Residents of Chellanam who were shifted to a relief camp at St. Mary’s High School in the wake of flooding caused by Cyclone Ockhi are continuing their relay fast in protest against the lack of a firm assurance from the administration to construct a seawall along the 17.5-km coastal stretch which is expected to protect the villagers from the vagaries of the sea.
The agitating residents, united under the Chellanam Janakiya Samiti, waylaid former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Congress leaders when they arrived at the camp on Friday, the fifth day of protest.
“Our strike is apolitical, and our sole aim is to get the authorities to take measures to prevent coastal erosion and seawater incursion. So, we only allowed Mr. Chandy to enter the school campus along with local MLAs Hibi Eden and Dominic Presentation. Others like Benny Behanan, MLA, and district Congress president T.J. Vinod had to wait outside. They held discussions with those on fast and were prevented from addressing people. We did the same when P.C. George, MLA, visited the other day,” Jerwin Joseph, Janakiya Samiti convenor, said.
Addressing the media outside, Mr. Chandy said he fully endorsed the demand of the cyclone-battered people. The previous UDF government had initiated a ₹110-crore project, but the tendering process had to be cancelled thrice owing to lack of response, he said, adding that he would now take up the matter with the Chief Minister and the Finance Minister.
Mr. Joseph, however, said the blacklisting of a contractor in the wake of alleged irregularities had led to other contractors staying off the project.
“We don’t want any private contractor to carry out the work. Don’t we have numerous government agencies capable of doing it?” he asked.
Meanwhile, some 300-odd people, including a group of nuns, representatives of the church, and locals, will observe fast on the sixth day of the protest on Saturday.
Meanwhile, BJP district president N.K. Mohandas demanded urgent assistance for the cyclone-affected people of Chellanam. Locals, evacuated to the relief camp, are not able to return to their houses, as stormwater drains and toilets at most houses sustained irreparable damage due to mud and sediment deposit, he said.