Natural Disasters

Cyclone Gaja case study: Relief fund not enough to rebuild even a wall

Residents of a village in Tamil Nadu are struggling to make ends meet with the compensation provided by the government

By A Mahendran
Published: Thursday 10 January 2019

When the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government have been boasting about their efforts to provide relief to cyclone Gaja victims, a visit to one such village revealed the true picture. The author visited Peravurani village in Tanjavur district, where he found that although people have received compensation, but it’s neither enough, nor does it cover all their losses.

He talked to 1,525 families, 80 per cent of whom lived in kachha houses, 15 per cent in semi-kachha houses and only 5 per cent resided in pucca houses. The state allotted Rs 10,000 to rebuild kachha houses, Rs 4,500 for semi-kachha houses, and Rs 3,000 for partially damaged, old pucca houses. The villagers said the funds are inadequate considering the current prices of raw materials required in constructing houses.

For example, huts are made up of mud, coconut farm leaves, and wood reapers. The construction cost also includes labour and transport charges for three  days. All of this adds up to nearly Rs 40,000 for a small hut with a single room (size 10x10), but the government has allotted Rs 10,000 for each kachha house.

Lakshmi, a 54-year-old who is unable to get raw material to rebuild her kaccha house, said, “I need coconut leaves to construct my home, but a lot of coconut trees were damaged in the cyclone. So, the demand and the cost are high. We don’t have enough money to afford them. We need adequate relief funds.”  

Most of the earning members of these families are agricultural labourers and workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). While 80 per cent of the beneficiaries in this village have received relief funds, 20 per cent of them have not, owing to incorrect bank account details.

The allotted relief funds are insufficient for the beneficiaries to construct even a single wall of a kachha house. This is making them go to financiers and money lenders and this is adding to their farm loan burden. Manikandan, 43, a farmer, who lost his semi-kaccha house in the natural calamity, said, “Prices of raw materials have doubled after the cyclone. We need relief fund as per market prices.”

This is when the state has not even looked at loss of livestock and crops with most of the villagers being farmers with no other source of income. The farmers lost a lot of coconut and mango trees to the cyclone that are long-term crops and yield enough profits every year. While farmers want Rs 1,500 per coconut tree and Rs 700 per mango and banana tree, the government still has to conduct a crop damage survey.

Even for livestock, they are expecting monetary relief. They want Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 per goat (depends on its weight), Rs 40,000 to Rs 70,000 per cow (depends on the milk it gave) and Rs 400 per hen (depends on the eggs it laid).

“We cannot predict natural calamities, and evidently, neither can the government machinery.  It is a loss for the government and the farmers. So, the state should ensure permanent shelters for all that can withstand these disasters,” said Ramaiah, a 50-year-old farmer in the village.

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