One of the first signs of flood-hit districts limping back to normality was a protest to demand that liquor shops be closed to enable families rebuild their lives.
In the affected districts of Cuddalore, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Chennai, this was a horrible flashback, taking everyone back to the days soon after the 2004 tsunami. Tamil Nadu is among the top five liquor markets in the country, with only 11 private players licensed to make liquor. The sale, however, is entirely controlled by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), a government agency.
This Monday, the Madras High Court dismissed a petition for closure of TASMAC liquor shops for two months in the flood-affected districts. The court refused to interfere stating it was a policy decision of the government.
With their livelihood lost, more men took to alcohol, siphoning off relief money from their families. A study in Kanyakumari district post-tsunami found a marked difference between the sale of alcohol in November 2004 and February 2005. As much as Rs. 4,53,335 of relief money given after the tsunami was spent on alcohol consumption, said the study published in The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, London.
“We know from our experience during the tsunami that men took away all the relief money and spent it on liquor. By keeping the shops open the government will only ensure that the relief money goes back to its coffers. We would rather the relief came as materials to rebuild their homes and livelihood,” says A. Narayanan, director of Change India, one of the activists leading the campaign to shut down liquor shops.
Activists seeking closure of liquor shops face a tough battle if we go by the data collated by the government. During 2012-2013, the Prohibition and Excise Department had earned Rs. 21,680.67 crore from liquor sales. But according to the District Level Health Survey of 2012-13, which covered over 46,000 households in the State, alcohol consumption in rural areas among men was around 21.9 per cent and in urban areas 16.6 per cent. Among women, it was 0.6 (rural) and 0.5 (urban).
Livelihood lost Mr. Narayanan’s fears stem from the fact that economic activity in flood-hit Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chennai have halted. These districts were the backbone of thriving industrial activity. In Anakaputtur near Tambaram, handloom weavers have lost their looms. Forty weavers have lost their livelihood. Cuddalore district, famed for its handloom lungis, has borne the brunt of the devastation. However, in Kancheepuram, famed for its silks, the devastation was in terms of loss of work and wages.
While some of them would mange to rebuild lives, activists say those employed in the construction industry are hard hit. A defunct welfare board has left not just local workers but migrant workers also at the mercy of their employers.
On Monday, the government launched efforts to rebuild homes for those who lost houses in the floods. What it should look to is to locate them in places where they had lived before the floods, says the bureaucrat who had assisted with the earlier re-housing effort. The lesson that the government should learn from its tsunami rehabilitation experience is not to relocate people far from their place of livelihood,
When the families displaced by the tsunami were re-housed at Okkiyam Thoraipakkam and Semmancheri, the government had little choice, reasons a former bureaucrat who was part of the relief and rehabilitation programme.
“We repeatedly told the government not to relocate them to far-away places. Can you imagine a woman having to travel 15 miles to work as a domestic help or children having to travel long distance to school, we had pointed out. Besides it is like putting them in a ghetto. They are our people,” says M.G. Devasahayam, a former bureaucrat.
Such social isolation resulted in more crimes. Mr. Devasahayam also blames the Central government for the relocation. “I will not blame the State. Almost as soon as the rains stopped, the State’s Health Department launched mass vaccination campaigns and started distributing bleaching powder immediately after the floodwater began receding. According to the Department’s estimates, more than one crore people have been affected.
Sanitation issues However, the threat is not over yet. According to government data, from 2006-07 to 2010-11, nearly 10 million toilets were constructed every year nationwide under the Total Sanitation Campaign. They remain largely defunct and are reportedly being used as storerooms, says Body Burden 2015: State of India’s Health, a report released by the Centre for Science and Environment on Tuesday.
The 2011 census, however, showed that in Tamil Nadu, nearly 40 per cent of people in rural areas defecate in the open. Kanniammal, whose husband lost his job as a mason after a leg injury four years ago, is making a living as a domestic help. After the floods rendered her homeless with two daughters at Seevaram in Okkiyam Thoraipakkam, she depends on the generosity of her employers. Relief bypassed her as she had only a voter ID card. Everyone she approached for relief asked her to produce a ration card, she says.
She would have to migrate soon and it could depend on wherever her husband finds a job. Though her concern now is a roof over her family’s head she is not in a position to bargain or choose where she wants to live.