Ratan Report

Monday, February 21, 2005

Fisherman await relief to restore life

CUDDALORE: It has been one month since the December 26 'tsunami' struck the Indian cost and left a scene of destruction. However, at Singartopu, a little village in Cuddalore district, there is no evidence of the destruction.

Vetri, a native of the village tries hard to prove that he had a house below the heap of sand he is standing on. He put his hand through the sand to pull out some clothes, implying that all his belongings that were buried inside. Glum and dejected with everything lost, he said that only Rs 4000 that had reached him as relief, is almost over.

But other fishermen in Akrai Goru, a hamlet a few yards away, have a different tale all together. The village has received overwhelming help. The locals have been provided with temporary shelters and provisions for food and other essentials. These have been given by an NGO, 'World Vision'.

Vijay Kumar, a well-off fisherman, , is optimistic about the future. Though he lost three of his boats to the waves, he is confident that the community will recover from this catastrophe. "The problem is not of food but of building our boats. Each one would cost from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. We are waiting for this money to come from either the NGO's or the government," he said. However, if the money comes, it is only half the problem solved, as even if the boats are rebuilt they cannot enter the sea. The Tsunami has left a huge deposit of sand in the Muyuthuvalam channel that joins the Uppanar River, he explained.

He further added that for the ships to move from Muyuthuvalam channel into the sea, it required a depth of minimum fifteen to eighteen feet. Since the tsunami had deposited heaps of sand in the transit, the ships could not move. Even in high tide the depth was less than 10 feet.

Few kilometres away is Devanapattinam, a village adopted by Bolloywood star Vivek Oberoi. The village has been reconstructed into temporary row of houses and tents donated by 'UK Khalsa' and 'Project Hope' under the Collector of Cuddalore. UNICEF has also provided water tanks throughout the village.

Meanwhile, on the seashore the boats lay lined up, starkly portraying the devastation . Not far away sat young fishermen whiling their time away, chatting or playing cards. They talked about several things, from their fishing nets to their daily exercises. Where they would get their next meal from was the last thing on their minds. Either the government agencies or NGOs, someone would take care of that.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Fisherman await relief to restore life

CUDDALORE: It has been one month since the December 26 'tsunami' struck the Indian cost and left a scene of destruction. However, at Singartopu, a little village in Cuddalore district, there is no evidence of the destruction.

Vetri, a native of the village tries hard to prove that he had a house below the heap of sand he is standing on. He put his hand through the sand to pull out some clothes, implying that all his belongings that were buried inside. Glum and dejected with everything lost, he said that only Rs 4000 that had reached him as relief, is almost over.

But other fishermen in Akrai Goru, a hamlet a few yards away, have a different tale all together. The village has received overwhelming help. The locals have been provided with temporary shelters and provisions for food and other essentials. These have been given by an NGO, 'World Vision'.

Vijay Kumar, a well-off fisherman, , is optimistic about the future. Though he lost three of his boats to the waves, he is confident that the community will recover from this catastrophe. "The problem is not of food but of building our boats. Each one would cost from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. We are waiting for this money to come from either the NGO's or the government," he said. However, if the money comes, it is only half the problem solved, as even if the boats are rebuilt they cannot enter the sea. The Tsunami has left a huge deposit of sand in the Muyuthuvalam channel that joins the Uppanar River, he explained.

He further added that for the ships to move from Muyuthuvalam channel into the sea, it required a depth of minimum fifteen to eighteen feet. Since the tsunami had deposited heaps of sand in the transit, the ships could not move. Even in high tide the depth was less than 10 feet.

Few kilometres away is Devanapattinam, a village adopted by Bolloywood star Vivek Oberoi. The village has been reconstructed into temporary row of houses and tents donated by 'UK Khalsa' and 'Project Hope' under the Collector of Cuddalore. UNICEF has also provided water tanks throughout the village.

Meanwhile, on the seashore the boats lay lined up, starkly portraying the devastation . Not far away sat young fishermen whiling their time away, chatting or playing cards. They talked about several things, from their fishing nets to their daily exercises. Where they would get their next meal from was the last thing on their minds. Either the government agencies or NGOs, someone would take care of that.

Ferry to Rock Memorial resumes post tsunami

KANYAKUMARI,Feb.08,2004: Ferry service to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial will resume from February five, almost five weeks after December 26 Tsunami; in which the jetty and ships used for ferry were damaged.

