For Sasidaran Kaniyakudiyil, a native of Keerithode near Cheruthoni in Idukki district, Independence Day this year is quite unforgettable. It was the day when his life took a drastic and unexpected turn in a matter of few minutes. “On the morning of August 15, I left home to buy some milk. A stone’s throw away from his house, I suddenly heard a thunderous sound. When I looked back, I was shocked to see that a landslide washed away my house... my home. At the time, my wife Sarojini was in the kitchen. But the mud and soil had covered my house by then. After five long hours of rescue efforts, the earthmovers removed the body of my wife,” recalls Sasidaran.
Strangely, two weeks ago, Sasidaran learnt that his name or his family’s names have not been included in the list of those who lost their houses in the 2018 deluge and landslides. This means that he will not receive any government assistance to construct a new house. “My wife’s body was recovered from the mud and rubble of the landslide in the presence of the revenue and panchayath officials as well as other representatives. However, my name has not been included in the panchayath list. I submitted a complaint to the district collector in this regard. All they said was that they will consider it, " says Sasi.
It has been more than 100 days since the floods lashed Kerala and the reconstruction work of the district continues to be in limbo. Families in Cheruthoni and nearby villages in Idukki are yet to recover from the flood and landslide-related incidents.
A Catch 22 situation
As per the data from the district administration, the loss incurred by Idukki during the floods is as following:
Out of the partially destroyed houses, 2,500 have been 0 to 15% destroyed, 1,648 have been 16% to 29% destroyed, 1,558 have been 30% to 59% destroyed and 1,400 have been 60% to 74% destroyed.
For the families whose houses have been completely destroyed, the Kerala government had promised compensation of Rs 4 lakh to construct new houses. However, this amount comes with certain mandates - the families must have title deed land and the land must not be in a flood-prone or landslide-prone area.
Incidentally, most of these families, who come from an economically-poor background, do not have title deeds for the land where they have constructed houses. And most of the families, who do not have a title deed, reside in regions where either hydro electrical projects have been abandoned or regions where joint land surveys have not been completed.
In 2016, when the LDF government came to power, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had assured that the state will distribute title deeds to all eligible farmers in Idukki within two years. It also conducted two title deed fests and distributed over 1,40,000 deeds. However, over 50,000 people are still waiting to get title deeds.
The first instalment of Rs 1,01,900 was distributed in the high-range areas in the district, while Rs 95,100 was distributed in the low-lying areas. This was distributed to 80 families.
The government had also announced that the families whose houses were 60% to 74% destroyed will get Rs 2.5 lakh, those whose houses were 30% to 59% destroyed will receive Rs 1.25 lakh, those whose houses were 16% to 29% destroyed will get Rs 60,000 and those whose houses were 0% to 15% destroyed will get Rs 10,000.
Now, in all these cases, none of the eligible families has received the compensation, as the promised amount is yet to be disbursed, reveals the data by the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) wing in Idukki.
Meanwhile, many families have been dropped from the government list. “As per the records, over 280 persons were not included in the main list. The district administration will verify and will include them in the list,” says an official from the Revenue Department.
“The panchayats concerned have prepared the list of the flood-affected families. We suspect that some of the panchayats have excluded some members from the list. We will check the list in detail and rectify the mistakes,” adds the official.
Idukki MLA Roshy Augustine tells TNM that the Kerala government announced a primary assistance of Rs 10,000 to the flood-affected families in Idukki; however, several families have not received this amount.
“As per the government order, only families with a title deed will get the financial assistance to construct a new house. But there are hundreds of affected families who do not have a title deed and thus have been excluded from the compensation list,” says Roshy.
He adds, “Basically, the government failed to keep its promise to carry out the reconstruction works in Idukki. Landslides and floods severely affected many families in various constituencies of Idukki, but many of them didn't get even proper relief in the form of food, clothes and immediate financial assistance.”
Idukki and its people await new lease of life
When all five shutters of the Cheruthoni dam in Idukki were opened on the eve of August 15, it caused massive floods in the region and the neighbouring districts of the state. As a result, the floods washed away and destroyed the houses and land of several families who live on the banks of Cheruthoni river.
For some, the floods washed away their impending plans and ambitions.
Anish, a 32-year-old native of Thadiyampad, was spoken for before the floods destroyed his house and took away all his valuable items. “The wedding has been called off because I have lost my house. We do not have a title deed and we have not been included in the compensation list. I don’t know what to do now,” Anish tells TNM.
The floods also triggered a series of landslides and mudslides in the nearby villages of Cheruthoni. Thadiyamapad, Keerithode, Karimpan, Kanjikuzhi, Konnathadi and Vathikkudy panchayaths were largely affected in the flood and landslides. In fact, it has been more than three months now and signs of landslides and mudslides are still visible along the Cheruthoni to Karimpan route.
Many even had a narrow escape.
