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The Rediff Interview/Kanyakumari District Collector Sunil Paliwal

April 15, 2005

In the morning, Sunil Paliwal, the district collector of Kanyakumari, inaugurated a special ward for AIDS in Colachel, Tamil Nadu. Then he went to check the Rs 6.5 crore food for work programme.

In the evening he met a continuous flow of officials and panchayat level politicians, each with his own grouse. Yet, he took out two hours to speak to Contributing Special Correspondent A Ganesh Nadar on the pace of work in his district after the tsunami.

What is the overall position on the tsunami relief work?

We are in the final phase of rebuilding houses. The government guidelines have come. Hopefully, by May 1, we can start construction. The land has already been identified. Among the missing cases (individuals whose bodies have not been found or identified) there are only 32 for us to verify. 71 have been verified.

Life in tsunami-hit Colachel, and a scare

How much time are you devoting to tsunami work?

60 per cent for tsunami and 40 per cent for other work.

What about compensation for boats and nets?

We have so far disbursed Rs 23 crores for restoration of livelihood. Except Arokyapuram village, the fishermen in the rest of the district have received their money for cattamarans. The mechanised boats are done. Only 250 vallams -- fibre boats -- remain. And that we will tackle now.

Fishermen are upset by the idea of a joint account with the assistant director fisheries for a bank loan.

They don't have to meet the AD-fisheries every day. Only on the day they collect the cheques. Which will be once when they take an advance for repairs. And next when they need the rest of the loan.

'We make sure that nobody suffers'

They want to know about the guarantees that the bank will demand.

We have spoken to the bank which is the State Bank of India. The bank will not demand any collateral property. Only a mutual guarantee. You sign for me and I sign for you. That shouldn't be a problem.

The heat in the temporary shelters is so much that it is aiding the spread of jaundice, chickenpox and cholera.

There has been no jaundice or cholera. We have had cases of chickenpox. We have to isolate them. We even said we would feed not only the patient but also whoever stayed with them. They still did not agree to be isolated.

How many NGOs have offered to build houses and how many?

We have offers for 7,000 houses and we require only 3,500 houses. The number of houses will go down further because the government orders now say those who want to stay in their old houses can stay there if they want. Those who want to repair their houses will be subsidised by the government. (For costs) up to Rs 20,000 they will get the entire amount. Up to Rs 50,000 they will get 75 per cent of the amount above Rs 20,000 along with the Rs 20,000. Any amount above Rs 50,000, we will give 50 per cent of that amount. The maximum subsidy is Rs 75,000.

Then there is a question of how far they are from the high tide line. Those living beyond 500 meters will continue to live there or move to the new houses. Those living from 200 meters to 500 meters can repair or rebuild there or move to the new houses beyond 500 meters. These two groups will be entitled to the subsidy if they chose to repair or rebuild.

Those whose houses are fully or partly damaged within 200 meters from the high tide line can move into the new houses we build. If they choose to stay there, they will have to repair or rebuild with their own money. The government will not give them any subsidy.

Ground Zero simmers with discontent

Has the Rs 5 lakh for orphans and the Rs 3 lakh for adolescents been deposited with the banks?

The director for social welfare is supposed to do that. We have sent them the list. We have 19 children in that list. 3 children who have lost both parent, all below 14. In the 14 to 18 year old group we have 4 children. In the 18 to 35 age group we have 12 persons.

How are the adolescent girls occupied?

The superintendent of the home has given me a list of what the girls want to study. We can get them a computer and a teacher. We already have sewing machines and a sewing teacher there.

The adolescents are supposed to receive Rs 3 lakhs when they get married. Have any of them asked to get married?

Not yet.

For how many more months is the government going to give free rations?

We will give rations for two more months.

The nowhere people

What was the action the administration took on the night of March 28, 2005?

At around 10:35 pm the district revenue officer got a call from C V Shankar's (Officer on special duty -- relief and rehabilitation) office in Chennai. They said that an earthquake of magnitude 8.2 had occurred in Sumatra. Evacuation will be required. The DRO called all the parish priests and the police along the coast. The district revenue officer, the revenue divisional officer, the additional collector, the tahsildar, the DRO-relief all took over different areas along the coast, they went there to oversee the evacuation.

The superintendent of police also went around. Buses were sent by the state transport corporation. In some places they moved to higher places within the village and at other places they moved in the buses to the next village inland.

I was on my way to Chennai by train. I was informed in Tiruchi. I got down and came back by road. I called them and told them to arrange for breakfast for the evacuated people. 5,000 food packets were to be packed. But then that was not required as the alert was called of. The buses again took the fishermen back to their villages.

The tsunami strikes: The complete coverage

Photograph: Paresh Gandhi


The Rediff Interviews

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