Cutting across party lines, members in the Lok Sabha today sought stronger coordination between various agencies to deal with cyclones and other natural disasters, with some of them alleging that the advance warning for cyclone Ockhi was given to Kerala very late.
Congress and Left members, especially from Kerala which bore the brunt, sought a probe into the alleged mismanagement, lack of coordination and other aspects of the disaster while also narrating the ordeal of death and destruction they had witnessed when the cyclone had hit the state.
They also demanded that the devastation caused by Ockhi should be declared a national calamity.
Initiating a discussion on natural calamities in various parts of the country, especially due to cyclone Ockhi in South India, Congress leader K C Venugopal sought putting in place a “functional” monitoring system and efforts to bring back hundreds of people who are still missing after cyclone Ockhi.
The cyclone, which had hit coastal states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu on November 30, claimed several lives and caused widespread damage. A large number of fishermen are still missing.
He sought to know the steps taken by the Centre so far and wondered whether it was “insensitive” on the issue. “Why is there a delay sending a central team” to Kerala, he asked.
Venugopal, who represents Alappuzha constituency in Kerala, also urged the government to come out with a timely and comprehensive relief package for Kerala, where more than 75 people have been killed and hundreds of fishermen are missing in the wake of Ockhi.
Stressing the need for strong coordination to bringing them back, he said there have been lapses on part of the authorities with regard to dealing with Ockhi and its aftermath. “We cannot accuse anybody for natural calamities… but we could have taken precautions” and had early warnings, he said claiming that some officers have committed mistakes.
Highlighting the plight of fishermen, he called for a “well functioning monitoring system” and emphasised the need for having a “specific alarm system” saying the people were alerted late about the cyclone.
“This tragedy is an eye opener… it is time to think about the lives of fishermen,” he said, adding there has also been impact on the economy as they go into deep sea for many days together and at times are not even assured of income.
P R Sundaram (AIADMK) asked the Centre to declare Ockhi a natural disaster, a demand shared by several members in the House. He also sought a naval base in Kanyakumari to help people more effectively in future cases of natural calamities.
Nominated member Richard Hay claimed that the tragic aftermath of Ockhi could have been averted if the Kerala government had taken measured to warn fishermen in advance.
When he claimed that the Centre had provided advance warning and relief later, CPI(M) members protested saying he was not aware of the ground realities.
Parliamentary Affairs Ananth Kumar intervened to defend Hay, saying there was a feeling that India Meteorological Department had provided adequate advance to the state but fishermen were not warned.
B Mahtab (BJD) said natural calamities were affecting his home state of Odisha frequently and asked the Centre to step up its assistance measures. He also demanded that pest attack on crops be declared a calamity.
Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena) said the government should focus on preventive measures and expressed concern over the impact of climate change.
P Karunakaran (CPI-M) said the Centre should give Kerala a package of Rs 7348 crore and declare cyclone Ockhi a national calamity, a demand supported by N K Premchandramn (RSP) and Jose K Mani (KCP).
Shashi Tharoor (Cong), who represents Thiruvananthapuram constituency which was the most affected by the cyclone, said there was no early warning signal available to the state government, even when the radars to provide advance warnings were located in Kerala (Thumba) itself.
He demanded immediate investigation into the lapses for gaps leading to loss of lives and properties.
Since this is a “horrendous human tragedy”, Tharoor said the government should be sensitive in compensating states hit by this. Kerala Government has submitted Rs 7,348 crore compensation demand while Tamil Nadu about Rs 9,000 crore.
“It is not compensation, we need some structural steps to be taken to mitigate loss” due to national calamity of such a magnitude, he said.
Asking government to immediately decide on compensation, Saugata Roy (TMC) said there should be no delay. Government should also provide data on the fisherman killed and missing due to the calamity, he demanded.
A P Jithender Reddy (TRS) raised the issue of vacancy of the top post in National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and said the post of the chairman has been lying vacant for 3 years and asked the government to fill it up urgently.
R M Naidu (TDP) demanded sufficient compensation to be provided without delay, saying if support does not come at right time, it is like justice delayed justice denied. Claim settlement process should be simplified , he added.
Md Faizal (NCP) also demanded shelters to be established for the affected people.