FOR WHOM THE BHEL TOLLS?
By K Vijayachandran
For whom the bhel tolls? This was the title of P Ramamurthy’s (PR) second book on BHEL-Siemens Collaboration. The first book was published in November 1978. It was titled: STOP BHEL’s DANGEROUS TRUCK WITH SIEMENS. He had qualified this book, published by the Center for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), as an investigative analysis of the process of mortgaging a core public sector undertaking to a West German multinational and its impact on other industries. He initiated this struggle from within and outside of the Indian Parliament and caught the attention of the Indian people in good measure.
PR was a Member of the Indian Parliament and for professionals like me, who had developed as the first generation power plant engineers in the country as part of BHEL (www.bhel.com), it was a protracted struggle from within that public sector for more than two years. Echoes of this struggle were heard even during the recent struggle against the divestment proposals by the UPA Government. Thanks to the uncompromising stand of the TU movement in the country, UPA Government was forced to given an assurance against the further divestment of BHEL and nine other Central Public Undertakings, known as Navaratna companies.
BHEL, like the other core sector public enterprises, founded by the Central Government as part of the national five year plans, had served the country as its technology generators in the power sector. Heavy machine building, mining and metallurgy, energy, electric power, transport, communications etc, identified as core sectors of the national economy, where a high level of technological self reliance was considered essential for rapid economic development of the country. Heavy Electricals India Ltd (HEL) was set up in 1958 in Bhopal, with the technical cooperation of Amalgamated Electrical Industries (AEI) of UK. This was the first of its kind in Indian subcontinent for the manufacture of steam turbines and turbo generators (up to 30 MW), hydro turbines and generators of medium capacity, transformers, switch-gear, high capacity motors etc, needed for the rapid electrification of the country.
The initial stock of technocrats, or the techies as per new jargon, needed for building up this heavy equipment industry in the country, was drawn from the Indian Railways. Fresh diploma holders and graduate engineers were recruited in large numbers, as engineering draftsmen, engineer trainees and supervisors. Large scale training facilities were set up at Bhopal for training up machinists, welders, fitters, foundry men, blacksmiths and all possible modern trades. These massive unprecedented training institutions, set up during the initial years of HEL Bhopal, continue to exist as top-class HRD centers for the engineering industry in the country, even today.
Engineers and technicians recruited by HEL had gone to AEI works in UK, for on the job training by British experts, who had come to India in large numbers to set up the production lines in HEL. However, even the capacities planned in HEL were considered grossly inadequate for the power development programs envisaged by Indian planners and the political leaders. Private industries of UK were found wanting in many respects, especially in training up Indian engineers and in transferring production technologies and design skills. Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia came in to give a big push to India’s electrification program, by setting up large scale facilities in three additional locations: Hardwar with Soviet Collaboration and Hyderabad and Trichy with Czechoslovak collaboration, in addition to the Bhopal plant that was already coming up.
Induction programs were organized by Russian and Czechoslovak experts on a large scale, to teach the basics in power plant engineering, manufacturing technologies and also imparting a working knowledge in Russian or Czech language. A separate company with headquarters at Delhi was formed in 1962, under the name and style, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), for managing the massive technology collaborations with the Socialist Block that could cover the power development needs of the third, fourth and fifth five year plans.
Larger capacity turbo-sets of 60, 100, 120 and 220 MW and matching boilers and auxiliaries, large capacity hydro turbine generators (100 MW), as well as the complete range of electrical and mechanical equipment needed for the massive electrification of Indian subcontinent were covered under these collaboration agreements with socialist countries, involving more than a dozen enterprises. Later HEL was merged with BHEL and brought under a single corporate management.
New product lines were launched and new technical collaborations entered into with foreign companies, on the basis of well identified needs of the national economy. By the early seventies, BHEL started attracting international attention from the West as well as East, and this writer was the performance designer of the first set of power boilers to be designed, manufactured exported from the country: Destination was Port Dickson thermal power plant in Malaysia: Opening up to external markets had its own merits and demerits.
By mid seventies BHEL had grown into a large corporation with nearly three dozen technical collaborations and product lines, each with its own market possibilities, even outside of power sector. This had called for unification, diversification as well as standardization of production technologies at the corporate as well as unit level. As part of a massive re-organization of the engineering function in BHEL as a whole, autonomous Engineering Development Centers (EDCs) were established for each and every one of the three dozen major products.