State Health, Transport, Food and Industries' ministers will be present at the jetty to wave off the first ferry to the rock after the tsunami. . "We have put up notices at various junctions like bus stops and tourist spot, to inform the public about resumption of the ferry service to the rock," said Manager, Pompuhur Shipping Corporation Limited, Swarnapandian.

Pompuhur Shipping Corporation Limited run the ferry service to the Vivekananda rock memorial and Trivalluvar Statutes. One of the Corporation boats, T.L.Vivekananda, went missing in the Tsunami. Bhagirathi and Tamraparini, its other two boats suffered heavy damage.

It took more than a month and Rs. 10 lakh to recuperate from the damage caused by the tsunamiand resume the ferry service, Swarnapandian informed Digantik. He also said that the Corporation suffered a revenue loss of around Rs. 1 lakh in the last month.

Surprisingly, there was not even a single casualty in the December 26 tsunami which struck here at around 10.30 am.. There were more than 3,000 tourists who were stranded on the rock and the statue. Swarnapandian said that they were able to rescue most of the tourists with the help of local fishermen by 8.30. p.m.



Thursday, January 27, 2005

NMCT, the inside story

ARAKKADAVU: Native Medicare Charitable Trust (NMCT) is an NGO which works among the tribal people of Arakkadavu, near Anaikatti, with the help of funds from foreign institutions like Karl Kubel, USAID and other donors that work in the areas of AIDS prevention, education, self help groups, income generation and preservation of native medicine.

NMCT has been working in this area since 1988. Trustee and founder member of NMCT Shankarnarayan has been working with the tribal people for the past 25 years. He said that as he has been working with the tribal people for a long time they decided to come to this village and do some work. The tribal people in this village belong to the Irula caste and there are no caste related issues among them as they all are from the same caste.

At first instance, if one observes carefully, there is no visible work carried out by the NMCT here. But the NGO claims that when they had first come here, the people were conservative and did not mix with outsiders. But now they are more confident and interact with others. They now go to the market to sell their produce of tamarind and cereals. NMCT workers say that the villagers are no longer afraid to go to the officials and talk about their problems.

Few years back there was no school here. NMCT was instrumental in starting a school last year. Though there had been a school building, it was not functioning because it didn't have a teacher.

Sumati, leader of one of the self-help groups run by NMCT is happy with the work the NGO has been doing in their area. She proudly mentions a consignment of tamarind, which they exported to Canada, when they bagged a contract from the government with NMCT's help.

The NGO is also involved in the conservation of medicinal plants. The NGO encourages the tribal people to collect rare medicinal plants and grow them. NMCT helps them to market these plants.

However questions have been raised about their work in conservation of medicinal plants since only tribal people are allowed to venture into the forest and collect plants. Project officer DRDA Coimbatore, P.Jeyabalakrishnan also raised questions about the work of NMCT in this area. He said that they have already stopped funding the NMCT and are now working with All India Movement (AIM) for SEVA, another NGO.

The Karl Kubel Institute, one of the major donors in this area, is also planning a study to assess the usage of funds they provide to NGOs and make them accountable for the funds they receive.


Race for Conversion

COIMBATORE: Karunya Nagar is a small village, 40 kilometers from Coimbatore. The people here are largely 'Malaivasi'-dalits with agricultural land of their own, or working on others'fields. There was harmony among the people till communal tensions rose among the Hindus and Christians in 2002 over conversion of Hindu dalits to Christianity. Karunya Institute, an organisation run by an evangelist group 'Jesus Calls' and 'Chinmaya Mission' a Hindu organisation have made their presence felt here.

Under the guise to get the area under their control, both the organisations are purchasing land and building schools, colleges and medical centres. Swaminiamma of the Chinmaya Ashram said that he knew of that people from Karunya went to government schools in the area to preach their religion. This is where the 'malaivasi' children study. He added that they are not far behind, and use the same method to preach their religion during 'moral-instructions' class. He said that many people had got converted here but he wasn't sure of the exact numbers. He added that whenever they knew of any such plan they sought government intervention.