Omana, a 52-year-old native of Gandhi Nagar colony, narrowly escaped a landslide that claimed six lives in her neighbourhood: 65-year-old Vanaraj, his 60-year-old wife Kamalam, their grandsons - three-year-old Vishnu and one-year-old Vaishnav - and neighbours Varvilakath Ponnamma and Kunnel Biju. Vanaraj’s son Manikandan and his wife Sharanya, however, managed to escape.
Omana recalls the day. “On August 15, at 4 pm, I heard about a landslide near a church in Cheruthoni town. Later, I noticed the electric posts shaking. My neighbours and I rushed to the spot where the landslide had occurred. When returning home, we saw that a heavy landslide had destroyed Vanarajan’s house. Two of our neighbours, Binu, who was sitting inside a parked autorickshaw and Ponnama, a resident who was on her way to a relief camp to collect a blanket, were trapped in the landslide. Luckily, we had crossed the road seconds before the landslide. The scene is still fresh in my memory,” she says.
Cherithottayil Joseph and family from Keerithode narrowly escaped a heavy landslide. When the landslides took place in the area, mud and stones reached in the near the house. “Three big stones came tumbling near my home and threatens to destroy my house. My son had just begun constructing his home on the land but the landslide destroyed that. Now, I have no money to remove these stones from the area,” says the 72-year-old Joseph.
Fr Jijo Kurian, a Capuchin priest in Idukki who was active in the flood relief work, told TNM, “Idukki needs reconstruction on a large scale. But first, the government should provide temporary settlement facilities to the flood-affected families. Only the government can do this. Hundreds of families are not only homeless, but they also haven’t even received the government announced primary assistance of Rs 10,000.”
Idukki witnessed 278 landslides and 1,800 mudslides last monsoon. A village called Panniyarkutty near Adimali was totally washed away in the landslide. In Idukki, 59 people died in heavy rain and 46 due to landslides. However, the bodies of seven persons have not been recovered yet.
“We disbursed a compensation amount of Rs 4 lakh to 46 families. The bodies of seven missing persons have not been recovered. However, the government will take a final decision on the compensation to the families of the missing persons,” says a revenue department official.
A government primary school in Anaviratty near Adimali, which was closed down following damages to a classroom in the landslide, has not been opened yet. A total of 73 students were studying in the school. After the landslide, the classes were shifted to a small building in Odakkacity near the town, but the students have to travel about 4 km to reach their temporary school. “But after more than three months, the officials are yet to clear the mud from the area and repair the school, said a parent of a student.
Vinu Chandran of Aalinchuvad (near Cherutoni) was also one of the victims of the floods. However, he believes that it was not the floods but the government officials who washed away all his hopes.
“My house and over 50 cents worth agricultural land was situated near the Cheruthoni river. When the shutters of the dam were opened, the revenue officials shifted us from our home to a relief camp. But, within two days, the officials opened more shutters and the subsequent flooding washed away all house,” recounts the 38-year-old.
“My father Chandran reached Cheruthoni in 1973 for the construction work of the dam. Since then, my family has been living in Idukki. Earlier, the dam was opened in 1981 and 1991. But the water never entered our land. We do not have a title deed of the land and hence, we will not be included in the relief list. Presently, we are staying in KSEB quarters,” said Chandran.
“My family plans to conduct my marriage soon, however, it looks like that will have to be put on hold for now,” he says.
The Panniyarkutty village, too, was completely affected by the floods. Eighteen families lost their houses and land in the series of landslides. The residents of Panniyarkutty are yet to recover from the shock of the incident. A post office, library, milk society, church, veterinary hospital, Anganwadi and grocery shops in the village were washed away in the floods.
Mercy Jose, a Ponmudi ward member from Konnathadi Panchayath, says, “Out of 18 affected families in the area, we managed to shift four families into a church-owned building, two into government-owned quarters and three into rented homes. Other families were shifted to their relatives' homes. These families have already been included in the compensation list. However, the construction works or buying of new lands have not begun yet.”
“The reality is that the land and homes of these families have been totally destroyed due to the landslide. Relocation is the only way forward for the Panniyarkutty residents,” says Mercy.
A helping hand
The Idukki diocese, under the Syro Malabar church, has promised to provide land to construct houses for the flood and landslide-affected people in the district. The diocese will provide land to over 170 families in Idukki.
“We have over 12 acres of land in various parts of the district under Idukki diocese. We will give away the land to the homeless people. Each family will be given five cents to 10 cents of land,” says Highrange Development Society director Fr Sebastian Kochupurakkal.
“The recent floods and landslides severally affected most of the parts in Idukki. In Idukki, Konnathadi, Vathikudy and Kanjikuzhi panchayaths were affected. Recently, Idukki Bishop Mar John Nellikkunnel requested to the laity members to provide land to the landless families,” says Fr Sebastian.
“Currently, we will distribute land to 170 families who lost their houses. As per our data, over 300 families lost houses in the area during the floods. The government should provide financial assistance to those who do not have title deeds,” says the priest.