Cyclone Fani’s destruction in Puri, in the twin cities of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack and in area around was enormous. A preliminary assessment shows that about 65 people died, scores injured and 5244 primary schools, 542 upper primary schools, 180 high schools, 1031 primary health centres and 5596 kms of road have been damaged. 19 132 KV towers, 2 400 KV towers, 200 numbers of 33/11 KV HT poles, 10,000 11/0.4 transformers and countless (rough estimate puts it at 65,000) HT lines have been damaged. The summer crops in almost 12 districts, Fisheries (Prawn) along 485 km long coastline and other means of livelihood are devastated. 35 lakhs of people were left without electricity and access to drinking water for days. Even mobile connections were cut for days. Cyclone Fani uprooted tens of thousands of trees also in the state.
Cyclone Fani, the second most powerful cyclone to have hit Odisha, paralysed the state after it made landfall in Puri on May 3, 2019 with a wind speed of 240 kilometres per hour. The most powerful storm on record to hit Odisha coast after the 1999 Super Cyclone has made people believe that cyclones will keep ruining their lives. This one uprooted trees, destroyed houses, damaged several vehicles and knocked out power supply infrastructure. While those whose assets are broken beyond repair are still staying in shelters, schools and in pucca houses of other villagers. Panic had gripped Mahakalapada and Rajnagar blocks of Kendrapara district and Earsasama block in Jagatsinghpur district after strong tidal waves caused extensive damage to crops and saline embankments. Many cyclone-hit villages are still without electricity after the storm swept away several electric poles, wires and other infrastructure. Fani is the 13th pre-monsoon cyclone to hit Odisha out of 134 cyclones since 1804.
The storm, called Cyclone Fani (pronounced “Foni”), struck the coast near Puri with winds in excess of 115 miles per hour (equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane). That makes it the strongest storm to hit India in 20 years. Fani, which started out in the Bay of Bengal in the last week of April, was not like the typical storms that Odisha is accustomed to. From 1965 to 2017, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea collectively registered 46 ‘severe cyclonic storms’. More than half of them occurred between October and December. Seven of them occurred in May and only two (in 1966 and 1976) were recorded in April, according to data from the India Meteorological Department’s cyclone statistics unit. Before Fani, only one of them (in 1966) had actually made landfall over India.
Though recorded furious cyclones in Odisha dates back to 1831, the mega-cyclone 1999 marked the turning point for the state. It was catastrophic: it killed thousands, obliterated homes, and left a trail of destruction. The State was cut off from the rest of the country, and it was weeks before the magnitude of the tragedy hit home. Since then, Odisha has prepared itself in various ways to face such cyclones — by building specially crafted storm shelters and commissioning electric poles that are designed to withstand strong gales. By May 1, the authorities were confident that Fani would not be as devastating as the one that had hit the port town of Paradip in 1999. But their calculations were proved wrong. Though the number of people died are comparatively very small, the devastation in Puri and nearby areas was enormous. After his brief visit, when Prime Minister Modi offered Rs. 1000 crore relief fund and he and Odisha CM were congratulating each other for the relief works going on, the people’s sufferings continued for days and many households are still suffering in all Fani affected areas!
According to reports of Red Star comrades, they were actively engaged in relief work right from the beginning forgetting that their own houses are damaged. They went to all Bastis in Bhubaneswar, in Puri and Cuttack, organized Basti dwellers and formed teams for relief work. Absence of polythene sheets was creating severe problems as roof of most jhuggies were blown off, and rains were continuing. The main stream media, in the beginning, was not publishing real condition at ground level. Contrary to what is claimed by the authorities, the number of dead are comparatively very small this time since though very high velocity Fani hit, but there was no 25 feet tall sea waves lashing the coastal areas devastating everything on its path including killing thousands as happened in 1999. In spite of cyclone warnings and evacuation orders, many people actually did not shift as very little food and other arrangements were made. This reality is concealed by authorities.
Compared to what we did during the relief work in 1999, this time reflecting the strengthening of Red Star organization and activities in the state, the leadership could mobilize all party members and activists of Basti Suraksha Manch, TUCI like organizations for relief work. They played an important role in all the three urban centres as well as in nearby villagers to mobilize the people for relief work. They led the people to organize relief centres, as well as to demand urgent relief from the state. This is a huge work and our party committees as well as mass organizations are actively involved in these. The party Central Committee has called for a relief fund to help the urgent relief work to be immediately taken up in the affected areas. All party committees should try to send as much help as possible.
Urgent and Long Term Tasks
Once again, all the reports show that out of the many million families affected severely, vast majority are the economically backward sections who are living in Jhuggies in Bastis and mud houses in the villages. So, firstly, permanent housing for all these people is an urgent problem to be resolved. Though the hutments are temporarily repaired, an extensive progressive rehabilitation work should be taken up by the government, along with better infra-structural facilities, like water supply, sanitation, electric supply etc. Secondly, large number of people, including the fisher people, small vendors, hawkers, those owning or working in workshops, small enterprises etc have lost their livelihood. Their immediate rehabilitation is needed.
Since Odisha is a very cyclone prone region, a serious planning and execution of projects along the coastal region is called for. In spite of repeated warning from environmental scientists, even when the ‘global warming’, ‘climate change’ like features are increasing the possibilities of more frequent and severe cyclones, extensive construction of coastal highways and vast real estate building etc are taken up in the coastal region. Whatever mangroves were existing are also destroyed for these corporate projects. The concerned governments and their agencies should be compelled to reverse the present ‘development’ plans which are aggravating the consequences of the cyclones. All highways and real estate constructions in one kilo meter wide strip along the coastal areas should be stopped. Whatever is existing should be realigned or demolished. A 500 meter wide mangrove stretch along the sea-coast should be developed on an urgent basis. Involving the people of the region also, a plan should be prepared for the protection of the coastal area, making it capable of restricting the impact of the cyclones.
