On Tuesday afternoon, nearly a hundred residents from the Arimbur panchayat in Thrissur staged a peaceful protest. Those attending the protest were demanding Rs 10,000 - the 'immediate' relief fund, which the state promised to each flood-ravaged house post the deluge. While the relief money was promised almost as soon as the waters began receding, its execution has come under fire, as several residents are still awaiting their money over a month after the floods.
Out of the 17 wards in Arimbur, six wards were gravely affected by the August floods. TNM reached out to Panchayat members and residents of these wards as well as the Village Officers who collected data (the account numbers and addresses of those affected) from these houses to understand the reason for the delay.
"We had about 34 houses which were badly affected in the floods. Around 1,200 people moved in with their relatives and 1,600 people from Ward 5 lived in camps. The government has promised Rs 10,000 to each house that has been damaged by the floods. Out of this, Rs 3,800 would have been from the Central government and Rs 6,200 will come from the state government's Chief Minister’s Relief Fund," said Sujatha, Panchayat president.
Sujatha says that while several people have received Rs 3,800 in their accounts, there is an unusual delay in receiving the balance of Rs 6,200 (the amount given by the State), and this is vexing its residents.
The pattern is similar in most other wards of Arimbur. Over 124 houses were damaged, fully or partially, in Ward 2 of the village, out 114 houses received only Rs 3,800 from the Central government. There are 5 or 10 families who have not received any money at all, says Ambika, ward member.
In Ward 3, Sudha Sadanandan says that 75% of the 103 houses that were inundated during the floods have got Rs 3,800 only and three families have not received a single rupee to date.
"We have been filing petitions at the village office for the families. When these families left the camps or their relatives' houses, they were promised that they would be get the amount in a week. We don't understand why there is so much delay, especially if you have already transferred a portion of the amount," Sudha says.
However, members acknowledge that technicalities do slow down the process of fund transfer, especially when the number of applicants run into thousands in each village.
"Applications for immediate relief are sent to the Panchayat office. Following this, government officials come to verify the applications and inspect houses. It is after this that account details are collected and sent to the Taluk office for transfer of funds. In some cases there may be errors in account numbers and IFSC codes, which causes a delay in the transfer," says Sujatha.
Village Officer of Veluthur Panchayat, Shaleej, confirms that most delays happen when there are errors in the account details. In some cases the accounts themselves may no longer be live.
"Sometimes residents submit wrong IFSC codes as the banks would have updated their IFSC codes and won't match with the ones given in the residents' passbooks," he says.
Several rounds of checking have to be done before transferring the funds, in case the amount is credited twice to the same family. The village office receives multiple applications from families. Sometimes, two members of the same family apply for the fund from different villages. In other cases, the application would be to receive the Rs 6,200 and this is has to be separated from applications for the Rs 3,800, Shaleej says.
Lastly, fund transfer also happens in a phased manner, which means that lists of accounts where transactions were rejected will be collected only at the end. These lists will be sent back to the Village Officers, who will go and verify the details again with the residents. This process inevitably consumes a lot of time.
While, collection of data and verification take place over the course of a few months, individual families suffer losses owing to the wait. And one such casualty of this rigmarole is Sivaraman Thalapally and his family of 11, who to date have not received any money from the government.
"We stayed in our old house for 32 years. With the floods, we have had to move to a small rented house and we pay Rs 3,500 per month as rent there. We filed the application on August 25. The officials collected our bank details on September 4. We cross-checked with our bank (Catholic Syrian Bank) before giving details and ever since then, everyday, we go to the bank to check our balance. Till now, we have even filed three petitions with the Village Office. But there is no trace of the money yet. How much longer should we wait?" Bindu, Sivaraman's daughter asks.