This was then followed by the formation of Corporate Engineering and Marketing Functions and Corporate R&D: Corporate Planning, Corporate Human Resource Development and Corporate Finance functions were highly imaginative organizational innovations that transformed BHEL’s Head Quarters in Delhi into a multi product corporate entity. With all these, BHEL succeeded in setting up a highly progressive corporate engineering culture that turned out to be the envy of even the private sector, struggling under the tyranny semi-feudal cultural environs.
In terms of business development, BHEL was a roaring success, thanks to the discipline of national planning and the steady flow of orders from State Electricity Boards, National Thermal Power Corporation (www.ntpc.com) and other public utilities, and patronage extended by other public enterprises. Corporate Management of BHEL found it fit to declare the company as an International Citizen and started paying more and more attention on exports. It was even theorized that, if BHEL were to be competitive in the international market in the long run, a long-term association with a leading foreign multinational company was absolutely essential. Product profile of BHEL was argued to be similar to that of Siemens, a West German multinational, with twenty times the turnover of BHEL.
A preliminary understanding on technical collaboration was reached during the days of internal emergency, and a formal draft agreement initialled on 27 Sept 1977, soon after George Fernandez signed up as the Minister for Heavy Industries. SVS Raghavan took over as Chairman of BHEL on 1st Sept from V Krishnamurthy, who had moved in as the Secretary to Government for Heavy Industry: He was the chief architect of the BHEL-Siemens collaboration. It was an umbrella-type, broad based long term agreement, covering almost all products of BHEL, present as well as future, for a period of fifteen years and extendable by ten years.
According to the proposed deal, BHEL was entitled to sign collaboration agreements with Siemens for any or all of the products in Siemens range: Siemens were obliged to provide the technology on demand by BHEL and debit the charges to its account: In addition, BHEL would pay Siemens an annual royalty of 1.8 percent of its gross turnover. Laws of the land had permitted BHEL to go only for need-based and short-term technical collaborations. The new agreement was a violent attack on the policy of technological self-reliance, professed and practiced by the country after national independence.
The new Chairman, SVS Raghavan, was under pressure to finalise the deal at the earliest: However, he preferred the democratic route of circulating the draft agreement within the fairly large engineering community that has been developing rather rapidly, thanks to the ongoing corporate reforms within BHEL. Engineering Development Managers of nearly every product had expressed their reservations and registered their dissent on the umbrella tie-up collaboration: They preferred to continue with the need based approach in seeking new technical collaborations. .
Appraisals and apprehensions expressed by the rank and file engineers were summarized by F Haque, the Director Commercial of BHEL, in his official note of 4th April 1978, later reproduced in PR’s book and was taken as evidence by the Committee On Public Undertakings (COPU) headed by Jyotitmoy Basu. This had led to a massive rejection of the draft agreement by the rank and file in the organisation The Minister blamed the Chairman for the growing resistance against the umbrella agreement within BHEL and was asked to resign within six months of his appointment. Trade Unions of all political persuasions jointly served a unanimous protest note to the Minister on the ouster of an efficient and well-meaning Chairman: CITU was on the forefront of this national campaign, demanding the reinstatement of the ousted Chairman.
Engineers in BHEL did not have, at that time, any association or union to voice their collective dissent. But, patriotic sections of the engineering staff had no hesitation to join hands with the TU leaders to develop a nationwide debate on the umbrella collaboration, using whatever forums and methods that were available. They prepared critical notes and analysis of the umbrella deal and circulated them among the employees, newsmen and members of parliament, in support of the patriotic campaign against it by BHEL employees, supported by the TU movement at the all India level.
I remember the enthusiasm and dedication with which the late Palival and other LIC comrades of Delhi helped us in this protracted struggle. PR’s investigative analysis published by the CITU Center in Nov1978 was a landmark in this national debate. Newspapers and journals started publishing detailed reviews of the book, and scores of seminars were organized in metros and principal cities of the country by CITU and in good many of them, PR himself had participated.