A people’s movement should be developed to compel the governments and their agencies to take up these immediate and long term tasks with the urgency they demand.
Fani Cyclone a Report from Odisha
Cyclone Fani hit Puri on 3rd May, 14 districts of Odisha affected. Puri, Khordha, Cuttack, Balesore, Bhadrak, Ganjam, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Kendrapara, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Nayagarh. Foni land fall was at Puri, so this area was severely affected. Adjacent district of Puri Khordha (Bhubaneswar) also affected badly. Total 159 Blocks, 51 Urban Local Bodies, 18388 no. of villages and 1,65,55,507 population affected. 5,08,467 houses damaged. 181711.4 hectare of crop area affected. 64 people died. Thousands of injured. Still many people are under treatment in various Govt. and private hospitals.
Government Propaganda and Reality
Odisha Government declared that 15,57,170 persons were evacuated. It is completely false propaganda. In reality, they just officially demarcated in pen and paper that this cluster of people will shift to this school. College, building etc. The authorities of that institution just provided one or two rooms. Even many did not allow their toilets to use by this people. No food and other facilities available there. So maximum people did not shift. They were in their own houses or in nearby neighbours and friends houses, which is some what safe.
The death toll and causality was less comparative to 1999 super cyclone. Main reason is this time Fani affected for only 3 to 4 hours. It was in day time. In 1999 severe rain was there before cyclone and rain continued for 3-4 days followed by heavy flood. 27 feet high sea waves lashed in 1999, but this time no such sea tide was there. Rain stopped just after cyclone. No heavy rain was there. Also due to advance warning through media, people were alert. The whether forecast and calculation of timing was exact.
Odisha Government Failed to Provide Drinking Water and Immediate Relief to the Needy People
Only those having natural water resources like well, ponds, canals, rivers etc managed somehow. But mainly in urban areas and slum areas people suffered a lot with out getting drinking water. Up to 5-6 days govt. could not supply minimum required drinking waters. For 1 lakh population area only 6 to 10 tankers of water provided. Road side and proper communicable areas got some water but all others suffered a lot. This Fani cyclone proved that through tankers required water can not be supplied. Water scarcity is due to Govt. giving permission to land mafias to construct buildings, apartments etc by filling wells, ponds, canals, rivers like natural water resources. It should be stopped immediately. Natural water sources should be saved. In some areas we have to maintain tube wells continuously.
False Propaganda on Reconstruction and Compensation
As Per latest report of State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC) Situation Report on Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm-Fani of 20.05.2019, 12.30pm, 5,08,467 houses damaged in Fani. State Govt. declared house damage compensation will be provided to all house damaged/Fani affected families. Compensation 95,100/- will be provided for fully damaged, 5200 for partially damaged and 3200 for minor damages. Instead of this compensation, Govt. declared to provide cyclone-flood free pucca houses to all affected people. House survey will start from 15th may and Work order will be provided to all by 1st June. But when the official order passed, it is written assistance will be given as per relief code. Odisha Relief Code is very old. It followed from the British Rules. In this code there is no provision for assistance to those residing in ‘objectionable’ land. So that all slum dwellers, all dalit, adivasi and poor families those do not have land with Record can not get this assistance from the Govt. In Fani 90% of slum dwellers and common people who are residing in encroached lands and patta-less lands were affected. But this govt. order is restricted and it does not provide them assistance. So out of 5lakhs more than 4 lakhs families will not get compensation and pucca houses. Govt. orally declared assistance, but in official order it is reversed. So people are fighting for this right along with ground level workers.
In this context, CPI-ML Red Star Odisha State Committee and Basti Surakshya Mancha are continuing struggle to provide justice to these affected people. We demands before Govt to amend the Relief Code and make an immediate order to provide pucca houses and compensation to all these affected people including slum dwellers. We also demands for a Relief, Restoration and Rehabilitation act in Odisha because Odisha is regular cyclone, flood and drought prone area.
(Odisha Relief Code Chapter-1 Preamble Point 2 calls for provisions of this code may be modified, revised and supplemented at any time by appropriate orders of Govt., with the change of time and need. It is considered so expedient.). We also demand Rs. 20 lakhs compensations to family members of the deceased and complete free treatment and minimum Rs. 1lakh compensation for Fani injured people. Odisha Govt. declared only 500 for a coconut tree. We demands Rs. 2000 for a coconut tree. AP had given 1500 per coconut tree when their people were cyclone affected.
Including these, with a charter of demands we have decided to Gherao Odisha State Secretariat on 4th June. Thousands of slum dwellers of Puri, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and other affected urban and rural land patta less adivasi, dalit, poor and working class families will participate in this gherao. Since 3rd May afternoon all our comrades of party and class mass organisations, mainly of Basti Surakshya Mancha, AIRWO, TUCI and AIKKS activists and supportes were engaged in relief, restoration and rehabilitation work and mainly peoples struggles to get it or facilitate it to them.
In this context, we point out that in 1971, the state Govt. constituted a Technical Export Committee to give proposals to face Sea cyclones. This committee submitted its report in 1974. If this report was implemented then this Fani or 1999, or recent other cyclone causalities and loses could be avoided to a great extent. But The Govts since 1974 have not implementing this report and the P. Koteswaram Committee report of Centre. So we are demanding to implement these committee reports soon to avoid cyclones’ consequences permanently. n