Even though more than a fortnight has passed since the extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani wreaked havoc in Odisha and both the government and the civil society organisations are on their toes to accelerate the relief and rehabilitation process, there are a number of lacunae which need to be addressed.
The Civil Society Responds to Fani, a group of civil society organisations and concerned citizens, who have come together to strengthen and accelerate the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of the cyclone are trying their best to ensure that the affected people get proper relief and a justified compensation to restore normal life and livelihood.
A press meet was held in this respect to share the issues, challenges, and recommendations to address the impact of the extremely severe cyclone Fani at Bhubaneswar on Tuesday on behalf of CSRF, a group of civil society organisations and concerned citizens.
Pointing out the lacunae in the relief distribution, Manas Ranjan Mishra, a member of the ‘Civil Society Responds to Fani (CSRF), also the Executive Director of Vasundhara, a Bhubaneswar-based organisation that works for tribal rights and environment, said that the affected people who do not possess ration cards have not received any support yet despite the government’s announcement that all affected families will be given Rs 2000 and 50 kg rice irrespective of their possession of ration cards. Such people include large numbers of poor people, who are left out due to errors in the selection process and additional errors by government officials. He said large families are the worst sufferers as the amount of support they have received remained the same as in the case of small families. That means when a 14-member family has received Rs 2000 and 50 kg rice, a two-member family also received the same amount. He urged the government to provide relief on the basis of household size and household list as per latest government records.
Again, it is unfortunate that many agents of banks and microfinance companies have been attempting to collect their EMIs from cyclone affected people, Mishra added. He demanded that RBI should quickly announce a moratorium on Loan Repayments by affected households and the State Government must take a clear position on this immediately.
In Brahmania village of Brahmagiri, people have been forced to repay up to 1700 rupees and even more from the 2000 rupees that they had received as relief from the government. In such a context, the initiative of OSAFI (a state level association of more than 20 microfinance institutions) is a welcoming move. It has postponed collection of EMI in affected areas for one month.
Another thing is that while the government claims it has ordered that MGNREGS should start for restoration work and clearing the debris, still there is no work order in the affected areas. In the most affected blocks of Krushnaprasad, Brahmagiri, Puri Sadar, Satyabadi, Delang and Pipili, there has been 0 days of employment in the month of May. The government should ensure immediate collection of demand through Rozgar Diwas and immediate beginning of work and payment of wages in cash, he added.
Mishra further maintained that the Government so far has failed to procure paddy and other Rabi crops from the affected areas and distress sale has already begun. In Brahamania village of Satapada, farmers have already sold 6 truck-loads of paddy at a distressing rate of about Rs 1355/- per quintal against the Minimum Support Price of Rs 1750/- per quintal. The farmers have already lost about 6.30 Lakh rupees because of this at Rs 1.05 Lakh per truck, i.e. Rs 395/- per quintal. He demanded that the government must ensure that the fallen trees are purchased at remunerative prices.
Also, the government has increased the compensation for damaged coconut trees from 102 rupees per tree as per the Central Government Guidelines to Rs 500/- per tree, but it is not sufficient. The compensation per tree should be increased to at least the level ensured by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu after the Gaja Cyclone, i.e. Rs 1512/- per tree. Besides, the limit of 25 trees must be increased to at least 100 trees. The compensation for the death of poultry birds continues to be as low as Rs 50/- per bird for 100 birds, which is ridiculous, he said. Besides, the subsidy for boats and poultry birds should be increased. All fishing communities, especially the Dalits who have lost small boats must be provided adequate compensation. To prevent ineligible people from claiming compensation, the government can give boats to fishing households without handing over titles to the boats for the next 3 years so that they cannot sell and make money from the same. He underlined that all people who have lost livelihood assets must be compensated adequately.
He appreciated the state government for introducing new packages for betel vines and mushroom cultivation which is not properly covered under Central Government guidelines. The government’s declaration of Rs 10,000 compensation for street and small vendors in 11 affected municipal areas is a welcome move. However, the people who have lost their shops, cabins, buildings, and assets in rural areas should also be covered.
And, the single polythene sheets provided to affected households are not adequate for providing shelter from sun and rain. The government should provide at least 3 tarpaulin sheets (not polythene sheets) to each of the affected households – one for humans, one for livestock and one for food grains. Besides, adequate mosquito nets should be provided to all households.
In the meet, another speaker Sneha Mishra, Secretary ‘Aaina’ and a member of CSRF, said, “As all public places with proper roofs (such as community halls, mandaps, temples, etc.) are occupied by men, women have to spend the daytime under the scorching sun or under makeshift shelters. This is the situation in several villages under Kushbenti panchayat of Brahmagiri block. As in many cases, the cooked food supply is insufficient, women have been deprived of community lunch/dinner.”
“Besides, there are apprehensions of increased child trafficking and trafficking of young girls. The government’s initiative of distribution of sanitary napkins in affected areas is a welcoming move, but it hasn’t reached all areas and especially to Dalit habitations, Ms. Sneha added.
She further added that Dalit and lower caste community members have been facing discrimination in access to cyclone shelters, relief, water sources, and cooked food in several areas. In such context, the government should establish cyclone shelters near/in the places inhabited by Dalits because Dalits don’t discriminate upper-caste people.
She also said that persons with disability and uncared-for-elderly have been failing to access relief. The government needs to prioritise the need for persons with disability and other vulnerable communities.
Co-founder of CYSD, Jagadananda, underlined the need to reopen schools on the scheduled time in all the affected areas. Even if the school buildings are not repaired, the teaching-learning process should continue in cyclone shelters or any other buildings. While the Government has announced a pair of uniform in less affected areas and two pairs in more affected areas, it should also provide learning materials free of cost to the students. Initiatives of Aid et Action that is providing learning kits to students is commendable in such context, he pointed out.
Madhusudan Das, the state coordinator of National Youth Project, shared his experience of speeding up the relief and rehabilitation process by mobilizing volunteerism in the affected areas.