BHEL top management, Siemens and Heavy Industries Ministry lined up prominent columnists in every major news paper and journals on the other side of this national debate and grass-root level campaigns. Prem Shanker Jha published his BHEL-Siemens Story in the Times of India and PR questioned the wrong priority given to exports in the search for technologies and concluded his long letter to editor in the following words: “When the needs of the (internal) market are to be met by ready-made technology and design capsules (from Siemens) for 15 or 25 years where is the scope for indigenous R&D? Actually whatever development has taken place in R&D will be quietly buried………The proposed agreement, in reality, is the severest possible condemnation of our undoubtedly talented engineering and scientific community”.
Rajyasabha discussed the Seamen’s deal on 20th March 1979 and thanks to PR’s critical exposures, the Union Cabinet was compelled to refer the draft deal to a committee of its own members. Prem Shanker Jha, who was also the editor of Economic Times, wrote an editorial on 14th April criticizing this cabinet decision. This editorial article, titled ‘Inexcusable Dithering’ had branded PR as an incompetent witness, while judging on issues of technology. PR was a Parliamentarian par excellence and Jha had to offer unconditional apologies.
Many people outside of CITU had thought that, the book in his name was written by somebody within BHEL. In my capacity as his closest collaborator, I would say that the book was entirely his creation. Myself and several other engineers and scientists had passed on to him quite a few documents and reports on the deal during the protracted struggle against it and he had a wealth of information from the parliamentary sources including the COPU. On return to Delhi from one of his long campaign tours, PR surprised me by handing over a few dozen pages of printed matter: He simply informed me that he had written a book on the Siemens deal and N Ram was helping him in its printing.
PR had asked me to read through carefully the proof and check for factual errors if any: He had, as I remember, strictly warned me against leaving any mark or corrections of my own on the paper. I returned the papers on the very next day. There was nothing much in the proof to correct, but for a single spelling mistake of a five letter word, on which I took the liberty of correcting in my own hand. Neither me nor PR had counted it to be of any consequence and the proof was cleared for printing. However, this wrongly spelt five letter word developed into something far more interesting within a few months.
Siemens lobby was quite powerful within BHEL organisation and Government: However, the policy prescription for umbrella collaboration with an MNC on a long term basis, in order to ensure competitiveness in international market had failed to find many takers. They counted it as a defeat and soon started victimisation and witch-hunting of those, who had helped the national campaign led by PR. A senior CBI officer of Bengal Cadre picked me up from my Office at Connaught Place, and took me in his car for questioning in his RK Puram cabin. He was very pleasant to begin with and wanted to know from me, the names of BHEL Officers, who had violated the Official Secret Act (OSA) by collaborating with PR.
I took pity for this Bengali officer who was forced to investigate on the leakage of information, and not on the crimes or wrongs committed against the country by officials and politicians, as alleged by PR in his well documented publication. This naturally infuriated the gentleman officer who instantly handed me over to a more businesslike Sub Inspector who was consistently rude with me from the very beginning. He wanted my specimen handwriting, but I refused to cooperate. Then he produced the good old galleys from the Syndicate Printers of Chennai, who had printed PR’s book, about an year ago.
True, there was the five letter word correction on page 51, and I was told that CBI knew whose handwriting it was. Many Delhi Newspapers reported the details of my encounter with CBI and Prabhu, a senior journalist in Financial Express at that time, put it out as a box item on the front page of his paper with a catchy headline: For whom the bhel tolls?
Collaborating with PR was charged as an offense under Official Secret Act (OSA) leading to questioning and harassment by CBI. For myself and my wife, who was also employed in BHEL as a structural engineer in the projects engineering division. It was a sort of protracted struggle for nearly two years and we decided to resign from BHEL and set up an engineering and management consultancy firm at Kochi. I had requested the management to relieve me on 31st Dec 1979 on completion of : However, on that very day evening when I was expecting my relief order I was suspended from service, pending inquiry by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) who had framed up a case against me alleging violation of OSA.
However, I refused to cooperate with the CVC and in the meanwhile Indira Gandhi came back to power in the 1980 General Elections. PR brought in a call attention motion in the Rajya Sahba on 26th April, on my victimization by BHEL management in the specific context of Siemens controversy which had been debated by the house more than once. He spoke extempore for nearly two hours on the deal: This was then followed by Kulkarni and several other members of Rajyasabha came in support of him.
