By Joseph Gathia
The tsunami victims in Kerala are facing uncertainty, as the government has yet to take a decision on various rehabilitation projects. Even nearly two months after the killer waves that rendered people homeless in coastal areas of Kerala, the authorities have not finalised their rehabilitation. The donor agencies are exerting pressure to take up only housing construction projects, which they think will be permanent mark of their charity. This is leading to conflict and neglect of other needs of the victims and is casting its shadow on the entire rehabilitation work.
?We have estimated the total loss to be of Rs 1,358.62 crore and submitted a detailed plan for Central assistance to initiate development works in the tsunami-hit areas,? said Revenue Minister K. Mani, who heads the newly constituted Department of Disaster Management in the state. But the Chief Minister, Ommen Chandy, confirms that there is no shortage of funds in rehabilitating the tsunami-affected people of coastal Kerala. A report by the government of Kerala had estimated that 17,000 houses that suffered partial damages and 4,000 houses that were badly damaged needed repairs and reconstruction besides replenishment of the fishing infrastructure.
In fact, resources are not the problem. It is the struggle for control over rehabilitation projects that is causing incalculable harm to peace and harmony in Kerala. Trouble started when some Christian groups wanted to gain control over the construction of houses for the victims after Mata Amritanandamayi, the leading Hindu religious personality, offered Rs 100 crore for rehabilitation programmes. This benevolent gesture was seen by some NGOs belonging to a minority community as a threat to their hegemony and control over the fishermen community. State Fisheries Minister, Dominic Presentation, a Latin Christian, is said to have played a crucial role in denying permission to Hindu NGOs for undertaking rehabilitation work, particularly in the construction of houses. A bitter struggle is going on among various communities as to who would build the houses for the tsunami victims.
A section of Christian leaders in Kerala are said to be behind dividing the Hindu and Christian institutions that had pitched most for building the 4,000 devastated homes in Kerala. Among them are the Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt, the social service wing of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, which wanted to spend Rs 30 crore in Kerala alone. There are other smaller denominations of Christians too that are in the race.
It is said that the Kerala government gave permission to the Mutt to construct no more than 50 of the 1,700 permanent homes. Earlier the Mutt had proposed to build all the 3,000 homes on its own without any discrimination. It is reliably learnt that this proposal did not receive favour with the Ommen Chandy government. Further, the Mutt was also kept out of any rehabilitation programme in Kochi area, which the government had earmarked mostly for Christian agencies.
The Mutt, which has a strong hold and a large following within Kerala and abroad, was sidelined even in Kollam, the worst-hit district, and Mutt headquarters. ??We have no problems with the governments in Tamil Nadu or Pondicherry. But in Kerala, we may now need to take a decision on our plans considering the state'sposture,?? said Swami Dhyanamrita Chaitanya, head of the Mutt'srehabilitation programme. The Mutt had proposed to construct two-storey homes with a bedroom on the upper floor and two below. The government shot down the idea, saying its plan was not tsunami-safe. Instead, it asked the Mutt to go for a smaller, single-storey version. ??The government plan has no provisions like belt foundations or other safety features. We have to ask our own engineers if it is safe enough, and also the beneficiaries, if they would prefer this plan,?? the Mutt sources said.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has a substantial following along many stretches of Kerala'scoast, is perturbed over the stand taken by the Church. Some organisations like the Hindu Aikyavedi and the All Kerala Dheevara Sabha have issued a public statement that the Hindu tsunami victims will refuse homes given to them, unless built by the Mutt or the government.
As the issue began snowballing, Revenue Minister, K.M. Mani, announced that the Mutt would be allowed to build 1,300 homes, but the Mutt said it still had no communication on it. The Chief Minister, Shri Ommen Chandi, also visited Mata Amritanandamayi Mutt for discussions on the implementation of the projects proposed by it. But this is seen as ?pacifying? efforts. The Church denominations, between them, have been permitted to build 1,200 houses, mostly in areas dominated by the community, and the NGOs have to do with 500. ??Houses last long as great charity symbols. Services and other things don'tget much mileage,?? commented a social worker, belonging to an NGO.
The Mutt has started construction of 2,500 houses in Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, and has also undertaken the re-construction of three villages in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
It is surprising that some 33 different agencies have pitched in to construct houses and only a few of them want to contribute for buying fishing nets and boats and providing support services to the tsunami victims.
Meanwhile, a visit to Kerala by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has further added fuel to the fire. He visited the Latin Church at Vallarpadom in Ernakulam district. While there may be nothing wrong in visiting any religious place but at a time when tempers are running high, such an act can deepen the trouble. Here again the Fisheries Minister, Dominic Presentation, was overseeing the arrangements.
Meanwhile former Chief Minister, K. Karunakaran, has threatened to topple the Chandy government. Thus a major trouble is brewing for the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). Nevertheless, there are evidences that relief works are yet to gather momentum even six weeks after the tragedy.