A fortnight post-cyclone Fani, the affected masses continue to struggle as the ‘No ration card, no relief’ still continues; people forced to repay a loan from relief money and women as well as persons with disability are left to fend for themselves.
Reserve Bank of India should quickly announce a moratorium on Loan Repayments by affected households and the State Government must take a clear position on this immediately, noted NGO’s who had fanned out to the affected areas with relief material.
Even as 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, said Manas Ranjan Mishra, a member of the ‘Civil Society Responds to Fani (CSRF).’
The NGO activists were talking to reporters here today and narrating their experience. Pointing out the lacunae in the relief distribution, Mishra, also the Executive Director of Vasundhara, a Bhubaneswar-based organisation that works for tribal rights and environment, said 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.
It is unfortunate that many agents of banks and microfinance companies have been attempting to collect their EMIs from cyclone affected people, Mishra said.
In Brahmania village of Brahamgiri, people have been forced to repay up to Rs 1700 and even more from the 2000 rupees that they had received as relief from the government.
While the Government claims it has ordered that MGNREGA 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. 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.
Farmers have already sold 6 truck-loads of paddy in a village in Puri district 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. The NGO’s said compensation is inadequate. For instance, a damaged coconut tree is compensated at Rs 102 per tree whereas the central government guideline is Rs 500 per tree. Compensation per tree should be increased to at least the level ensured by the Tamil Nadu after the Gaja Cyclone, i.e. Rs 1512/- per tree, they said.
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.
Besides, the subsidy for boats and poultry birds should also be increased. The new inclusion of betel vines and mushroom cultivation is a welcome measure as is the Rs 10,000 compensation for street and small vendors, they said.
He lamented that there has been no proper awareness drive for informing affected people about their entitlements to relief and compensation.
In several cases, government officials seem to be misleading people about compensation norms. Sneha Mishra, Secretary Aaina 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, 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. She said that persons with disability and uncared-for-elderly have been failing to access relief. The government need 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. Initiatives of Aid et Action that is providing learning kits to students is commendable in such context, he pointed out.
Rajesh Mohapatra and Madhusudan Das, state coordinators of National Youth Project, shared their experiences.