A.V. Ragunathan

CUDDALORE: The devastation left behind by the December 26, 2004, tsunami is still vivid in the memory of the coastal community in Cuddalore district.

The colossal damage inflicted by the tidal waves on the life – 610 died and 38 went missing – and property has scarred their psyche. A non-descript plaque on the Silver Beach here stands testimony to the catastrophe that had befallen humanity. The anniversary is a poignant reminder of the cataclysmic event which is generally marked by paying floral tributes and taking out candle-light processions to the seafront to pay homage to the departed souls.

P. Ekambaram, State general secretary of the Meenavar Viduthalai Vengaigal, told The Hindu that the tsunami had changed the outlook of the fishermen. Though fishing had been their traditional occupation, the changing profile of the sea, diminishing fish resources and the apathy of officialdom had pushed at least a section of them to switch to other pursuits.

The wards of fishermen, most of whom were either illiterates or school dropouts, had taken to higher education and at least 50 students from Thevanampattinam coastal village had joined engineering courses in the past five years.

Mr. Ekambaram deplored that the flush of funds received from within the country as well as from abroad for rehabilitation measures were not properly utilised but were diverted to other schemes.

According to G.C. Chandran, president of the Singaravelar Meenavar Munnetra Kazhagam, a conservative estimate revealed that at least Rs. 1,000 crore should have come in as contributions, whereas hardly Rs. 20 crore had been spent on reconstruction.

The so-called permanent houses, community halls and old-age homes built by non-governmental organisations, with certain exceptions, were nothing but pigeon holes built of substandard materials and insufficient space.The new housing colonies lacked infrastructure such as roads, streetlights, drainage and water supply, Mr. Chandran said. Mr. Ekambaram said that if the lots of fishermen were to be improved the bank loans given to them for the purchase of boats should be written off and they should either be included in the SC/ST list or given a separate reservation.

Mr. Ekambaram said that the compensation of Rs 500 for the annual fishing holiday of 45 days, during April–May, was quite meagre and it should be raised to Rs 5,000 a family. Selva Ezhumalai, general secretary of the Meenavar Padhukappu Iyakkam, said that in the post-tsunami the premium fish varieties such as vanjaram, sudhumbu, soopla, kuthuva and kalavai had become a rarity and this in turn had drastically eroded the income of fishermen.

Mr. Ekambaram alleged that untreated effluents discharged into the sea from the SIPCOT Industrial Estate too had gravely affected the marine life.

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