Swaminiamma said that when their organisation learned about any convert they tried to convince them to reconvert. He said they had recently reconverted 40-45 people from neighbouring villages of Semmedu, Madampatti and Mullankadu with the help of the Perrur Mutt. The Public Relation Officer at 'Jesus Calls' said that they did not want to comment on the issue and are now more concerned to help the Tsunami victims than clarify on the issue.

Veeramani,a local resident said that both the institutions come to them during festivals and distribute sweets, clothes and books to their children. He said that they take what ever they get and move on with their life. He added that they are even asked to visit their ashram or prayer centre if they needed any help. This is apparently the first step to conversion or retention, whatever may be the case.

It seems that religion is not an issue for the locals but the presence of these two groups keeps it alive. Simply put, a person who is short of basic amenities has a choice to exercise an option; either to stay poor and suppressed in his present caste or convert and get whatever little he gets in the bargain. The freedom to practice the religion of one's choice is a fundamental right, a matter of individual choice. But state governments have tried to put constraints on this right under the guise of protection against conversion (e.g., to Christianity) by force, fraud or inducement. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh have passed their own Freedom of Religion Acts in 1967, 1968 and 1978 respectively on the above mentioned lines. But these laws overlook the issue of re-conversion, which is as much a debatable issue.




Health sector in doldrums

ANNAIKATTI: Like Sisyphus, Anita carries the relentless burden of life, feeling and expecting nothing. Sitting in the dilapidated, desolate building called the Sub-Health Centre in Jankundhy, Anita, the Head Nurse, plans the long tiring day that lies ahead of her. It is ten in the morning and she still has to visit seven villages, walking through the rough terrain for seven to eight kilometres till she finally reaches her destination.

She expects to see around 100 patients, diagnose them, and distribute medicines till she comes back in the night to the health sub-centre which doubles up as her home.

If you think Anita's duty is over by now you are sadly mistaken. More work awaits her at the centre. She has to fill up atleast six register documenting the birth, death, consumption etc. in short it is a mini census process she has to carry meticulously, with excruciating care.

With a sad smile on her face she tells how these huge registers keep her away from carrying out her primary duty: providing medical care to the villagers.

Even as she walks, alone in those villages she fears not just the elephants but those who will complain about her absence from the health centre. She knows that her senior officials will know that one person cannot be at two places at the same time.

So she says that it is better for her to keep quiet and work with the system than to ask for any help to improve facilities at the sub-centre.

Twenty kilometres away from Anaikatti, is the primary health centre at 24-Verrapandi. The nearing villages within the area of eighteen kilometres come under this health centre.

The health centre has one bachelor nurse, mid wife, lab assistant, two workers, two health inspectors and two doctors.

But when we visited the place we only saw Durayswamy, the pharmacist. He was looking after the functioning of the hospital as the doctor was out on a surprise visit to the villages to keep a check on the six village health nurses under her.

He also informed us that the post of one doctor was vacant for the past two months. When we saw the daily register at the hospital we saw that Dr.Rajalakshmi, the hospital in-charge has to attend hundred patients daily and over two hundred on Mondays, as the brick industry in the near by area has an off this day.

"The hospital does not have an ambulance. They are waiting for one as the government has promised them very soon", said Durayswamy.
Deputy Director health services, Coimbatore, Dr.V.Veerapandian states that his department is aware of the dire need for improvement in the health sector, but also complained about the scarcity of the available resources. the facilities provided by the government hospitals are much better than by the private ones. "The government hospitals are better than the private ones in many ways. They help in prevention and awareness of the diseases, besides just curing ailments", said Dr.V.Veerapandian.

The Junior Scientist

ANAIKATTI:The Salim Ali Centre for Orinothology and Natural History (SACON) will hold the first ever Scientific Conference of Children at Anaikatti in Coimbatore district this January. Children from the district will present papers on the study they have carried out in this region.

The Salim Ali Nature Club Network has 10000 children from more than hundred schools according to the Nature Education officer at SACON, Dr. P. Pramod. The members of the club hold discussions and carry out surveys among farmers about their problems.

Pramod recalled one such survey which was carried out by girls from the PSGG Kanya Gurukulam from Peelamedu in Coimbatore District, in which they found that vegetables produced by traditional farming was more nutritious and tasty than vegetables produced by organic farming.

He also mentioned how the same group from Kanya Gurukulam had written a letter to Environment Minister T R.Balu advising against a paper presented by some scientists that advocated the use of fertilisers in afforestation.

