Nothing tests the political will and administrative efficiency of a government like a natural disaster. More than long-term development projects and poverty-alleviating schemes, it is the response mechanisms activated in times of emergency that people remember. In Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, a month after cyclone ‘Thane' made landfall, the affected communities are still struggling to put their lives back together. Given the magnitude of destruction in the coastal areas, especially Puducherry and the districts of Cuddalore and Villupuram, normality could not have been restored in a matter of days. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu led by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa did well in the aftermath of the cyclone, clearing uprooted trees from the roads and reaching food to the victims. But with tens of thousands of electricity poles falling to the fury of the cyclone, power supply has returned only in phases, spread over a month, to the affected areas. More disconcertingly, a lot remains to be done in terms of rehabilitation for the people who lost their homes and means of livelihood. Farmlands have been ravaged, leaving farmers and workers without any means of income during harvest time. Many have resorted to taking loans or withdrawing deposits for day-to-day sustenance.
In this context, the decision of the State government to construct one lakh concrete houses at a cost of Rs.1,000 crore to replace huts damaged in the cyclone is a significant step in easing the misery of the victims. Too often, the enthusiasm shown by officialdom in the days immediately after a disaster dries up in a couple of weeks. As seen in the construction of houses for those affected by the tsunami in 2004, delays can stretch to years. Without the pressure of public opinion, governments tend to under-perform and fail to keep promises made at the time of the calamity. And almost inevitably, housing projects for disaster victims, which take a longer time to complete, drop off the priority list of the authorities. As pointed out by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, ‘Thane' caused damage on a scale rarely seen before. Tamil Nadu and Puducherry will need substantial help from the Central government in carrying out long-term rehabilitation measures. The State, which sought Rs.5,248 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund, has so far been given Rs.500 crore. Whatever it takes, the State and Central governments must speedily ensure that the people traumatised by ‘Thane' and the North-East monsoon are able to lead a normal life again.