As Kerala Govt Plans New Houses, Victims Wish to Stay in Old Ones
People are adamant about staying in their homes, even if damaged.
On Monday, 20 August, Haritha and her family finally returned home to Sundaram Colony in Palakkad. For the last thirteen days, they had been at a relief camp run by the government, waiting for the flood waters to recede. But even if they returned home, they needed help.
On Tuesday afternoon, volunteers from a nearby mosque and college wheeled in lunch on a pushcart to the homes on their street. People took the boxes of food, since most of them have no equipment left to cook their own food.
"The government asked us to continue living in the camp till it gets safer. But we didn't want to stay there, we have to clean our homes," she says, adding that she and her family have been careful not to touch electric switches or appliances.
They have been luckier than several others, like Jyothi, whose houses collapsed in the heavy rain and flooding. Jyothi lives with her husband, parents and siblings in the same colony. A room in their house collapsed completely in the rains and the rest stands precariously. But she still wants to be home.
I want the government to build a house for me fast. I want a house on this land itself and don’t want to shift anywhere else.Jyothi
But it is a low-lying area, what if flood-waters gush in again later?
They can raise the platform and build it.Jyothi
Though there are hundreds still living in the 'Apna Ghar' relief camp at Kanjikode, run meticulously by volunteers and government, many families have returned to their homes. This is one reason why the government is on a war footing to ensure that new houses are built quickly, so that people whose houses were damaged completely or have become unliveable can be shifted out.
We have almost finalised a plan for the new houses. The government will also repair damages in these places that were severely damaged.MB Rajesh, MP, CPI(M)
There are around 86 plots in Sundaram colony, with 4 rooms in each plot. Most houses were built by the government in 1986. Rajitha works as a help in a hospital while her husband Suresh is a contruction worker. The roof of their house was damaged in the rains and all their posessions destroyed.
We are ready for any plan the government gives to accomodate us, as long as it is in this vicinity. We have no power, only the street lights are back. We just need the Village officer and the Collector to finish the houses fast.Rajitha
Not far from Sundaram Colony is Shankuvarathode. Around 45 houses here are right next to a canal that overflowed on the night of August 8. Around 10 houses were completely damaged and all the others have sustained severe damage and may collapse anytime. Here too, people have come back to live, fearing they will lose their tiny houses forever.
Government officials say that this fear is irrational as a plan was being made to include everyone in a new housing project. A CPI(M) member TNM spoke to alleged that certain groups were instigating people into going back to their houses, instilling fear in their minds. The fears, rational or otherwise, are strong.
The roof of Rabiya's house came crashing down on 8 August. She could not retrieve any of her belongings that night as snakes came along with the water. “We were scared for our lives and then there were the snakes”, she explains. But now she is back, and not willing to go anywhere else.
I am living in the one room of my house that still has a roof above my head. I will stay in a new house that the government builds here, I won’t move anywhere else,Rabiya
Congress MLA Shafi Parambil told TNM that they were trying to chalk out the best plan for a new housing system.
The government has sanctioned Rs 4 lakh for each family that lost their house. We are in constant consultation with the Collector on how and where to build these houses, as fast as possible. We also need to consider those people who were living on rent, but lost all their belongings.Shafi Parambil, MLA, Congress
Both the MP and MLA said that they were trying to rope in private players who could also help in the rebuilding.
Though Palakkad district did not witness flooding after 15 August, when the rest of the state did, the inundation on 8 and 9 August had destroyed almost 300 houses in the town and adjacent areas. Many people who were in relief camps inside the town are unwilling to go to the Apna Ghar camp in Kanjikode, a few kilometers from the town.
This, despite the government promising them free bus services to travel to the town for work, and to the schools and colleges once they reopen. But the immediate priority is to build new house, the politicians say.
(This story was first published on The News Minute and has been published with permission.)
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