radio station. He said Health Department officials broadcast how to prevent the outbreak of diseases in the aftermath of floods.

The station disseminated information on relief material distributed in various villages, location of health camps and provided alerts for fishermen. “This FM station will be of help in creating awareness among the people about the fallout of floods, to put out alerts and for exchange of information,” said District Collector S. Suresh Kumar.

In a huge hall in the Collectorate on December 12, a group of youngsters, including Corporal S.P. Narendran, who is on furlough from the Indian Air Force, and A. Prasanna Kumar, a foundry consultant, were busy packing the relief material they had brought in trucks from Coimbatore to Cuddalore town in kit bags. “We formed a group called Coimbatore for Tamil Nadu (C4TN),” said C.G.S. Manion of the group. About 60 NGOs in Coimbatore district had set up collection centres across the district where people handed over the relief material. This was transported to a central hub and then ferried in trucks to the flood-affected districts.

Talking to Frontline, Suresh Kumar said during the initial period of the calamity, the district administration concentrated on preventing loss of life and preventing damage to property. Then, relief camps were set up and people were given food and water from community kitchens there, he said. Health camps were also conducted in the relief camps. A thousand health camps were also organised all over the district where 1.87 lakh persons were screened.

Then came the restoration efforts. Power supply to villages in 683 panchayats had been disrupted because of extensive damage to transformers, pylons and lamp posts. “We restored power supply to all these panchayats in four days,” Suresh Kumar said. “Even during those four days, we provided drinking water to residents of these villages by using generator sets.”

When breaches occurred in irrigation channels and rivers during the first spell of “extremely heavy rainfall” of 35 cm to 48 cm in different parts of Cuddalore district, “we plugged the breaches on a war footing with 2.5 lakh sandbags,” Suresh Kumar said. This helped save a lot of lives and prevent damage to houses in the next spell of rains, he said.

Between the first and second spells of rain, Suresh Kumar said, the district administration “judiciously reduced the water level in the Veeranam, Walaja and Perumal Eri lakes”, which prevented flooding of villages such as Thirunaraiyur and Nandimangalam situated upstream of channels emanating from Veeranam.

Suresh Kumar said all kinds of crops on 50,000 hectares had been lost. An assessment was under way on the loss sustained in industrial production. About 50 persons died, and their families were immediately paid a compensation of Rs.4 lakh each. Nearly 15,000 dwellings—huts and pucca houses—were fully or partially damaged, for which the owners were given compensation.

Suresh Kumar said: “About 916 teams are doing the assessment at the village level. We will be sending teams to all the villages in our district. Besides this, there will be 64 teams at the firka level, 34 at the tehsil level and 12 at the district collectorate level.”

No respite

However, the sense of optimism one gains from these efforts is dimmed by the situation on the ground. Pavaikulam, a village situated about 13 km from Panrutti town, has about 450 huts and pucca houses. Even a month after the deluge of November 9, stagnant pools of water remained all around the houses, in cashew nut fields and on the road.

Unlike Periyakattupalayam, Kalgunam, Boothampadi, Aykuppam and 40 other villages where water from overflowing rivers and silted canals destroyed the huts of daily-wage farm labourers and flooded vast areas of paddy fields, it is rainwater alone that flooded Pavaikulam. The mood was grim among the residents on December 12 evening. “To date, no government official, the BDO [Block Development Officer], tahsildar or VAO, has visited our village. No Minister, Member of Parliament or MLA has come to our village and no relief material has been distributed here. The official compensation amount of Rs.5,000 has not been given for huts which were fully damaged,” said one of them.

M. Dhanavel and his elderly mother, Lakshmi, lost 10 acres of “ulundu” (black gram) they had raised as an inter-crop. The floodwaters knocked down the mud walls of V. Kulandaivel’s hut and the slush and mud still remain. His family now lives in a cattleshed nearby.

At the “Periyar Ninaivu Samathuvapuram” near Kadampuliyur, a group of women angrily complained that none of the 100 families living there had received any relief material. Nor had anybody from the government come there to enumerate the loss they had sustained when the small cashew nut plantations they owned were uprooted or black gram saplings were washed away by the floods in the field. They showed the Frontline team the ration shop that had remained shut for the past six years and the motor pump of the borewell which was in disrepair for the past six months. “I have written several letters to the Collector, the BDO and the tahsildar that the pump should be repaired. But nobody replied to me,” said M. Kasinathan, the pump operator. A furious Jyothi said, “We have to trek 2 km to bring muddy water from the ponds in cashew groves. So we buy potable water for Rs.100 every day.”

Elsewhere in the village, an elderly Visalakshi, her son, R. Karunanidhi, and her daughter-in-law, Usha, entrepreneurs in their own way, had set up a small shed with a machine for drying cashew nuts. But the floods wreaked havoc on the unit. Usha said, “Nobody has come [from the government] so far to survey the loss to our unit. We have not received Rs.5,000 for the loss of our hut either. All concentration is on Periyakattupalayam. On Deepavali day, all that we ate was pottu kadalai (Bengal gram) and we had no water to drink.”

In Kurinchipadi panchayat union, there are eight villages whose families apparently have not got any compensation for damaged huts. About 9,000 people live in Puliyur, Kattuchavadi, Vasanankuppam, Thirattikuppam, Thethanankuppam, Puliyur Colony, Pudu Theru and its two Dalit colonies

There are about 100 houses in North Street (Vadakku Theru) of Thakkalikuppam, about a kilo metre from the Perumal Eri. Most of the houses, mud-walled and with thatched roofs or with brick walls and tiled roofs, are damaged. Cows, buffaloes, goats and poultry were swept away when water surged through North Street. Telltale signs on the walls of concrete houses show that the water had risen up to five feet. C. Meyyazhagan, farm labourer, said: “So many household goods were washed away. We sustained considerable loss.”

What rankles the residents of Vadakku Theru is that only a few of them got compensation for the damage sustained. Mayakrishnan is one of the lucky few, but he got only Rs.4,100, he says, for his fully damaged hut. On lumps of earth of what was the wall of his hut, sat his little daughter, Mridula, clutching a slate, a notebook and a couple of books. A few feet from her was a litter of brown puppies playing. The next day, December 14, her school would reopen after a month of government-declared holidays for educational institutions.

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