Let us Stand Together to build a New Kerala

Below we publish excerpts from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's speech in the Special Session of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, convened August 30, 2018.

KERALA has witnessed one of the worst natural disasters of this century. The monsoon that had been causing damage since its onset, turned into a great flood by the month of August. It has inflicted immense suffering on lakhs of people in Kerala. Many have been left to cope with the reality of having lost their entire life's savings and hard work. What is more tragic is the fact that many have died unable to come to terms with this harsh situation. Following the heavy rains, there also occurred many landslides, floods and avalanches, resulting in the loss of 483 lives. 14 people remain missing.

Unparalleled and intensive rescue and relief efforts played a crucial role in curbing further casualties. The state has witnessed a great many acts of sacrifices, where people put their own lives at risk to save others. Many had their boats overturned. Some were injured and found themselves in danger. Yet, they persevered. We must raise a big salute to all those who joined the rescue and relief operations. Without them, it would have been impossible to face this crisis.

AN ECONOMIC BACKLASH

The extensive damages to houses and other infrastructural facilities, have majorly upset our developmental activities.  The damage to houses (including the loss of household items), public buildings such as hospitals, schools, government offices, the destruction of commercial business, and above all the environmental destruction and the resultant backlash to our tourism industry has resulted in incalculable losses. According to current estimates, we have incurred a far greater financial loss than our annual budget expenditure outlay.

There are three phases in overcoming such disasters. The first phase involves rescue operations and that has come to an end. The second phase, rehabilitation, is still in progress, and efforts have been taken taken to ensure its success. We are now left with the most important task: rebuilding. It is the need of the hour to engage in creative deliberations on our future course of action towards this, for this will also determine the face of a New Kerala. It is towards this that this gathering has been called.

Our courage to overcome this crisis lies in our much valued humanity and the unity that has risen out of it. One of the major reasons the outside world has stood with us in solidarity is because of this greater unity that we have displayed ourselves. At the time of the crisis, many members of this house stood in unison for the people, with no sectarianism in their actions. Both the government and the opposition kept aside their differences to stand together in the relief and rescue operations. The opposition’s opinions and suggestions were of immense help to the government. The government believes that we shall be able to keep up this spirit, and expects to see creative interventions from everyone during the phase of rebuilding too.

GOVERNMENT'S PREPAREDNESS

As soon as we were notified of an impending weather related crisis by the Indian Meteorological Department, we readily took steps to deal with it. But the rainfall received in the span of a few days far exceeded the forecast provided. It was far beyond what we could handle and deal with, leading to various disastrous situations across the state.

The excessive rainfall across the state, on 8th August 2018, has led us to a disaster, the biggest this century has witnessed. The heavy rains continued and proved every weather forecast inadequate. Between 9th and 15th August, the state has received 352.2 mm rainfall, and this actual rainfall was three times larger than what the IMD had initially predicted - 98.5mm. As the rains worsened, our rivers began to swell. The rivers Bharathapuzha, Periyar, Pamba, Chalakudi and Achankovilar began to overflow. All the 82 dams were also overflowing. The heavy rains resulted in more landslides and avalanches, and at places rivers changed their course.
 

UNBELIEVABLE UNITY

The rescue operations carried out in Kerala were of a scale never seen before. An exemplary display of human values such as sacrifice and dedication, shown during this time has marked a new chapter in our history. We have received recognition and appreciation for our efforts, not just from our countrymen, but from all over the world. People came forward selflessly to save the lives of others. The government acknowledges the service and commitment of all those who were a part of these operations. We have received enormous help from within and outside Kerala towards providing food and essential items to people living in relief camps. The government appreciates all those who came forward to contribute generously towards this cause.

TOWARDS REHABILITATION
 

We have now moved towards a rehabilitation phase, after the successful completion of the first phase of rescue operations. We are reaching closer towards our goal of making the houses livable and clean. Steps to restore transportation, electricity, and to provide people with drinking water and food are progressing well. People from various walks of life are working together to achieve these objectives. The youth of Kerala, in particular, are playing an important and active role. The police and the fire-force are working closely with the state administration.
 

The government has also started to provide a basic financial aid of Rs. 10,000 to every affected family to meet their basic requirements. Collectors have been permitted to disburse the funds from the SDRF and CMDRF by the Finance department. The policy of the National Disaster Management Authority allows a disbursal of only Rs. 3,800 to each family affected by such a crisis. The remaining Rs 6,200 is being provided from the Chief Minister's Disaster Relief Fund. Besides, kits consisting of basic items to resume living in affected houses are also being distributed.
 