Pramod said that there are various competitions like drawing, bird watcher of the year and educational visits for school children at SACON throughout the year. The members of the club also maintain a register to monitor the common birds in their areas. He added that the children not only study the environment but also go out and work with enthusiasm.

SACON was established in 1991 in memory of Salim Ali, the father of Ornithology in India. It is an autonomous centre aided by the Ministry of Environment & Forests.

Tsunami spurs boat makers into action

PONDICHERRY, Jan.25,2005:Rajkumar is happy today. He has finally managed to find a job after staying idle for almost four months. He now works at Iraivan Fibre Boat Works on the east coast road in Villupuram as a daily wage worker earning Rs. 150.

For the next six months Rajkumar and many others like him do not need to worry. The tsunami of December 26 that hit parts of the Indian peninsula has damaged and destroyed enough boats to keep the boat factories working daily, 24 hrs a day for the next six months.

Iraivan Boat Works which used to manufacture just 10-15 boats per month before the tsunami now manufactures more than 10 boats everyday working round the clock. Owner of Iravian Boats Balram said that to meet the increasing demands, they had to employ up to 50 men and also made an extra cast (mould). They already have 8 casts for different sizes and shapes of boats.

Manager at Iravian Boats Paneer Selvaraj said that the cost of the boat range from Rs. 65,000 for a 27- feet boat to Rs. 1 lakh for a 34-feet boat. He said that orders for new boats were coming from NGOs and private parties from Chennai, Pondicherry, Kanyakumari and Nagapattinam.

Selvaraj further said that there were around eight fibre boat workshops on the East Coast road earlier. However, now one could find more than 15 workshops trying to cash in on the rise in demand for fibre boats.

Each boat requires around 150 kilograms of fibre glass. One kilogram of fibre glass costs Rs. 106 in the market. A boat can be built in two days. Balram told Digantik that despite the demand, the price of the raw materials has not gone up.

He further said that earlier they used to make a profit of around Rs 5000 on each boat but now they don't even get to make a saving of Rs. 1000, as they have to pay a sales tax of 12.6 percent. Balram said that they would be relieved if the government would waive off the sales tax on the boats.

He also said that the NGOs, who order boats in bulk, will also be able to get more number of boats, if the government waives the sales tax.

On the other side, Rajkumar and his co workers, who have been working in the boat making factory, for over 10 years, feel that they have not been compensated rightly for the recent increase in work load.



Hope shines at the shrine

NAGORE, Jan.25, 2005:Six kilometres from Nagapattinam is the town of Nagore, which houses the famous Nagore Sharif Dargah. Three days after the disaster the bylanes of Nagore were clean and bleached with white powder. There was hardly any sign of destruction there.

When we enquired about this with an elderly local, Mohammad Hamid Ismail, he said that they did not receive any help from the Government in the first place.

The initiative was taken by the young people from Nagore who came out of their houses and rushed out to help the Tsunami victims. They carried dead bodies on their shoulders and rushed the injured to the local hospital. This went on till they were able to clear all the dead bodies and burry them, Hamid Ismail said. It was only later that the government intervened and came in and helped to clean up the area.

Hamid further said, that this is why you will see no signs of destruction here. healso said that the dargah was thrown open to the general public who needed it , that very day, for shelter and help. The Dargah is today, flodded with refugees, especially a large especially small children and the old.

The Dargah is also the centre for relief operations in the area. The Trustee of the Dargah, Haji Khalifa Sahib personally monitors the collection and distribution of the relief material. At the dargah both Hindus and Muslims stay together in harmony and in the shrine surrounded by the Five minars both offer prayers at the sanctum sanctorium for early rehabilitation. Hopes shines at the shrine.

The natural calamities always bring the best and worst of things, the worst has already come and now is the time for the best to happen .Here the Nagore Sharif Dargah sets an example, by bridging community differences and binding together people of different castes, class and religions in the cord of harmony and brotherhood. In the shrine we see, how amongst despair springs hope.


Monday, January 24, 2005

Ratan is now online!

This is the very first post to Ratan Gaikwad's weblog. It won't be long and will only act as a filler until he is ready to publish his reports (the reason he started blogging).

Vijay's incredibly long online hours and what he was doing (and what could
be much better done in fact) inspired me to start on this path.