With the onset of the southwest monsoon in Kerala, the residents of Chellanam —a coastal village in Ernakulam district, have started having sleepless nights. Sea erosion, inundated houses and relocation to relief camps is an annual routine for the residents in this village. But this year, the situation is much worse, thanks to the sheer apathy of officials.
About a hundred houses situated along the Velankanni to Bazaar stretch in the panchayat have been flooded within two days after the monsoon started.
Weakening of existing seawall structure and incomplete construction of the new one, has made ferocity of the sea erosion much more severe this time than in the past years.
“I work hard day and night to feed my family, yet have never gone behind anyone asking for alms. But now, I am desperately knocking doors to provide a safe shelter to my family,” says Antony, a fisherman from Chellanam, with welled-up eyes.
Antony’s house is situated near Velankanni in Chellanam, where the irrigation department was supposed to build a geotube seawall, the construction of which has not even reached halfway. “If they knew that the seawall construction could not be completed before the monsoon, they should not have dug up the whole area and broken down the existing old stone seawall,” says Antony.
Unlike Antony, most of the other residents’ grief has turned into anger. As the sea waves lash their compound, residents stand there, muttering about the neglect of the officials.
Geotube seawall project
Geotube seawall project was first mooted by the district administration after Ockhi cyclone hit the coast in the same village in 2017. Two fishermen from the village had lost their lives with about 300 houses being destroyed.
The project was aimed at constructing seawall using geotube, natural or synthetic fibre tubes, stacks filled with sand.
Unfortunately, the seawall project which was mooted then because of the demand of residents, got implemented only in January 2019. But the work remains incomplete.
“As preparation for laying the geotubes, the sand from near the shore was dug up. Since the project has not been completed, this has become more dangerous to us than before. Water gets stagnated there and now easily gets inside the house,” says Babu, a resident of Chellanam.
‘Will die here, will not go to relief camps’
“We are fed up with this pathetic situation that we have to face every year. This has to end once and for all,” say most of the residents that TNM spoke to.
As a protest, the residents have now decided that they will not shift to the relief camps. “We don’t want rice and new bed sheet. That’s what we get every year when we go to the relief camps. We want this problem to end. We want safe homes. We want seawall, or else we are ready to die here,” lashes out Mercy, a resident of the village.
Residents of the coastal village put the blame on officials because of a number of reasons. One, the delay in implementing the seawall project. The project which was mooted in December 2017, got sanction in early 2018 and was supposed to be completed by mid 2018. But it was only finally started by January 2019.
Second, giving tender for the seawall construction to an inefficient contractor. “The geotube seawall construction was stopped within a few days after it began. The reason for this was cited as unavailability of sand. As per the contract, sand has to be taken from the sea. But the contractor did not have the expertise to carry out the task. So why was that particular contractor given the tender if he did not have the expertise,” asks Babu.
Last month, the Irrigation department officials terminated the contractor from the project agreeing that he did not have the expertise. “So why did they waste all this time and money for doing this work. Weren’t they supposed to know about the efficiency of the contractor?” asks another resident Rajan.
“Now after all this delay, they gave us some geobags at the last moment. We stayed awake all night on Monday and filled sand in it and kept it as temporary relief. But there are areas where even this geobag is not done,” Kunjamma, a homemaker says.
Though officials including District Collector and Irrigation Department officers had expressed confidence that measures will be taken to prevent sea erosion before the monsoon starts, it looks like the residents are in for a tough time ahead.