It was my proud privilege to listen to this half day debate in the Indian Parliament, which came to a close with an assurance by R. Venkataraman, the new Minister for Heavy Industries and later President of India. CITU published an edited version of this extempore speech by PR under the title: For whom the BHEL tolls?
Charges against me for violating OSA were withdrawn and an inquiry was ordered to study and report the desirability of the Siemens deal: Later a commission headed by Dr. Rala Ramanna, the then Chairman of BARC, had summarily rejected it as totally undesirable. The anti-Siemens struggle of late seventies in BHEL had contributed in a big way to unite the TU movement in BHEL at the corporate level with a coverage of around 75,000 employees in some three dozen operating divisions spread all over the country.
The engineering and management staff of BHEL who were denied basic TU rights in the seventies have today a BHEL Executives Forum at the corporate level: K Ashok Rao, who played a lead role in the anti-Siemens struggle in BHEL is the patron of the All India Power Engineers Federation, today: His recent paper titled, Private generation-boon or bane?
Dr. A Gopalakrishnan the former Chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India (AERBI) who had later put up a stiff fight against the US nuclear deal was very much a part of the anti-Siemens struggle while in BHEL. My interview with him on India’s nuclear deal with US may be read as a wordpress bolg: https://kvijaya40.com/2015/07/23/indo-us-nuclear-deal/
This blog is a slightly edited version of my article published by The Electricity Employees Federation India (CITU), as part of its PR Centenary celebrations in February 2007
MEMORIES OF TSUNAMI RELIEF 2004
AND KERALA FLOODS 2018
By Engr. K Vijayachandran F.I.E
The recent flood disaster of Kerala has driven more than a million people to refugee camps; that is around ten percent of the population in the State. It was the third natural disaster within a brief span of 14 years: All the three were water related and close to the coastal belt, and local fishermen and their class and mass organizations were actively involved in the relief work, organized by State Government.
The Tsunami of 2004 had struck my native village as well, and I had tried to study the dynamics of these relief efforts, at close quarters. The attached reports of 30-12-2004 and 27-01-2005 were based on my direct observations during these visits. I had copied them to the Chief Minister of the then UDF Ministry, as well as some of the senior officers including the Late Shri V Ramachandran, who was at that time serving as the Vice Chairman of State Planning Board in an honorary capacity.
Very typical of this great bureaucrat of Kerala, who had served not only the UDF and LDF governments of Kerala but also the GOI in different capacities, had responded to my Tsunami reports with a cryptic comment: “Your observations are to the point and perfectly rational, and hence unlikely to be accepted by the Government”.
Situation has not changed much even after fifteen years, and that is why I am publishing the two documents, today, as a wordpress blog.
22nd August 2018
TSUNAMI DISATER ON KERALA COAST
VISIT TO RELIEF CAMPS AND ALAPPADU VILLAGE
(Report by K Vijayachandran dated 30.12.2004)
My ancestral village, Clappana, is right on the eastern side of Ayiramthengu Kayal; on the west is Alappadu, the worst affected village in Kerala with more than a hundred Tsunami deaths. Yesterday, on 29th December, three days after the disaster, myself along with my brothers, visited four refugee camps between Ochira on NH-47 and Ayiramthengu on National Waterway-3 and then crossed over to the disaster struck areas in a country boat.
Alappadu village panchayat is a ten kilometer stretch of land, hardly a kilometre wide, starting from the Kayamkulam pozhi on the North. A population of 25000 is distributed over thirteen wards and the worst hit were the three northern most wards, starting from the north side of Amrthanandamayi Ashram. The seven storied RCC structure of the Ashram, housing hundreds of foreign devotees is the major landmark of the locality. There was no damage to this Ashram structure, but the few hundred dwellings nearby, built as Amma’s fiftieth birthday gift to the poor, were washed off in Tsunami fury. Amma and other inmates of the Ashram sought asylum in the Engineering and Ayurveda College premises, just across the backwaters. Possibly this is the biggest and least reported relief camp among the more than 150 that sprang up along Kerala coast on that black Sunday.
There was a camp within the premises of Ochira Temple, organised by RSS. On the other side of the road, within the Government High School premises, we saw a secular camp, from where volunteers with DYFI badges were being driven away. In the four camps we visited, there were heaps of garments and clothing, bananas, topioca, vegetbles, coconuts and other food supplies, which were pouring in under the initiative of numerous social and political organisations in the neighbourhood. Revenue officials who are asked to co-ordinate these spontaneous responses as well as the activities of other departments, can hardly cope up with that crucial function. This was a common complaint repeatedly heard from the victims themselves.