In the aftermath of such disasters there is a high chance for the spread of communicable diseases and health personnel are working extensively to ensure its prevention. Measures have been taken to provide textbooks to children who have lost theirs in the flood. The IT department is proactively working to provide people with new documents to replace the lost ones. Some have brought along their cattle - the source of their livelihood - to the camps, and cattle feed is being provided to keep them safe and healthy. The government is able to do all these because of the relentless cooperation of people from different walks of life. We are striving to restore the normalcy of our everyday lives.

REBUILDING/RECONSTRUCTION

Rebuilding is a major component of our efforts to overcome the crisis. This has to be done on the basis of proper research and extensive discussions. The government hopes that there will be constructive discussions on this in this Assembly in the coming days.

There are four aspects to be considered. First, is to secure the necessary financial aid for this phase. Second, we have to think about the nature of reconstruction. Then we have to find the necessary resources for rebuilding, and lastly and most importantly we have to restore the livelihoods of the people. There ought to be a discussion on how to organise these efforts for rebuilding our state.

FINANCES

The most important task is to find adequate funds for the reconstruction. The realisation in our public consciousness that each and every one of us must come forth to do their bit has lent courage and confidence to the government.  

People from India and abroad are extending their support to us at this critical juncture. Many have contributed towards the CMDRF, the money they have kept aside for Onam and wedding celebrations. While children donated money from their piggy banks, the elderly came up with their humble pensions. Some have donated their land to the government. It is not possible to go into the details of all these here, but the fact is that such gestures continue to occur, and the great confidence this instils in us will help us to overcome the obstacles.

The request to everyone to donate a month’s salary to the relief fund has received significant support from all quarters. Keralites across the world have reacted favourably and most of our service organisations have welcomed it, which proves that our society is spiritful. Till August 29, the CMDRF has received the sum of Rs 730 crores, and this is apart from the cheques, jewellery, land and other offerings.  

Financial aid is being sponsored from different parts of the world, and these helping hands have boosted the confidence of the state. The government is moving forward to secure this assistance by legal means. Agencies across the world have been coming forward to help us. The policy of this government is to accept aid from anyone with a good intent.

HOW TO REBUILD?

The mode of reconstruction is an important concern. The flood has laid bare a few factors of concern related to the environment. The question, whether rehabilitation should be carried out in areas prone to floods, landslides and avalanches, should be addressed, and an inquiry into the possibility of taking care of these environmental factors while rebuilding should be carried out. Today’s discussion should bring some clarity on this.

A large number of roads and bridges have been damaged. The state of infrastructure, especially in the inlands, is in a pitiable state. It is imperative to rebuild these to restore the day-to-day lives of people. Finding resources and raw materials for this purpose is one of the many obstacles that we need to overcome. This needs to be examined closely for a better implementation of the reconstruction programmes.

To restore their day to day lives, we need to ensure that we restore the livelihoods of people.  In flood-hit regions the wreckage is massive. The agriculture sector and the small scale industries have been largely affected. Commercial establishments have been damaged. The loss of livestock has been a major setback to many. The government takes it as its responsibility to ensure the restoration of livelihoods.  

An entire economy consisting of small scale enterprises and other commercial establishments have come to a stand-still during this flood. This cannot be restored just by an amendment in bank loans. Also the existent disaster management framework is not adequate enough to make interventions of this scale in restoration. We were almost self-sufficient on milk and vegetables before the flood hit us. But the flood has destroyed everything and we need to discuss how to bring them back to normalcy.

THE WORLD STANDS WITH US

We have survived Ockhi and Nipah. We will survive this too, and we are striving towards it. We will be able to rebuild Kerala, in fact a better one, than that has been destroyed in these floods. For that, we need to stand together. We shall hold our heads high as the ones who marked a new chapter in the history of survival. We shall hold our hands together in our march forward. Unity and agreement should be our anchor. The government too maintains this as the basic temperament of survival.

Our unity, sacrifice and love for each other is what has attracted the world towards us. The Government believes in overcoming through unity. The government expects the support and cooperation of all sections of the society in reviving the people of Kerala who have been submerged under the flood waters. We have been able to stand together as one. If we are able to take that forward with more strength and vigour, we will be able to present to the world new lessons on overcoming challenges. I request your cooperation and assistance in this regard.

(The speech has been translated from Malayalam by Divya Kannan and 
Sindhu Jose )

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