Nearly 100 days after Odisha’s Cyclone Fani: Victims grapple with debt, despairhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/nearly-100-days-after-fani-victims-grapple-with-debt-despair-5890497/

Nearly 100 days after Odisha’s Cyclone Fani: Victims grapple with debt, despair

Puri’s district administration says 10,027 fishermen have been provided “a total Rs 5,69,55, 565” for buying new equipment, but Parida said he got nothing.

Nearly 100 days after Odisha's Cyclone Fani: Victims grapple with debt, despair
farmers in Puri whose fields have been flooded with Chilika’s brackish water

Fisherman Surendra Parida has netted many a fish, but can’t find a way to shake off a loan shark.

Parida had borrowed Rs 2.5 lakh at 3 per cent monthly interest from a local money lender to repair his boat, gear and house in Puri’s Satapada district that were damaged by Cyclone Fani in May.

The 55-year-old mentally works out his monthly interest outgo, and slaps his forehead in dismay when he realises it is Rs 7,500.

“My monthly income before Fani was around Rs 12,000,” he said. “We were always poor, but now we may have to roam naked,” he said, referring to his family of wife and their 16-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter.

Advertising

Puri’s district administration says 10,027 fishermen have been provided “a total Rs 5,69,55, 565” for buying new equipment, but Parida said he got nothing. “Starting this month, I have to pay the interest, but I haven’t started earning yet. I went to the mahajan (moneylender) again and he has agreed to receive a part of the interest payment by buying my daily catch for Rs 10 less a kilo than the market price (Rs 50),” he said. Hundreds of fishermen in Satapada panchayat will have a similar story to share, he said.

A report prepared by the Odisha government and international bodies such as the UN, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which was released Tuesday, said the state needs Rs 29,315 crore for relief and rehabilitation efforts. It said housing, power, telecommunications, agriculture, livestock and fisheries took the full brunt of Fani’s wrecking ball.

The Centre has so far released around Rs 789 crore for relief works and Rs 613 crore as its share towards State Disaster Response Fund, according to Odisha State Disaster Management Authority. And the state’s relief-centric cash handouts don’t address the livelihood needs of the affected.

Satapada’s tourist boating association in Bankijala village lost 105 of the 125 boats used to ferry tourists. “We have to buy sal logs” to build boats that match government specification, said Krutibas Das, a boat owner.

“Every boat owner has a debt of around Rs 2 lakh with the money lenders in nearby districts. We don’t have workers to build boats but the loan interest piles up every day. Also, tourists are scarce in this off-season,” he said.

Puri Collector Balwant Singh said, “Owners of tourist boats will be provided assistance under Mudra scheme and the margin money will be given by HUDCO (Housing and Urban Development Corporation) out of CSR (funds)”.

In many villages, farmers point to their paddy fields along the Chilika Lake, flooded with brackish water. “Even if water recedes, a 15-km stretch has been ruined due to salt. First, we have had to take loans to pump out water. And now there are other loans for daily expenses,” said Dhaneswar Badjena, a farmer.

Singh acknowledged the problem was “challenging”. He promised to explore if the salty soil can be eventually used to grow timber instead of paddy. “Timber takes decades to grow. What are we to do all those years?” asked farmers.

Livestock compensation, too, is under attack. In Brahmagiri block, a group of herders of an indigenous buffalo breed, who lost over 1,500 heads of cattle, is livid that one village “falsely grabbed the entire compensation of around Rs 45 crore”.

“When the veterinary people came for an assessment, the buffalo carcasses had floated down to Gambhari village. The people there falsely claimed the buffaloes,” reads a petition by the buffalo breeders’ association. “For the false claimants, who will get Rs 30,000 per milch animal, Rs 5,000 isn’t too much a bribe to offer,” said Jayanta Jena, a buffalo breeder who says he lost 18 buffaloes and got no compensation.

Explaining the government’s difficulty, Puri’s Chief Veterinary District Officer P K Khamari said, “When carcasses are piled together and (branded) numbers cannot be seen, due to lack of power for weeks mobile phones could not be charged enough to click individual pictures, how could the LI (livestock inspector) always get it right?”

Non-paddy cultivators allege compensation policies do not reflect ground situation. “CM Naveen Patnaik had announced that in Puri every household will be eligible for a compensation of Rs 500 for every coconut tree with a cap of 25. He has not been briefed that in the worst affected Krushnaprasad and Brahmagiri blocks, people grow Polanga (Calophyllum inophyllum) rather than nadia (coconut),” said Prafulla Jena, an orchard owner.

Advertising

Polanga fruit, which yields non-edible oil used as fuel, can fetch up to Rs 3,000 per quintal. However, there is no compensation for the tree. “Their compensation policy is like giving a heart patient a kidney operation,” said Jena.

For latest coverage on Haryana and Maharashtra Elections, log on to IndianExpress.com. We bring you the fastest assembly election 2019 updates from each constituency in both the states.