Cyclone Fani: Greed and Piety in times of cyclone

The aftermath of cyclone Fani further added to the misery of the people of Odisha as prices of essential goods like diesel generators (DGs), candles hiked up overnight

Photograph by Arbinda Mahapatra and Biswaranjan Mishra
Photograph by Arbinda Mahapatra and Biswaranjan Mishra

Sandeep Sahu

Someone’s misery is someone else’s opportunity. The worst human trait of making money out of other people’s misery came to the fore in the aftermath of Cyclone ‘Fani’ as traders of all hues jacked up prices of goods and services exorbitantly, often creating an artificial scarcity.

For nearly a week after the cyclone, diesel generators (DGs) were the most sought after commodity in the vast stretch of land covering several districts, particularly in urban areas like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri which had been plunged into darkness. Quick to seize the opportunity, DG operators got into business with gusto. Beginning with a modest Rs 500 for half an hour immediately after the cyclone, the hiring charges for a generator soon zoomed to as much as Rs 2500 for the same time period.

Sensing an opportunity to make a quick buck, many people who had nothing to do with generators before, turned entrepreneurs overnight and purchased DGs at premiums of 100-150%! No wonder generators vanished from shelves like hot cakes. With stocks running out in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, people rushed as far as Sambalpur, Rourkela and even Kolkata in search of one.

“I scoured every shop in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack but could not get a single DG. Even a visit to Angul proved futile. Finally, I managed to get one at Keonjhar for Rs 60,000,” says Jaya Mahanta of Bhubaneswar. He has no regrets that he purchased something at well over twice its normal price. His only regret is “Power started being restored and returning to the city soon after I bought the DG!”

Mobile charging was another impromptu business idea that many people cashed in on. Dozens of mobile phones being charged at the rate of Rs 20 a piece is still a common sight in Puri. Such is the rush that a free charging board provided for the people by the district administration conked out soon after being put up last Saturday.

Hotels and lodges also made brisk business during the crisis, happily jacking up their tariff and even cancelling bookings confirmed online as those who could afford it checked in to escape the heat in the absence of power and water at home. “A friend from Delhi had booked a room for me at a hotel here online and that too at a premium of 2.5 times. But when I turned up at the hotel with my family, I was told there were no rooms,” Srinivas Mohanty, a resident of Bhubaneswar, said.

The prices of just about everything – vegetables, candles, torches, batteries and other essentials – went through the roof after the cyclone. A pack of candles that usually sold for Rs 20 was sold for Rs 70-100 for the first few days after the disaster.

But not everyone was out looking for ways of making money out of the post-cyclone crisis. Many, in fact, have contributed generously to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund (CMRF) for restoration work after the cyclone. For every greedy businessman, there were ten good samaritans who went out of their way to help out others even though their own families too were in great distress.

Organisations and individuals ran free kitchen for those rendered homeless. Khalsa Aid, in collaboration with Gurudwara Singh Sabha, provided meals to over 2000 people in Puri and Bhubaneswar daily. Others collected and distributed food items, clothes, candles, mosquito nets and coils, among those living without a roof over their heads. Residents have extended all possible help to workers engaged in restoration work, providing them food and water and helping them expedite the work.

Subhashish Mohanty, a senior reporter with The Telegraph, collected various essential items from residents of his colony in Bhubaneswar and distributed them among the needy in Puri on his daily rounds of the cyclone-ravaged areas for reporting purposes.

“Nothing on earth can buy the satisfaction that one gets out of helping out others,” says Mohanty. Mercifully, there was no dearth of public spirited people – youth, old, women, children – who have done more than their bit to help the peop

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