It has been more two weeks since Cyclone Titli struck Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh and most locals are now worried about their sustenance. The main source of livelihood and income in the coastal villages are coconut trees. The cyclone has uprooted more than 4.5 lakh coconut trees in the district of Srikakulam, according to government reports.
The area of Uddanam is severely affected by the cyclone. The mandals include Sompeta, Kaviti, Palasa and Mandasa, where the farmers mostly grow coconut, cashew, teakwood, mango and jackfruit plantations.
In the village of Sahalalaputtuga in Kaviti mandal, more than 50,000 trees have been estimated to have fallen down. The government is giving compensation in the form of Rs 1,200 per tree to the villagers. Coconut water is selling for as cheap as Rs. 30 per litre in and around Srikakulam. A coconut tree usually takes around 5 to 6 years to grow and yield coconuts. The current compensation doesnâ€™t really add up to the loss that the farmers will face in the years to come.
The coconuts have piled up to an extent that it is proving a hindrance to reaching out to locals working towards their rehabilitation. The rescue missions are now working towards selling off these coconuts, by either connecting with the government officials or individuals.
JD Lakshminarayana, a former CBI joint director turned activist has adopted this village of Sahalaputtuga and is coordinating rehabilitation efforts to help the affected population in the mandal. Although the farmers do grow rice, since it was harvested not too long ago, the damage isnâ€™t as much as the coconut trees.
â€śAfter a couple of weeks, people will realise the impact of this loss. They have been growing for 10-12 years now. The coconuts are selling at very cheap rates of Rs. 6 each, which isnâ€™t really feasible for the farmers here but they donâ€™t have other options either,â€ť says Dharmendra Vepari who has been working with JD Lakshminarayana towards rehabilitation efforts. As of now merely 5,000 coconuts have been sold and the locals are looking for people to buy them so the area can be cleared of coconuts as soon as possible.
The coconut trees have already started go bad with pest and insect infestation. The farmers are right now concerned with clearing off the fallen trees before the infestation becomes a menace.
The government officials have been efficient in distributing supplies to the affected people, in terms of water, first aid, food grains and even cooked food in a few locations. Nishanth Reddy Appacherla, one of the deputy collectors who has been stationed at Srikakulam, says, â€śWe are currently involved in enumerating the extent of damage caused by the cyclone. The government is constantly updating information and the status of the rehabilitation efforts with Real Time Governance tools.â€ť
The following infographic, developed by the RTGS portal, gives an estimate of the damage caused by cyclone in terms of roads damaged, homes destroyed, farms flooded, human lives lost, livelihoods and livestock lost.
In terms of helping people restore their livelihoods, volunteers and locals are trying to translocate the dislocated coconut trees. Dharmendra, who has previous experience with translocating trees in other terrains points out to how difficult a task it is to translocate one coconut tree, given the amount of destruction in the region and how the trees have been uprooted.
â€śThe force of the wind has twisted the trees in every possible direction, which means the roots are completely damaged, making it very risky to carry out the translocation procedure,â€ť says Dharmendra.
The locals feel that the trees wonâ€™t survive with this procedure, given the extent of the damage and the number of days since the trees have fallen down.
While the mandal of Kaviti is mostly suited for growing coconut trees and palm trees, the nearby mandal of Palasa is witnessing a huge destruction in the form of cashew nut crop loss. Palasa is quite popular for its cashew nuts among other mandals of Mandasa, Sompeta and Kotabommali.
â€śIn about 8 mandals of the district, there is complete destruction of the crop and in about 15 mandals, there is partial destruction of the cashew crop. Irrespective of the extent of damage in each village, the entire district will take about 8-10 years to recover from the loss,â€ť says Balu Gadi, from Rythu Swarajya Vedika, who has been working the affected people in the district.
In the mandal of Mandasa, the villages that have been particularly affected are the tribal villages of Koitasai, Pettuva, Tobbaru, Burusai, which come under the Hamsarali area. There are about 65 families in all these villages together and most of the farmers are into small scale farming, and own not more than 2 to 5 acres of land. These farmers grow mostly cashew crops and teakwood plantations. While most of the farmers have less than 3 acres of land, there are very few farmers who own five acres of land.
The most severely affected people are the small scale and marginal farmers, because these farmers cannot afford to hire any help to clear the crop lands and if they donâ€™t start working on the crop now, they will be in a financial rut in the months to come. Given the status of the land, most of the marginal farmers say they will be forced to sell their land since they donâ€™t see any hope of receiving financial aid or loans on the damaged crop lands.
Every acre of land has about 100 trees, be it cashew or teakwood. Now the problem is that most of the plantations have been ruined because of the cyclone and to plant new batch, the farmers need to clear off the debris and the ruins. Although the government has cleared road blocks from fallen trees using power saws and plant cutters, the crop lands are yet to be cleared. While farmers who are well off are able to hire people to get the job done, the tribal farmers and small-scale farmers are left to fend for themselves. In order to clear the plants, the farmers are now looking to help from government officials, NGOs or individuals who can help them with equipments or funds to help with the clearing of the crop lands.
In order to get an outside hire to clear off the damage, it nearly cost the farmers Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 to clear off an acre of damaged crop. Instead the farmers are asking for equipments to be loaned or donated so they get the job done by themselves.
The farmers simply do not have the capacity to bear such high costs. Most of the farmers in these villages earn around Rs 30,000 per acre in a year from either cashew or teakwood plantations. Many farmers work for the season on their lands and move to neighbouring districts or even states to find work for the rest of the year. They often end up working as daily wage labour.
The compensation process
The government of Andhra Pradesh has promised Rs 40,000 per hectare as compensation as cyclone relief for the affected farmers who are growing teakwood or cashew crops. This compensation roughly comes down to about Rs 15,000 per acre. The government has also promised monetary help for clearing off the croplands of trees that have been ruined because of the cyclone, under the Mahatma Gandhi Jateeya Grameena Upadhi Hami Padhakam. The compensation is given according to the type of plantation and is given per tree per household for those farmers who hold employment identity cards issued for small scale farmers and daily wage labourers. For instance, under the scheme, if a farmer has a cashew tree, the farmers are promised Rs 300 per tree per household.
In order to claim the compensation, a government official from the Horticulture Ministry will geo-tag the damaged tree or plant and the Grameena Revenue and the local Panchayat officials will come up with a plan to divulge compensation to the affected benefits.
The SDRF (State Disaster Revenue Force) engineer will then survey the damage and subsequently through various channel of the scheme, the information is sent to the District Collector for further approval. After which, the approval letter will be given to the authority which is in-charge of clearing off the damaged trees or plants. After the clearing off the debris, the farmers are then eligible for compensation, which will be done by the authorities running the scheme where the monetary compensation will be credited to the farmersâ€™ bank accounts or post office accounts. Itâ€™s been 12 days since the cyclone has hit the area, and while the relief efforts and damage enumeration is ongoing, the villagers claim that the compensation process is yet to start.
Dr. Krishnamoorti, a farmer from the mandal of Sompeta, says, â€śAlthough the government has already started the survey process in Sompeta, but there are a lot of discrepancies in terms of ascribing the damage to different farmers and some of the names havenâ€™t appeared in the list prepared. The officials said they are going to have another survey in another week or so. We are hoping this time around all thenames will appear on the list.â€ť