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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Kerala floods: Year after deluge, many in Idukki village have left, some wait for aid

“Permits for new houses have been very rare after August 2018. With families migrating to safe valleys, population in the panchayat is also coming down,’’ said a panchayat official.

Written by Shaju Philip | Updated: August 19, 2019 7:07:40 am
An abandoned house following last year’s landslide in Idukki. (Express photo by Shaju Philip)

Last week, when heavy rain lashed her house on the slope of the hill at Konnathady village in Kerala’s Idukki district, Thressiama K stopped having dinner.

“The walls of the toilet can collapse anytime. When it rains heavily, I am afraid to use it at night. The only option is to limit eating so that I avoid going to toilet at night. If something happens at night, I would be buried alive, ‘’ said the 66-year-old widow, who owns 15 cents of land.

During the 2018 deluge, a mass of the hill behind her house slipped, leaving cracks on her roof and damaging the toilet outside.

A year on, when parts of Kerala have again been ravaged by floods, Thressiama is still waiting for the government aid for victims of the 2018 deluge. She is among 364 people from Konnathady panchayat who have been running from pillar to post for the aid.

As many as 681 houses in the panchayat were damaged in the landslides in August 2018. As per government directive, the damaged houses were geo-tagged for processing applications. Among them, 184 people have got compensation ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 4 lakh depending on the extent of damage. Seventy-three families in the panchayat, who lost their homes and farmland, were given a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each.

Panchayat president George Joseph said, “Out of 618 of applicants, only 168 got the initial relief of Rs 10,000 (meant for those who were in relief camps). While several applicants with completely damaged houses were left out of the list prepared by revenue department, some with minor loss made gains. Now, those aggrieved have moved an appeal with revenue department.’’

Panchayat member M Binoy said many who failed to get into the list are daily wage labourers who leave home in the morning and return late in the evening. “During field visits, officials may have missed such applicants. These workers are unwilling to travel to faraway government offices as that would deprive them of the daily work. Appeals are being vetted. We have asked officials not to leave anyone out.’’

Principal Secretary (Revenue) and CEO of Rebuild Kerala Dr V Venu said, “January 31 had been set as the deadline for moving applications. However, we got appeals after that date and such pleas are being looked into. All genuine pleas would be considered…We are ready to look into missed cases, if any.’’

An agrarian area with hills and valleys, Konnathady was one of the worst-affected villages in Idukki last year. Eight people were killed in the panchayat. Many affected families then moved out and their damaged homes now lie abandoned.

“Permits for new houses have been very rare after August 2018. With families migrating to safe valleys, population in the panchayat is also coming down,’’ said a panchayat official.

At Panniarkutty, a part of Konnathady which was hit by a massive landfall last year, two dozen families vacated the village and several others keep away during the monsoon.

George P, a farmer, lives in a rented house at Oonukal in Ernakulam district, around 55 km away, during the monsoon. “I was not affected by the landslides. But my house is not in a safe zone. As a precaution, I have left my house at Konnathady. Once the rain subsides, we would return,’’ said George.

But not everyone has managed to find a safe address for the monsoon. With Rs 10 lakh, the maximum compensation the government gives, many families can’t find a house in a safe zone.

Ravi V K is living in his house, which was damaged last year and has since been repaired. “I got Rs 4 lakh as compensation. But with that amount, we won’t get a house at a safe location. Hence, we decided to stay back.”

The farmers, too, were badly hit by the landslide. Out of the 5200 registered farmers in the panchayat, 2,500 have applied for relief with the State Farmers’ Debt Relief Commission.

Agriculture officer Neenu Chandran said, “All the applications came after August last year. The landslide turned 30 hectares into wasteland,” she said.

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