The northern wards of Alappadu Panchayat, were full of people during our visit in the afternoon. There were in plenty of idle visitors like ourselves. There were the volunteers of RSS and Seva Bharati who have come from long distances and the workers and contractors of Electricity Board, Water Authority etc who were busily repairing the damages. And, a large number of local residents had come on a short visit from their relief camps to have a look at their damaged homesteads coconut palms or feed the surviving cattle and poultry. Refugees were naturally keen to return from the camps at the earliest opportunity but the fear of Tsunami recurring and the backwater barriers were holding them back.
We had a lengthy dialogue with a senior citizen who had come on a short visit from the relief camp, along with her daughter, to feed the half a dozen cattle that had survived. He described how the awful Tsunami waves roused up to 3 to 5 meter height above the random rouble sea-wall and sweeping away people, cattle and week building structures but hardly any coconut trees, which were in plenty all over the place. And the whole show was over in less than five minutes; after spraying instant death, water receded leaving a layer of black illminite sand of some three to six inches thick.
Running away into the safety of the mainland was the only option and there was no question of loosing a moment. In the mass hysteria that followed, all possible crafts were commandeered by the sane, in order to cross the lake, carrying with them the children, the disabled and the dead. Panic crossed even the backwaters and people of the mainland joined the fleeing humanity, taking with them whatever little belongings they could lay their hands on. Even people living three kilometre east of coastline were in the relief camps on Sunday and Monday nights, even though they had no earthly reason to panic. This had exaggerated the number of refugees, possibly by a factor of four or five.
This raises certain fundamental questions related to rehabilitation: how many houses were actually damaged by tsunami and how many people were rendered homeless? A quick survey of the locality revealed that, nearly half of the dwellings in the area has survived the ocean fury and they were of good brick and cement construction or were located away from the sea front. Nearly a third of the buildings were marginally damaged and could be easily repaired back to good condition. Another third was totally destroyed and have to be built anew; these were mostly structures right on the sea front. There were around six thousand census households in 2001 in the whole of Alappadu Panchayat and the affected wards may account for about a third of this. Totally destroyed dwellings in Alappadu may not exceed 1000 and possibly the same number will need repairs. Compared to the totality of destruction brought in by the tsunami and compared to the damage inflicted on our neighbouring state, these damages look marginal. With the type of response forthcoming from all quarters, it is not a difficult task to give back the affected people their homesteads, to repair the roads and phone lines, to restore the supply of water and electricity, and to restore normal life in Alappadu Panchayat.
However, relief operations need to be revamped immediately, so as to refocus it directly on the people affected and not hijacked by the whims and fancies of official machinery and temptations of parliamentary politics. Instant promises of bridges on two locations and total reconstruction of panchayats etc. may appeal to vote banks and may have some long term relevance. Immediate need is to rehabilitate the people in relief camps and get them back to their homesteads and work places as quickly as possible. Following suggestions may be considered for this purpose.
(1) All major camps are across the backwaters and three to five kilometres away from Alappadu; this is a major impediment in rehabilitation work. As soon as the official controversy on recurrence of tsunami is settled, steps should be initiated to shift all the camps to the Alappadu Paaanchayat.
(2) All Government offices and public establishments like schools, hospitals etc in the panchayat should get opened and start functioning at the earliest.
(3) In each ward two or three relief camps may be set up in temporary pandals or shamiana, under the direct charge of the local panchayat member; he is to be assisted and guided by an all party committee or grama-sabha, as envisaged under Panhayat Act. All relief work in the ward should be routed through this legal arm of Alappad Panchayat. Coverage of a relief camp may be limited to about 100 homesteads.
(4) People in the present camps are to be persuaded to report to the appropriate ward level relief camps and this transfer process can be completed within ten days. People can stay in these camps, resume their vocations, tend the farms, organise repair or reconstruction of their homesteads.
