Two years after Pettimudi landslide, victim’s father still awaits death certificate

For many months Shanmughanathan, who lost two children to the Pettimudi landslide, scoured the site in the hope of finding the remains of his elder son Dineshkumar. Now he awaits his death certificate.
Shanmughanathan at Pettimudi landslide site
Shanmughanathan at Pettimudi landslide site
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It’s two years since a landslide claimed 70 lives in Pettimudi near Munnar in Kerala's Idukki district but the kin of some of the victims are still waiting to get a death certificate of their dear ones they lost to the tragic incident. On August 6, 2020, Pettimudi witnessed a landslide that buried estate layams (line houses) under a mound of mud and rubble claiming 66 lives. Four people are still considered missing as their bodies could not be found.

Shanmughanathan lost his two sons – 22-year-old Dineshkumar and 20-year-old Nithishkumar – in the mishap. The youngsters reached Pathuruthy layam in Pettimudi on August 4 to attend the birthday function of the granddaughter of his brother Anantha Sivam. It was meant to be a short visit for a family event but the landslide tragically took away their lives.

Dineshkumar had completed his Bachelor’s degree at Dr Mahalingam College of Engineering and Technology in Tamil Nadu's Pollachi while Nithishkumar was an engineering student at St Joseph's College of Engineering and Technology in Pala in Kottayam. The body of Shanmughanathan’s younger son Nithishkumar was recovered after a long search but that of Dineshkumar could not be traced. For many months after the incident Shanmughanathan would travel 23km from Munnar to the landslide site in Pettimudi every day to look for the remains of his son.

In the absence of a death certificate, Shanmughanathan says he could not even claim the compensation that was due to him. Kin of three others who lost near ones in the mishap are also in a similar situation because the bodies could not be found. Shanmughanathan did not conduct the rites that are usually observed on the 41st day after the death of a family member, until last year, because the body could not be found.

“Earlier, the officials said that they need a special government order to issue the death certificate and compensation to the kin. But I have not yet received the death certificate or compensation. The three other missing people are my relatives. Their immediate kin also didn't get the certificate or compensation," says Shanmughanathan.

Many times he approached the authorities to get the death certificate or nominee certificate of his son. “Revenue officials kept saying they have completed the process. But I am yet to get the certificate and the compensation for my younger son,” alleges Shanmugnanathan.

But Idukki district administration officials are claiming that on the second anniversary of the landslide tragedy the government completed the compensation distribution to all kin of the deceased. A press release issued by the Idukki district administration said that the government has completed the compensation distribution to kin of all the 66 victims. The bodies of four people could not be traced and the government issued a special order and completed the compensation distribution to their kin, the release stated.

Munnar Panchayat secretary K N Sahajan confirmed that they have not issued death certificates to people still missing in the Pettimudy landslide. "The process to issue death certificates to the missing families is in progress and we will issue them soon. When we realised the issue I sent a letter to the Tehsildar to declare the civil death of the four missing people. The order on civil death will be issued soon and then the death certificates can be issued,” he said.

A top revenue official said that without getting death certificates the kin of the missing people can't apply for assistance or compensation.

Only the lives of 12 people could be saved and the rescue operations continued for over 16 days. Apart from that of Dineshkumar, the bodies of   Kasthuri (26), Priyadarshini(7), and Karthika (21) are to be traced..

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