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PUCL Bulletin, February 2005

Tamil Nadu PUCL press statement

Critical issues relating to relief to the tsunami affected communities

[See also, Tsunami relief guidelines. Click]

-- By (Dr. V. Suresh), for Kattumaram – Makkal Medai

The unprecedented damage and destruction brought about by the Tsunami on 26th December 2004 has posed a major challenge to all those involved in relief and rehabilitation work, to help the affected communities cope with the personal and material loss suffered by them and to help them rebuild their lives and return to normalcy. While the immediate needs of relief work has been the focus of the Government, NGOs, mass organizations and others and commendable relief works have been implemented in many areas there are still many areas which raise concern and require critical review and action. The Citizen’s Platform would like to bring to the attention of the Government and other players the following issues relating to interim relief to the affected communities.

1. Right at the outset we would like to point out that there is an undue haste and hurry to evolve long term rehabilitation plans for the fishing communities without much attempt to obtain their responses to the suggested rehabilitation plans. It is important that the affected fishing communities in whose name rehabilitation plans are being formulated be made a part of the entire planning process right from the beginning and not made to choose from some options presented by the Government and other multilateral agencies. We should not allow the fishing community, which has been completely devastated by the Tsunami, to be enslaved by unviable and unsustainable options made in their names by others.

2. Fundamental to the process of obtaining the involvement of the fishing community is to give them time to emotionally and psychologically come to terms with the immense loss of lives of family and community. In the last two weeks, the affected communities have been pushed from one end to the other merely to obtain relief and have not had time to reflect on their experiences and evolve plans for their communities. Extreme sensitivity to the psychological trauma is required. This is not possible when they are still living unsettled lives in relief camps and make shift shelters.

3. It is important to stress that there is a difference between the needs of emergency, interim relief and long term rehabilitation plans. While emergency and interim relief plans need to be implemented without much delay, long term rehabilitation plans will have to take into account many other issues including economic, socio cultural, ecological and environmental factors.

4. Even in the case of interim relief which has just begun there are some areas of concern voiced by the fishing community. It is learnt that the fishing community in some parts of the State have been forced to relocate their settlement away from their original locations on the sea shore to locations about 2 – 3 kms inland. No attempt has been made at all to ascertain the views of the fishing community about the forced relocation, which has caused tensions and raised tempers in many places. Very importantly, the forcible relocation poses a major threat to the livelihood of the fishermen whose occupation requires them to closely watch the sea, the waves and to gauge when it is appropriate to go into the sea for fishing.

5. We call upon the State and Central Government not to go ahead with the relocation plans until the affected communities have had a chance to discuss the issue in length and to present their conclusions including presenting alternate options. We would like to stress that this process can be undertaken on January 26th, 2005 when the Gram Sabhas of all Villages in Tamil Nadu is held.

6. We would like to point out that the CRZ (Coastal Regulation Zone) Regulations recognizes the rights of fishing communities to the coast line and acknowledges their rights to stay in the coast. We are concerned that the relocation plans for fishing communities are being drawn out using the ‘fear of Tsunami’ as the basis to relocate them. Whereas the Government is silent about the existing beach resorts, farm houses, aqua farms and other constructions on the sea coast which are equally vulnerable to Tsunami. These double standards are shocking. It raises a strong suspicion as to whether the current move to shift the fishing community from the shore line is an attempt by vested interest to grab land traditionally belonging to the fishing community.

7. We are concerned that there are several non-fishing communities involved in occupations subsidiary to fishing activities and others belonging to largely to the Dalit communities who have not been enumerated as Tsunami affected in several areas and who have been deprived of adequate relief. This gap in the relief and rehabilitation packages have to be immediately addressed and corrected and it should be ensured that these communities are immediately taken care of. – (Dr. V. Suresh), for Kattumaram – Makkal Medai, Contact No.: 94442-31497

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