(5) Changadam or Jhankar Service should be put into operation by the PWD in four localities, Ayramthengu, Clappana, Thurayil Kadavu and Vallikkavu for the safe and efficient transport of men and materials across the canal. Alternatively eight motor boats of adequate capacity may be hired for this task. Jetties and loading and unloading gears should be installed on either side with the help of Inland Water Transport Corporation (IWTC) who has an office at Ayiramthengu. All internal roads damaged should be repaired immediately and connected to the jetties thus constructed.
(6) Alappad is typical rural slum on Kerala beaches with a population load of over 2000 persons per sqkm. Alternative layouts and technologies may be tried wherever possible through the co-operative initiatives of the people. Well laid out roads, community spaces, farms and work places will add great value to these otherwise improvised human settlements.
(7) Alappad Panchayat may constitute expert committees, with locally available talents for advising on (a) healthcare, (b) house reconstruction, (c) transport and other infrastructure, and (d) fishing and farming. Services and involvement of public sector organisations such as, KSEB, KWA, KSRTC, IWTC, NTPC, KMML, IRE and their employees may be utilised for this purpose.
(8) The experts committees and resource persons identified during the Peoples Planning Programme may be put to maximum use wherever it is possible and desirable.
Similar approach as above can be adopted in the other affected panchayats as well, as per laws and Kerala Government may form a State Level Advisory committee to co-ordinate the work, and give policy guidelines taking into account the common origin of their problems.
This is the real political issue to be ceased on by all right thinking people and by the left and democratic forces. Trading on human misery is mean politics and enlightened opinion in the State should assert itself to save its fair name India’s political map. There is the example of West Bengal Government when it organised massive relief work with the direct involvement of elected panchayat institutions during the devastating floods of 1977.
(Former Chairman, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation)
[end of first report]
ALAPADU REVISITED: THE AGONY OF REHABILITATION
(Second report filed by K Vijayachandran dated 27.01.2005)
1. Tsunami disaster killed 160 people in Kerala. Most deaths were on the seashores of the northern most six wards of Alappadu, our neighbouring panchayat. Our ancestral house is just across the Ayiramthengu kayal, some three KM the disaster area. Entire population of these six wards, estimated at15,000 had crossed the kayal seeking the safety of mainland and this fleeing humanity picked up many more people on its way by the evening when it reached the numerous emergency close to NH-47. About two dozen make-shift camps were active in this region, when I visited the area on 2nd January, seven days after the disaster. Many of these camps were closed down within the next few days, as the fear of repeat by tsunami receded. By mid January, the camps were being reorganised and moved closer to areas of disaster, as the first step toward rehabilitation.
2. I filed my first report after my visit on 5th January, and the present report is based on my second and third visits. On 14th , I visited the relief camps at Ochira and Ayiramthengu and on 27th January, I spent a whole day in the tsunami affected wards of Alappadu panchayat. The eight kilometre stretch of seashore, from the fishing harbour project in the North to the Ashram of Vallikkavu Amma in the South, was covered mostly on foot and partly by public transport (buses) which have resumed their operations in full swing. Walking on the heavy ilmenite surface of the beach roads was a joy, with dust free fresh air all around the tropical sun shaded by coconut crowns. There were men and women all along, walking, debating on the relief operations, playing cards, collecting water from public taps, sorting out damaged records, repairing, household articles or feeding the cattle. Overall mood was of leisure. No children were seen and possibly were in schools that had reopened were still bound to the far off relief camps.
3. More than half the people have returned to their homesteads with some five to six thousand continuing to stay in the five refugee camps. Only one camp was functioning on the sea shore and the other four were operating from across the kayal. Their inmates have to ferry themselves in boats every day and foot a couple of kilometres to reach their homesteads. Most of the refugees staying in these camps, other than children and the aged, cross the waters daily, and walk up this distance for attending to the cattle, watering of plants or repairing and cleaning up of houses and implements. This is delaying return to normal life in several ways and is a major irritant. Whomsoever, I could meet on the roads or in the camps were of one opinion: two or three small sized camps may be opened immediately in each of the six wards and the uprooted people moved as close as possible to their original habitats or homesteads. Smaller homogenous groups, by themselves, will serve as sources of comfort and strength and large heterogeneous crowds of refugees are not amenable to easy rehabilitation.
