Gujarat govt's compensation package to victims of Tauktae cyclone grossly inadequate: CSJ

A note by Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) says that the government announced an assistance of Rs 35,000 to Rs 75,000 for the loss of boat equipment, which is not enough even to buy a net

CSJ volunteers talking to the victims (Courtesy: Counterpoint)
CSJ volunteers talking to the victims (Courtesy: Counterpoint)
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Rajiv Shah/ Counterview

A Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) note on the Gujarat government’s compensation package to the victims of the devastating Tauktae cyclone, which hit the coastal belt of Saurashtra's Amerli, Rajula, Una, and Gir-Somnath districts in May 2021, has said, the relief offered was so terribly inadequate that many of the fisherfolk were not able to fish for the rest of the year.
Pointing out that many small and big fishing boats in Amreli and Gir Somnath districts were "destroyed", the note by the top Ahmedabad-based NGO which has been working with fisherfolk of the region said, "The government announced Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh as assistance for the damaged boats. However, this is very meagre considering that the cost of the boats is around Rs 35-40 lakh."

Hence, it said, the boat owners failed to "restart their fishing business", and the result was that fish workers -- known as khalasis -- went jobless. "The one time aid package of Rs 2,000 to the khalasis was grossly insufficient. Hence, while boat owners should be offered Rs 40 lakh, Rs 30,000 should be provided at the rate of Rs 5,000 for six months", it added.

The note complained that the government announced an assistance of Rs 35,000 to Rs 75,000 for the loss of boat equipment, which again is very small -- not enough even to buy a net.

It said one boat has four nets of Rs 1 lakh each, adding that over and above this, there was the loss of Rs 50,000 of GPS and wireless devices; of the solar panel, battery, inverter, power supply etc. to the tune of Rs 50,000; of two fish crates worth Rs 50,000 each; of loss gas bottles, ration goods, utensils etc. worth Rs 15,000; and of diesel of around 300 to 800 litres, worth Rs 30,000 to Rs 80,000.
Insisting that assistance for the lost boat equipment should be Rs 5 lakh, the note, prepared following intense interaction with the affected fisherfolk, underlined, "For the families of the fisherfolk who died during the cyclone, the government has announced a total of Rs 6 lakh assistance. However, that should be increased to Rs 15 lakh."

Pointing towards several "unaddressed" issues in the package, the note said, "In Amreli and Gir Somnath districts, fisherwomen work day and night on the coastal jetty just like fishermen work in the sea. In Amreli and Gir Somnath districts, more than 40,000 fisherwomen work to support their families financially."
Pointing out that "the hurricane robbed thousands of fisherwomen of their livelihood", the note said, "Such working women are mostly from the poorest families of our society. Despite 40,000 women becoming unemployed, the government has not announced any relief for them."

Significantly, in July last year, CSJ activist Arvind Khuman submitted a memorandum to the district administration, which among other things highlighted gender insensitivity of the compensation sought to be offered to the fisherfolk. However, the officialdom appears to have turned blind towards this factor.
The note further said, there were those who "had not used their boats for fishing in the last 2-3 years". Stating that they have been excluded from the package for compensation of damage for boats, it insisted, "Despite them not using the boats, these boats must be surveyed and the boat owners must be compensated."

It continued, "The compensation package only provides compensation to those who have registered boats in their name. However, lot of people who have sold their boats still have the registrations for these boats in their names." Hence, "whether those reporting damage to boats are registered or not, they should be compensated for the losses incurred."

Asserting that "dried fish, fresh fish and stocked fish were destroyed, causing an estimated losses between Rs 3 lakh to 5 lakh to the fisherfolk," the note regretted, "No compensation has been given for such loss."

Pointing towards how at the ports, the boat owners dry the fish, lands near the shores are prepared for drying fish by the fisherfolks at their own cost, the note demanded, "Such lands have been eroded and large pits have formed on them due to the cyclone which have made these lands not suitable for drying fish. Hence, a special plan should be prepared so that these lands can be restored and fisherfolk can start drying their fish again."

Referring to the fisherfolk that "migrated to ports like Jafrabad, Saiyad Rajpara for employment had built houses and huts", many of which were destroyed during the hurricane, the note lamented, no relief has been announced for them.
It added that no compensation has also been announced for the fisherfolk who have two houses, "one that is their permanent home and one where they reside during their work. Because of this, many have missed the survey of their other houses, where they were not residing at the time of the survey."
CSJ volunteers, said the note, sent a Right to Information (RTI) plea addressed to the District Superintendent of Police (DSP), which was forwarded to the District Collector. "This implies that the DSP office is not aware of their duty as a Task Force Leader as per the 2020 District Disaster Management Plan".

"According to District Disaster Management Plan, DSP as a task force leader has to prepare a final report after two weeks of the disaster. The 2020 District Disaster Management Plan also mentions how each task force has the responsibility of providing a report detailing the activities undertaken by them and the lessons learnt", it added.
While disaster reporting and assessment is also "elaborated in the Gujarat State Disaster Management Plan, according to which one of the reports that ought to be made is the Preliminary Report, "None of these were provided to us by the DSP office as a response to our RTI", the note said.
"The RTI sent to the DSP was also forwarded to the District Magistrate, and the RTI filed to the Chief Medical Officer (Gir Somnath) forwarded the RTI to the Chief District Health Officer", the note stated, regretting this suggests official indifference towards helping those who suffered from the cyclone.
It commented, "All this clearly implied that the different task force leaders (identified under the District Disaster Management Plan) are still unaware about their duties, or have intentionally withheld information or have forwarded the RTI application to dodge their responsibility."

(This article was first published on www,CounterView.net)

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