Focus on relief, rehabilitation

The Southwest and the Northeast monsoons that brought unusually bountiful rain have also spelt destruction and misery for a large section of the people in peninsular India, thanks to the breached and swollen waterways and storages. If Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were hit quite early in the season, Tamil Nadu has had its share of woe in the past one month and a half. Particularly traumatic have been the past three weeks that saw three torrential bouts of rain play havoc with lives, habitations, and infrastructure across the State. For three days, both the National Highway and the railway links from Chennai to the south remained snapped. Roads and railway tracks breached at several points; towns, villages, paddy fields were under water. The Army, the Navy and the Coast Guard ably assisted the State administration in rescuing the marooned and air dropping food. Two buses were washed away in flash floods, claiming over 100 lives. The Tamil Nadu Government has already received two Central teams to assess the damage. A memorandum seeking Central assistance of Rs.13,685 crore has been submitted to the Centre inclusive of the Rs.1,742 crore sought earlier. With the monsoon set to last till the end of December, one has to keep one's fingers crossed.

As Tamil Nadu will be going to the polls next summer, political parties are keen on ensuring that prompt relief and rehabilitation measures are initiated. With three successive spells already materialising in the current monsoon, devastation in the State has been extensive. The Prime Minister's Office has announced the release of Rs.500 crore, with the promise of a fuller compensation soon. But there is uncertainty and suspense over the quantum of Central assistance. Relief and rehabilitation measures will no doubt depend on the availability of funds, but the administration has already initiated a concerted effort. Speed is of the essence in providing relief and the State is looking to the Centre for quick assistance. While putting the infrastructure back in shape may take some time, it is imperative to provide immediate succour to those who have lost their possessions and dwellings. The Cauvery delta farmers who were looking forward to a bumper samba crop after four successive drought years may be disappointed yet again. They would need a reasonable compensation package and unstinted support over the next few months before they go in for another crop. This is the time to rise above partisan politics, and the opposition parties have been as vocal in their demand for immediate assistance from the Centre as the ruling party. It may be useful for the Centre to devise a new framework and procedure for providing immediate relief to States affected by natural calamities so that they could take up rehabilitation programmes without delay.