4. Such views were endorsed even by the inmates of the only camp operating on the seashore. It was operating from the premises of the fisheries harbour project in Ward No.1, close to the Kayamkulam Pozhi. I picked up a conversation with a couple of youngsters in this camp identifying myself as a local man. This soon turned out to be a large meeting of some fifty inmates, men and women young and old. Majority of the 2000 (number not based on any register) inmates of this camp were reportedly from ward No.1 and a few from Ward No 2. They were all critical of the emergency construction of the half a dozen camp sheds of 1500 SQF each in the harbour project area. In their view, this was a clear misuse of relief funds. Returning to their homesteads and work places at the earliest was top priority for the inmates of the camp. They look at this new construction with hostility, and as a conspiracy for holding them as hostages in the name relief and charity. I had a brief discussion with Camp Officer, the Village Officer of nearby Panmana Village: His main worry was feeding the inmates vegetarian food which is naturally resisted by the fishermen and providing with other comforts and daily necessities. Obviously, it was a tough posting for a man who has crossed fifty.
5. The second camp directly managed by Government is in a High School building at Valiakulangara, on the other side of the kayal and located some three kilometre mainly serving the refugees from Ward No.4. There were reports on the inmates of this camp revolting against the poor quality of relief and the prolonged stay away from their habitats: They have to spend much more time, effort and money for the daily routine visits to their homesteads. Even after a month in the camps there is no plan in sight for their rehabilitation. Inmates of the camp at Ayiramthengu were mostly from Ward No 3, just across the kayal. It is reportedly run by the Disaster Management Institute of Poona with Government assistance. The Jhankar service operated there, through an Ex-Servicemen outfit is of great help to relief operations in general and the inmates of this camp in particular. The two other relief camps on the other side of the kayal are run by Amma, in the hostel buildings of the new Engineering and Ayurveda College started by Amma last year. Inmates of these camps reportedly numbering over 2000 were mostly from the fifth and sixth wards. They are satisfied by the holistic approach of the camp authorities as claimed by the spokesmen of the Mutt which has opened more than a dozen food posts, two each for on every KM or ward along the coastline. Breakfast is served at 8.00 AM and Lunch at 1.00 PM. People of the locality gather in small numbers, collect their food and eat in leisure. For now, Amma is wholesome food, bliss and contentment, but the prolonged vegetarian diet is slowly biting into the nerves of fisher-folks.
6. People living in the relief camps hate to continue there. Torn away from their neighbourhoods and living environment, they feel fish out of water in the camps where they are forced to share things with strangers. Looking after the cattle, children’s education, security of personal belongings, attending to standing crops or coconuts, and repairing of whatever little personal belongings that were spared by tsunami are their daily concerns. Nearly half the population of the six tsunami affected wards have returned to their homesteads. The other half continues with their refugee status mainly because they see no hope of returning to productive engagements in the foreseeable future. Boats and fishing gears need to be repaired or replaced by their owners. There are no plans or funds to help them with capital expenses for restarting production. Owners want assistance for replacing the destroyed productive assets and replenishing the working funds which have just melted away. Maybe there are a greedy few, who are trying to misuse the situation and this has started creating bad blood among the refugees. Formal finance was virtually out of reach for the fishing industry here and I could not spot any formal financial institution on the entire eight kilometre stretch of the beach road. Informal financiers who dominate our fishery sector are possibly waiting for a kill. All these are issues to be sorted out first, if people are to get back to productive employment. How to re-establish, re-create or replace the pre-tsunami production relations and get back to the market is the priority question. Reconstructing the informal fishery economy in the area is a truly complex task, in fact a revolutionary task. But there are no signs of such initiatives by the State Government nor by the political parties social movements that are active in the locality. Rehabilitation work has not yet caught the imagination of the relief administration which is presently led by the revenue department. This is a major lacuna that need to be addressed immediately.
7. In fact a lot can be done by the Panchayat, provided the State Government and the mainstream political parties take the initiative for fully using their status granted under the Indian constitution. True, disaster management is possibly the responsibility of State Government but this can be selectively delegated to the panchayats by the State or Central Government. All over the area, there were sign boards of religious, caste, social and political organisations engaged in relief work but not a single one from the local panchayat elected by the people. Alappadu has a woman panchayat president. She was elected as a member from Ward No.1 and normally resides on the other side of the Kayal. My efforts to meet the President and the Members of the Panchayat did not succeed, mainly because of lack of time from my side: it was difficult to locate them.
