Cyclone Ockhi spelt doom on the coasts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu rendering hundreds of people homeless and causing widespread damage to infrastructure
T Satisan from Kochi
The devastating Ockhi cyclone which hit the coasts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep brought deaths, tears and gloom. Nearly 50 people are estimated to have died in Kerala. Officially, though, the number has not been confirmed. Several people are still missing. The families of the dead and the missing do not remain confined to their houses and huts. They are weeping and crying on the coasts with their eyes glued to the waves. Every sign of a boat on the horizon brings a silver line to their otherwise dark and cloudy hearts. The Defence ministry has instructed Air Force, Navy and Coast Guards to undertake rescue activities and save all the missing fishermen from the roaring black waves.
No Timely Warning
But, there is a wild uproar in the state against the state government for not taking adequate pre-emptive and precautionary steps to save the lives. The Keralites in general and fishermen community, in particular, allege that the state government led by CPM chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan miserably failed to inform and forewarn the fishermen community against the natural calamity looming large. Had people been warned well in advance, they would have taken proper precautions. They could have avoided the long voyages or even could have gone fishing in the shorter range.
The families of the men who went to the sea hold that still more than a hundred men are missing. Since a good fraction of the industry belongs to an unorganised sector using country boats, the accurate count might never be possible.
BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said the state government’s negligence was too cruel and inhuman. He said those who did not take action and those who failed to inform the stakeholders, despite getting a warning from the competent agencies, should be booked for palpable homicide. He made it clear that the Hyderabad-based Centre for Ocean Information Service had given clear warnings against the hazardous, violent and ‘angry’ sea, to the states including Kerala, on the November 28 itself. But, in Kerala, it was not taken seriously and it paved the way for largescale calamities and deaths. They did not inform the fishermen before they went to the sea. The Disaster Management Authority and the Emergency Operation Centre sat back irresponsibly without taking appropriate administrative action. This irresponsible performance of the Pinarayi government caused a heavy loss of life and properties which would be impossible to estimate.
Chief Minister Heckled
The attitude of the personalities at the helm of the government was completely arrogant. CM Pinarayi Vijayan took more than four days to visit the places of the most affected people, the fishermen folk, places like Vizhinjam and Poonthura which are hardly 10 to 15 km away from the state secretariat.
Obviously, the chief minister received a deserving response when he made up his mind to visit there on December 3, four days after the calamity had started. That evening he visited a church in the area along with three ministers, Kadakampalli Surendran (Devaswom) Mercikkutty Amma (Fisheries) and E. Chandrasekharan (Revenue). When they came out to visit the affected people, the angry people stopped him and asked him why did he take that long to visit them. They shouted at him, ridiculed him and thumped on his car. When the police intervened and formed a cordon to save the chief minister from the mob, it made them angrier. At last, the chief minister had to leave the place after spending hardly three minutes among the angry mob. He could not even board his car due to the protests. He got into the car of Kadakampalli and left the place. The first incident of this sort in the history of Kerala! Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam had visited the same place the previous day. But, a calm and quiet crowd interacted with him.
Sitharaman Wins Hearts
When Defence Minister Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman came to the area, the atmosphere was entirely different. She spoke to them, with folded hands, in Tamil, her mother tongue. She said “all missing fishermen will be found out and brought back home. All efforts will be taken without failure. Eleven fishermen have been included in the search
operations of the boats and helicopters. Even warships are deployed too. You lost your boat and net, etc. We will find out a solution for it. But, the urgent need is to find out the missing men. Am a mother, I can understand the pains of those who lost their bread-winners. I am with you during the period of bereavement.”
Even though the people were protesting against the presence of CPM ministers Katakampalli and Mercykutty with the union minister she mixed with the women who spend their time on the coasts praying for the early return of their men. The defence minister’s method of pacifying the angry mobs was unique. Interestingly, the Defence Minister did not attempt to blame the Kerala’s LDF government for its failure. It was the same mob which did not permit the CM to mix with the people. Earlier she had visited the affected areas in Kanyakumari. In fact, the police officials had told her that the mob was angry, however, she insisted on her meeting with those poor people. She even said that the rescue operations will continue until the affected community says that it is enough. BJP leaders Kummanam and V. Muraleedharan were with the union minister.
Kerala CM’s Lies
The BJP leaders alleged the CM had been telling lies about the cyclone warnings. The information had been communicated to the state on November 28 and 29. The chief secretary got the last warning at 7.15 PM on the November 29. When the situation took a serious turn, the CM was, in fact, holding a meeting with some junior filmmakers. The Indian Meteorological Department said that the department had issued a cyclone warning on November 29 (Wednesday) to the chief secretaries of all the states concerned through fax.
But, the Fisheries Minister Mercykkutty Amma tried to blame the fishermen for the deaths and losses. She said, they were used to the rough weather and did not heed the warning. She added that she has seen the protests of the coastal people a lot; it is their nature. It is an attempt to get ‘something’ afterwards. She went to the extent of telling that the women of Thiruvananthapuram are used to crying and weeping. These unwanted remarks have invited the wrath of the victims and their families.
When the poor coastal people heard Nirmala Sitharaman, they could experience the warmth, honesty and sincerity in her words. It was a sea change from what they saw in the behaviour and words of the Kerala CM and his cabinet colleagues.
As usual RSS workers are very much involved in the relief operations. RSS-inspired Matsya Pravarthaka Sangham (the organisation of the fishermen community) have come heavily on the state government for its negligence of serious duties. Pinarayi has been complaining that Sangh Parivar men had been trying to stop him from addressing the public meetings in other states.
(With inputs from T S Venkatesan)