Kerala Govt has no clue about tragedy’s magnitude

| | Kochi

A whole week has passed since Cyclone Ockhi sucked Kerala’s coastal areas into its stormy funnel but the State Government is still clueless about the real magnitude of the tragedy and the number of fishermen who are yet to return from the cyclone-churned Arabian Sea where they have been trapped even as the misery of the fishing community has deepened further.

On Thursday, the eighth day of Ockhi strike on Kerala coasts, the State Government revised its estimate of the fishermen still stranded in the sea to 96 from its earlier estimate of 92 while the Latin Catholic Church of Thiruvananthapuram, highly influential among the fishing community, stuck to its stand that 201 fishermen were yet to be found. The Church on Thursday warned the Government that the fishing community might resort to stiff agitation if its alleged responsibility over their relief and rehabilitation continued as grief and patience on the coast were fast turning into despair and anger. The discrepancies and shortcomings in the supply of free ration supplies have complicated the situation further.

“The State Government has been a failure right from the beginning. It failed to understand the magnitude of the tragedy. It should restructure the relief and rehabilitation package in consultation with the stakeholders. If things continue like this, an agitation cannot be ruled out,” Fr Eugene Pereira, Vicar General of the Church’s Thiruvananthapuram Archdiocese, warned.

According to the Church, 174 of the 201 missing fishermen were from the Thiruvananthapuram region and there were grave concerns about the condition of the 108 fishermen who had gone to sea in small, country boats. “We are very worried because at least nine days have passed since they had gone for fishing,” said a Latin Catholic Church priest.

At Kuzhithruai in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu’s western coast, fisherfolk, including women and children, blocked road and rail traffic demanding urgent steps to rescue men stranded in sea and proper relief and rehabilitation package. “The Government here should announce a package like the Kerala Government did on Wednesday,” said a protestor.

The Southern Railways was forced to suspend at least three train serves on Thursday due to the protests by people from nine coastal panchayats of Kanyakumari district. The agitators, who claimed that more than 1,500 fishermen stranded in the sea were yet to be found, said they would end their stir only after the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister visited the area.

Three more bodies were found on Thursday from the sea off Kerala coast in the search and rescue operations carried out by Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, taking the death toll in the tragedy up to 38. Nine bodies were yet to be identified. As per Government figures, 195 fishermen have so far been rescued with injuries and many of them are in hospitals.

As per official estimates, a total of 101 boats – 22 from Kerala and 79 from Tamil Nadu – that had gone for fishing work a day before the cyclone hit the coast have been trapped in the sea. Apart from these boats, information was yet to be received about 47 long-line boats that had left the Thoppumpady fishing harbor in Kochi in the days preceding the cyclone. The Government revised its estimate of missing fishermen from the earlier 92 to 96 after a fresh survey by Revenue officials. “All details about fishermen are readily available. The fishermen’s cooperatives and the Church keep the details of those going to sea. All the Government has to do is to ask for it,” complained a fishermen’s leader.

The Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard had on Wednesday morning launched a 72-hour day-night rescue operation with the help of experienced fishermen in the sea between Kanyakumari and Mangalore.



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