8. My first report from Alappad had suggested setting up of two or three camps in each of the affected wards, under the direct charge of the concerned panchayat member who could be helped by local experts and an all party committees. Relief work in the central camps across the kayal and away from the homesteads of the affected people, under the supervision of revenue department, has now entered the second month. There is no sign of any meaningful rehabilitation programme emerging from the numerous committees announced by the Chief Minister and the sufferings of the people are mounting everyday. Life of even those who have returned to their homesteads is becoming more and more unbearable. There is no work and no income for meeting non-food expenses which are outside the scope of relief camps and indebtedness is rapidly mounting among the poorer sections. And there is no talk about how and when they could get back to employment or about unemployment doles and other benefits taken for granted by civil societies of twenty-first century.
9. Tsunami tragedy that has struck the people of Alappadu was nothing compared to the counterparts elsewhere, in Tamilnadu or in Andaman & Nicobar. Help of all sorts were poring in from all directions, but relief delivery at the local level was totally defective and rehabilitation measures have not taken shape even after a month. Total number of families to be rehabilitated in the State, including the worst affected Alappadu, may not exceed five thousand. Compared to the relief that has reportedly poured in, in cash and in kind, this must be a small job. But the entire state administration, with its numerous departments and institutions, seems to be incompetent to take on this responsibility. Tsunami disaster has thus exposed a basic flaw in our civil administration: near total absence of local level governments, responsible for the life and welfare of the people. Kerala, especially its Left, had always boasted for its grass root level democracy and the goodies brought in by the five years of the so called people’s planning, supported by all and sundry. None of the political parties, social activists and organisations, from the Left, Right or Centre, has demanded the effective use of Panchayat Raj institutions in relief and rehabilitation work. They had their own pet solutions and theories to offer, vane, self centred and typical of all elite groups quite out of touch with ground realities.
10 Amma of Vallikkavu was in her establishment in Ward No. 6 when tsunami struck Alappadu. It was my first visit to this part of the beach, after she had outgrown her surroundings and built up a huge establishment of her own. KSRTC operates Fast Passenger and Express buses to various destinations in the State, from Paraya Kadavu, not yet re-christened after its world famous Amma, a drop out from the local primary school who was recently invited to address a spiritual conclave under the auspices of UNO. She was born into the traditional fishermen community of Dheevaras, whose local Karayogam proudly owns some twenty cents of land and a small dilapidated commercial building, close to the bus stop. Just on the other side of the beach road are layers and layers of hutments of Dheevaras and Ezhavas, who struggle hard to retain their separate caste identities. The narrow, dingy and ill-kept lanes, right through the unhygienic cluster of dwellings of the poor, lead to the multi-storied estates of Amma, built in steel and concrete, possibly violating in letter and spirit not only the provisions of CRZ but also the usual norms for building living spaces. A large hospital complex, hostel complex and Ashram establishment, with a total inmate strength of three to four thousand, crowd an acre of land.
11. Amma has outgrown her community, her panchayat, the state and even the republic. However, she maintains an uneasy co-existence with her immediate neighbourhood slums, that continue to challenge her with some alien ideology. With her Rs.100 Crore offer in charity, for tsunami relief work, she could possibly adopt a hundred panchayats like Alappadu. But the idea of Alappadu Panchayat adopting Amma remain largely utopian. When I suggested the idea to a neighbour of Amma, a Dheevara youth, the initial response was not at all encouraging. My proposal was to transform a couple of kilometres South and North of Ashram, into a special economic zone of Amma Inc, for spiritual or religious services, with international prayer halls, conference halls and the like. The youth was living close by, with his ageing father, elder brother and family. Tsunami had taken away their catamaran and there was a new one being chiselled into shape, for replacing the pr-historic fishing craft. He slowly warmed up to my suggestions for rehabilitating his community around Amma Inc by moving into modern healthy dwelling places and by engaging themselves in diverse trades and disciplines. He was sceptical of the local Karayogam of Dheevaras agreeing to surrender its land and bury its identity. Nevertheless, he was quite enthusiastic about the idea and was even ready to campaign for it. For Amma the tsunami was a godsend for closing ranks with her own people: She has nearly achieved it by opening up the dozen or so gruel stations and the relief camps reported as wholesome by her followers. If they last long, I may visit them toward the end of the month.