This year, Kerala has witnessed unprecedented rains and devastation. The death and destruction that took place were of epic proportions and it will take quite a while for the affected people to recover from the shock of the calamity and rebuild their lives.
The indomitable spirit of the people of Kerala held fast in trying circumstances and every one contributed their might to help the people struck by the disaster. It is also encouraging to see how ordinary people and youngsters came up with unique ideas to reach the affected people and carry out rescue missions.
I hope someone in the Kerala government collects the stories of heroism, ingenuity and solidarity, and comes out with a publication for the benefit of people in other parts of the country. It also important that the Department of Disaster Management of the Government of Kerala pens down how the disaster built up and the real-time response of the related line departments of the government and identifies the shortcomings, if any, and formulates a protocol for the future.
Now that the rains have subsided, the role of mitigation and rebuilding efforts becomes paramount. This calls for not only identifying and allocating funds, but also men and material. It is important to identify the source of raw materials for reconstruction, and this takes time.
The established procedure after a natural disaster is funding the initial mitigating efforts from the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF), which is a fixed kitty. The amount being allocated to the affected state from the NDRF depends largely upon the extent of the damage suffered and the number of other states affected during the year. It will be wrong to think that the Government of India or any other source will be able to provide the full allocation for the reconstruction of the damages. While it is heartening to see that many states, organisations, chambers of commerce and private individuals have come forward in cash and kind to help the affected people, it is difficult to imagine that such efforts would suffice for the rebuilding of Kerala. There are also reports of external aid, which possibly have not materialised. Then how does one rebuild “Gods’ own country”?
Kerala is home to some of the richest temples in the country — Lord Padmanabha temple, Guruvayur temple, Sabarimala temple, etc. These temples have received donations as offerings from the public over centuries. People have donated jewellery, gold, precious stones, cash and wealth to the presiding deity for their peace and prosperity. Collectively, the present wealth of these three temples possibly runs into at least Rs 1 lakh crore. These offerings were mainly from Keralites. Thus, the wealth accumulated in these temples over the years is largely donated by the ancestors of the present population of Kerala, who have faced the recent calamity.
In the good old days, these temple treasures were often allowed to be used by the public to tide over difficult situations, like shortage of foodgrains. The temple wealth was used to buy foodgrains to be distributed free among the affected population. Documented evidence is available in support of such claims. The fact that the temples in the country organised daily langar khanas or bhog ceremonies bears testimony to the fact that the wealth of the temple is meant for the well-being of the people.
However, with the institutionalisation of the democratic form of government, the onus on tiding over difficult times became the responsibility of the state exchequer. However, the collection of temple treasures continued and has resulted in the accumulation of unused wealth. These temple treasures are people’s money.
The present situation in Kerala is an opportunity to use the treasures of temples to rebuild the state. Instead of looking for funds elsewhere, the state government should take a decision to use the temple funds and no one should have any objection to such a decision. The state government must, of course, subject every paisa so taken to CAG audit and public scrutiny.
Kerala has been a path-breaking state — it has highest literacy rate, lowest infant mortality, highest sex ratio, highest remittances from abroad, etc. Let the state now break another path — to use idle temple treasures in a productive way. Who knows, such an act may further propel philanthropy among the people of the region and they may donate more to the temple in gratitude, to be used in the difficult times in the future.