Govt team visits Cyclone Ockhi-hit areas in Tamil Nadu, Kerala to assess damage

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Bengaluru/Chennai: A central team is visiting the fishing villages devastated by cyclone Ockhi in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

The team, headed by Vipin Mallik, a senior official in the Union home ministry, will visit the two states in three groups and assess the damage.

The report prepared by the team will be crucial to get a better rehabilitation package for the states, said P.H. Kurian, principal secretary, revenue department, Kerala.

Cyclone Ockhi hit the Indian coast on 30 November. The cyclone has had a devastating impact on the coastal belt of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which incidentally has been one of the most impoverished areas in both states.

The cyclone killed 74 people in Kerala and 18 in Tamil Nadu, according to the latest official figures. Many of them were the sole breadwinners in their families. More than a hundred men, who had gone to the sea for fishing unaware of the cyclone’s arrival, are still missing.

Kerala has sought a central package of Rs7,340 crore, while Tamil Nadu has requested Rs9,302 crore, focusing largely on rebuilding fishermen’s houses destroyed by the cyclone and modernizing the ecosystem surrounding fishing villages, among other things. Both states also wanted the centre to declare it a national disaster.

But the Union government has sanctioned only Rs325 crore so far for relief work in both states and Lakshadweep, post a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 20 December. The central government said it will also support the states in reconstructing about 1,400 houses damaged due to the cyclone, with each beneficiary getting up to Rs1.5 lakh. But this is far short of a comprehensive package demand from the states.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in a letter to Modi on Tuesday, said the state has high hopes from the central government’s assurance to review the rehabilitation package.

Vijayan also briefed the central team on his proposals to introduce modern fishing boats and 600 sq. ft houses for fishermen’s families. The team will visit Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district on Wednesday, and hold discussions with senior officers and possibly meet chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami. The team will tour the two states until 29 December, before heading back to Delhi to submit a final report.

“Mallik has said he will inform the central government of Kerala government’s plans for the development of the fishing villages. He also proposed a task force for operations in the coastal regions, consisting of young officers,” Vijayan wrote on Facebook on Tuesday, describing his interaction with the team.