The landslide-hit families of Kokkayar panchayat in Kerala's Idukki district are on a strike. Fifty days after the disaster wreaked havoc, they have shifted back to the areas ravaged by the landslides and erected huts there in protest against the delay in rehabilitation work.
Twenty-eight families who were in a relief camp set up at CSI Parish Hall, Kokkayar, are on a protest which they launched on Friday with a march to Poovanchi, one of the worst-affected areas. Seven houses in the area were washed away and several others damaged as a series of landslides triggered a flashflood on October 17. The protesters would stay in the affected area, designated as uninhabitable by officials, until steps are taken for their immediate rehabilitation.
The protesters say the government is yet to even assess the damages. Officials say the procedures have been progressing fast.
“It has been 50 days since the disaster happened. Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and damaged in Kokkayar panchayat alone. There has not been any concrete action from the government yet. No proper facilities have been arranged for the rehabilitation of the affected familes. Only the five families, who lost their kin in the floods, have been given away an assistance of Rs 4 lakh each. Over 100 families are still staying in relief camps,” Shaji, a retired police officer who is at the forefront of the agitation, said. He said several families have been moved to relatives' houses or rented facilities as they don't feel safe to stay in camps, especially with their daughters.
He said the protesters' major demand is that the government build a flat complex for them or identify land they can buy. “Those who lost homes should be included in the Life Mission housing scheme on a priority basis,” he said.
Concerns over damage assessment
The revenue department had conducted a survey to assess the damage a few days after the disaster. According to that survey, 138 houses were destroyed and 464 damaged in Kokkayar panchayat alone. However, that report has not been signed by the Kokkayar panchayat assistant engineer as the rules stipulate that the official should verify the damages in person.
Now another round of field visit is being done in the presence of the assistant engineer of which the affected families have certain concerns.
“During the past one month after the first round of damage assessment, several families have carried out repair works on their houses with borrowed money, believing official promises. Now, we are afraid those families may be left out in the new survey,” Shaji said.
A revenue official told Onmanorama that there have been some difference in the percentage of damage assessed in the first survey and the ongoing one.
Issues will be addressed: Collector
Top revenue officials have promised that no deserving families will be left out in the rehabilitation works. Idukki district collector Sheeba George told Onmanorama that the anomalies in the two surveys, if any, will be addressed promptly. Asked about the status of the rehabilitation works, the officer said efforts to identify a suitable location to rehabilitate all the affected families were on. “Most parts of Kokkayar panchayat are not suitable to live. We can identify a land only after conducting a thorough study. We are awaiting a report by a team of Mining and Geology department, State Disaster Management Authority and Centre for Earth Sciences Studies about the habitability in the panchayat,” she said.
Peermade tehsildar Vijaylal also said the damage assessment works have been progressing fast. He said the revenue department has provided all facilities to finish the works as early as possible. The fears about the anomalies in the previous survey and the latest one are unwarranted. No deserving family will be left out, he said.
Earlier, the Kokkayar panchayat had proposed to the state government to rehabilitate the affected families to the Boyce Estate in the panchayat, which has been at the centre of a land dispute between the state and the Harrisons Malayalam company. There has not been any decision on the proposal yet.