TAMIL NADU: Kanyakumari Devastated by Ockhi Cyclone

V B Ganesan

END of November saw the fury of Ockhi cyclone in the three southern districts of Tamil Nadu namely Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi. In this, Kanyakumari bore the brunt while the cyclone was changing its direction towards the western coast. This district is well known for its coconut, rubber and plantain trees besides paddy, which form the economic backbone of the district. The strong gale uprooted each and every tree in the district besides numerous electricity poles bringing the normal life to a stanstill. More than 2,000 houses were fully or partially damaged.

On the other side, the coastal region from Thoothukudi to the southern tip of Kanyakumari besides devastating the hutments of fishermen along the coast, was also witnessing a panicky situation. As the fishermen of this area undertake their fishing activities in the deep waters of Arabian Sea, they got stranded in the sea and scores of them lost their lives. More than a thousand of them are stranded and are still missing in the sea area surrounding all the three sides of the southern tip of the country.

In such a situation, unlike the LDF government in Kerala which took immediate relief and remedial steps to rescue the fishermen who got stranded in the Arabian Sea with the help of Navy, the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu was a mute spectator in its reaction initially to the devastation caused upon these three southern districts.

Our Party media centre has decided to send two teams to the affected areas to record the havoc created by the Ockhi cyclone as well as to document the relief measures taken up by various mass organisations.  One team led by Sudhir Raja has covered the coastal areas affected by the cyclone and they have also visited the Government Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram where the rescued Tamil Nadu fishermen are getting treated and recorded their ordeals. While the Tamil Nadu government is hesitant to release the number of fishermen missing, the villages where the team visited narrated a different story. Almost every village is having a list of missing persons who went to the sea and on an average from every village about 45-50 men ventured into the sea during this period and their whereabouts are still unknown.

But the Tamil Nadu CM issued a statement stating that only 74 fishermen are missing and are to be rescued. They have also complained that even in the rescue operations, the officials besides getting the details of missing persons are not communicating the measures they have taken to the village folks. Further, they have said that while the fishermen are in the habit of venturing into sea upto 200-300 nautical miles, the search operations are being undertaken upto 20-30 nautical miles which is of no use. As more than a week elapsed, they said there is very little possibility of survival as they are capable of managing in drowning conditions for a maximum of five days but in cyclonic conditions they can do so only for 2-3 days.

While the people in the coastal area started demonstrating and picketing for swift action from the state administration, cases are being foisted upon them for rioting. Immediately after the cyclone unleashed upon these districts, G Ramakrishnan, CPI(M) state secretary visited the coastal villages and upon listening complaints from the people, he rang up  Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister, Kerala and requested him to advise the Kerala rescue teams to find the fishermen hailing from Tamil Nadu and extend all possible help to the stranded fishermen. The rescue teams in Kerala along with Navy were able to find scores of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and they are being treated in the Government Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram.

The second team led by Sinthan visited the villages and hilly areas of Kanyakumari district to ascertain the details of devastation and relief operation being undertaken by our mass organisations. As mentioned earlier, besides coconut, rubber and plantain trees, paddy getting ready for harvest in January was also washed out in this cyclone. In the hilly areas, the tribal hamlets lost their roof and power supply for weeks together and as the rubber trees are gone, their earnings also got curtailed and this has put them in starving conditions. Mass organisations such as DYFI, AIIEA, BEFI are camping in these areas to extend relief to the affected people.

As far as the BJP and the central government are concerned, Narendra Modi who tweets on every innocuous issue every day, never bothered to express any of his sentiments on this devastation in Tamil Nadu. The BJP MP from Kanyakumari district and union minister of state Pon. Radhakrishnan was not to be seen at this hour of crisis. The defence minister paid a customary visit. Except a mild voice from the Tamil Nadu government to declare the havoc as natural disaster to get funds for relief, there was no voice of solace forthcoming from the BJP either from Delhi or Tamil Nadu.

Though India is boasting of its prowess in the technological advances like INSAT satellites and naval nuclear power, it has been once again proved that such technologies are not forthcoming to rescue the people in crisis situations. BJP which had a sizeable following in Kanyakumari district got itself exposed in this episode.

To add insult to injury, the CM of Tamil Nadu visited Kanyakumari only on December 12 and announced compensation to the damaged crops. It is yet to be seen how far its relief is reaching the people and pacifying them. 

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