Callous Disregard of Cyclone Ockhi Survivors by Politicians, Administration: People’s Inquest

Shocking findings have come to the fore  on the Survivors of Cyclone  Ockhi.  What us worse is the deafening media silence on the issue. While Bollywood celebrities had joined in to focus on the ghastly Tsunami that had rocked the same coast,  there is no celebrity concern or participation in rescue efforts this time. 

Image: PTI
On the findings of the first People’s Inquest on Cyclone Ockhi and its devastation in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu Nagercoil, December 29, 2017
A people’s inquest on the devastation in Kanyakumari because of Cyclone Ockhi finds a shocking lapse on part of the central and state governments to the victims of Cyclone Ockhi a month after the disaster struck. This extends both to the technical and the human aspects of the tragedy. 
The victims and their family members in Kanyakumari are being treated as non-citizens. 
The honourable Member of Parliament representing Kanyakumari considered it fit to visit Iran and not the affected fishing villages in his constituency. The people’s inquest was undertaken on December 28-29, 2017 by a team of 15 members (list at the end) comprising of a retired justice of high court, senior journalists, academicians, disaster management experts etc.
Interim Observations
No lessons have been learnt from Tsunami disaster management.
Citizens have been left in the lurch because they were considered as outside of some bureaucratic map, for example the deep-sea fishing community who left for the seas before 29th November were completely abandoned.
The invisibility of this group is distressing. 
Most of the rescue efforts were done by the community with their own resources despite the calamity and the effect on their livelihood 
Citizenship does not cease in a disaster situation because it mainly affects their entitlements. 
They have a right to protest, complaint and demand as citizens and demand to immediate and long-term relief and the right to articulate without harassment 
While the government relates it as a law and problem negates the principle of natural justice.
The community in collaboration with the Church played a remarkable role in attending the physical, emotional and psychological vulnerability of its people, in this context the strength of the community vis-a-vis the State should be recognised while responding to disasters.  
The contrast between the language of the government and the community was dark and worrying. Bureaucratic responses tend to emphasise policy details and demographic numbers while the language of suffering is lost. 
It is interesting to note that the community emphasises the unity of the society cutting across caste and class while being sensitive to the requirements of marginal tribes. 
The state has responsibility for understanding the unity of citizens and any attempts by political and other groups to communalise/ethinisize the situation should be openly condemned. 
The survivor questioned whether the value of life in fishing community has far less meaning compared to powerful groups. In situations of calamity of this nature, the differential value of life becomes sadly apparent and has to be consciously resisted. 
There was no attempt to establish a framework of accountability post cyclone at all levels. 
Any attempt to reduce compensation to mere doles and nominal sums of money should be condemned. 
Tracking of money spent on immediate relief/ proposed rehabilitation at different levels of the hierarchy must comply with RTI rules.
The team is surprised by the lack of robust response by the elected-representatives particularly with the indifference of the local Member of Parliament who has not bothered to visit the affected fishing community. 
Interim Recommendations
Re-look at the functioning of the early warning system with the consultation and participation of the community to ensure transparency. 
Terms of ensuring the safety of fish-workers going to the sea.
Registration of departure & arrival of boats of all kinds.
Safety audit of boats to ensure minimum requirements with respect to size, no. of crew and the distance
Free provision of life-jackets, first-aid kits and flare guns.
Provision of satellite phone and other appropriate communication equipment. People’s security is as important as national security. 
It is obvious that the disasters in the sea for fish-workers leads to loss of sole- male bread-winners, therefore compensation packages should take into account the long-term livelihood loss in the family 
The relief amount given Rs. 5000 as of today is not only meagre, but extremely insensitive and considered insulting by the community. 
The loss of boats, other fishing equipment and damage to crops should be compensated and a system of insurance should be initiated urgently 
Expedite the finalisation of issuing of death certificates within 30 days. 
The disaster is not sufficiently acknowledged at all level – Centre & State. The Centre Government should immediately notify as a National Disaster. 
The government should immediately address the debt-burden of farming and fishing communities and write of immediately 
There is an urgent need to assess the damages on the farming community  
Immediate need to establish professional trauma-care and psychological assistance for families and communities 
Education burden of children of deceased as a result of any disaster should be taken care by the government 
Immediate withdrawal of all cases against all protestors seeking relief, rehabilitation and justice. 
The inquest focused on the issue of missing fishermen, loss to lives and livelihoods, damage to housing and agriculture etc. The inquest looked at the response of the central and state governments, role of local administration, measures undertaken from cyclone warning till this date and the rescue and rehabilitation processes and actions. The inquest team met the families of missing fishermen, fishermen who managed to sail back, affected farmers and district and state officials.
The team also made an effort to reach out to several other stakeholders including fisheries department, marine police, coast guard and the Indian Navy, however some meetings are yet to be completed. This is an interim observation and recommendation prepared by the inquest team and will be followed by a detailed report within a period of two weeks. 
People’s Inquest Panel 
Justice (Retd.) B.G. Kolse Patil, Former Judge of Bombay High Court
Prof. Dr. Shiv Vishvanathan, Professor, Jindal Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University 
Mr. DJ Ravindran, Former Secretary of the UN International Inquiry Commission on East Timor. Director of Human Rights Division & UN Peace Keeping Operations in East Timor, Sudan and Libya.
Dr. Ramathal, Former Chairperson, Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women
Ms. Saba Naqvi, Senior Journalist, New Delhi 
Mr. Nanchil Kumaran, IPS (Retd.), Former ADGP, Tamil Nadu
Prof Dr. L.S. Ghandi Doss, Professor Emeritus, Central University, Gulbarga
Dr. K Sekhar, Registrar, NIMHANS Bangalore
Prof. Dr. Ramu Manivannan, Department of Political Science, University of Madras 
Mr. John Samuel, Former Director – UNDP and Former International Director Action Aid
Dr. K M Parivelan, Associate Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Dr. Paul Newman, Department of Political Science, University of Bangalore 
Dr. Suresh Mariaselvam, Vellore Institute of Technology, Vellore
Dr. Fatima Babu, St. Mary’s College, Tuticorin



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