What the Sea Won’t Returnhttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/what-the-sea-wont-return/

What the Sea Won’t Return

Survivors return to the ruined villages of Ganjam district,Orissa,to start all over again — but the odds are against them

Survivors return to the ruined villages of Ganjam district,Orissa,to start all over again — but the odds are against them.<\i>

Broken bricks lay like a shattered dream around the garishly-painted seaside building,or rather,what remained of it. Before October 12,when 15-foot-tall waves rose from the sea to batter it to rubble,it had served as a godown and home for P Buchamma,a fish-seller in Podampeta,one of the villages in Ganjam district,Orissa,hit the worst by cyclone Phailin. “My life’s savings are gone. I don’t even feel like eating,” she says. “The sea

had given me everything,now it has taken away everything.”

Buchamma,who is in her 40s,rushed to the safety of the cyclone shelter,when the winds whipped the village,wrenching out electric poles and blowing away huts. When she came back,her asbestos-roofed house was in ruins as was the godown she had built last year for Rs 70,000. With her means of livelihood washed away by the sea,Buchamma is inconsolable.


An alert administration averted the deaths that Phailin could have wreaked,but the effects of the devastation of livelihood will unfold over time. As families return to Podampeta and other villages in Ganjam district,they fight a sense of utter dejection and hopelessness.

The road to Podampeta is littered with fallen trees,twisted and bent mobile towers and uprooted electrical poles. Massive lorries,which carried four-wheelers and two-wheelers,have been tossed around like matchboxes,while roadside eateries that served passersby have had their roofs blown away,like the thousands of asbestos-roofed and thatched houses in the villages nearby. Fisherfolk who thought they had made friends with the sea speak of it with reverence and fear. “It was teen double (three times) the wind that I felt in (the) 1999 (supercyclone). Ganjam is now like a marubhumi (desert),” says J Jagannath,who lost his net and found his mechanised boat broken. Podampeta was already vulnerable,as it is situated close to the mouth of the Rushikulya river. In 2007,around 20 houses of the village were claimed by the sea.

Villagers wandered around the beaches with a worried lassitude,unsure about where to pick up their lives again. The main source of income for many families — the fishing nets and boats — have been swept away. They have lost over 50 boats and double the number of fishing nets. “We had never seen the sea so angry. Last week,it seemed it was wreaking revenge on us for some unknown crime,” says an elderly villager.

After returning from the cyclone shelter,the villagers waited for polythene rolls,36 ft by 18 ft,which,strung across the ceiling,somehow act as temporary roofs. But not everyone was lucky to have found one.

Temporary huts had not been built,and villagers spent nights in other people’s pucca houses or the cyclone shelter. Food was scarce. While the government has provided rice to some villagers,others had to borrow from their neighbours.

CS Raju Bulla,a fisherman whose thatched-roof house was among the 150 the sea swallowed,had been staying near the cyclone shelter with his wife Kaliamma and daughter Ankita. He was one of those fortunate enough to receive the promised relief of 50 kg rice and Rs 500. “But where do I cook? How long can I stay in the cyclone shelter?” asks Bulla,as Kaliamma nods. What about his future plans? “What future? All I can think of now is how to fill my stomach. I would surely need a fishing net. But I don’t have money to buy it,” he says.

In Orissa,relief and rehabilitation after a cyclone or flood has in the past been plagued with ineptness and corruption. After the 1999 supercyclone,Orissa bungled in providing food and shelter as hungry and homeless millions waited for succour. A CBI probe was instituted following allegations that crores were defalcated by several senior officials over buying polythene. In Ganjam,the biggest challenge for the officials is to supply rice to 8 lakh displaced people in less than a fortnight. With the roofs of several government offices blown away and the district administration falling short of the required number of trucks,officials despaired about the hopeless scenario. “It would take at least six months to get Ganjam back on its feet.

But for individual fishermen,the road to recovery may be longer,” says district collector Dr Krishan Kumar. “The state government will soon announce a package for the fishermen,” he says.

The district administration has just done a primary enumeration,which found 3,399 fishermen as well as 509 fish seed farms and 424 fish farms have been affected in the district.

Fisherman Chedipilli Polliga of Podampeta was one of the few reluctant to leave home when the government asked him to. He returned to find his house gone and he roamed the beach unsure. “How long can I live off this relief food? I need polythenes

for a makeshift house. I need a fishing net,” says Polliga.

In another seaside village of Rekuttur of Chhatrapur block,cashew nut farmer Shringeri Narayan would have harvested the cashew from his two-acre plantation in March next year. But the crop was destroyed by Phailin. “Last year’s harvest earned me

Rs 50,000. This year,I am no more than a pauper,” says Narayan,who is considering applying for a loan to start anew,though it seems

an unlikely prospect. “Even if I get a loan to start a plantation,it would take the cashew plants to mature in another three-four years. Who will sustain me and my family until then?” he asks.


As the evening wears on in Podampeta, 22-year-old Chedipilli Trinath trundles back to his roofless house to find his father Chedipilli Karudu away. Karudu had bought a new mechanized boat in July as well as a big fishing net,which were claimed by the sea. “He must be gone with my mother. Since October 13,they have been wandering along the beach looking for the boat. My father thinks he can find his boat somewhere in the sea,” says Trinath.