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Ockhi: people’s inquest finds ‘shocking’ lapse on govt.’s part

‘Most of the rescue efforts for stranded fishermen were done by the community’

The interim report of the people’s inquest carried out by a 15-member team, which included a retired High Court judge, senior journalists and academicians, on the devastation caused by Cyclone Ockhi in Kanniyakumari district has revealed ‘shocking’ lapse on the part of State and Central governments in handling the disaster.

Stating that the inquest had revealed that the governments had not learnt any lessons from the 2004 tsunami, the report blamed the government for treating the fishing community in the affected regions as non-citizens.

“Citizens have been left in the lurch because they were considered as outside of some bureaucratic map. For example, the deep-sea fishermen who left for the sea before November 29, 2017 were completely abandoned,” the report said. The report alleged that most of the rescue efforts for the fishermen who were stranded in the seas were done by the community and not the government.

The report also condemned the government for treating the protests of the affected families demanding immediate and long-term relief as law and order problem instead of being sensitive to their demands.

“The contrast between the language of the government and the community was dark and worrying. Bureaucratic responses tend to emphasise policy details and demographic numbers while the language of the suffering is lost,” the report said.

Lack of response

The team has also expressed its surprise at the lack of robust response of elected members, particularly the local Member of Parliament, who allegedly failed to visit the affected people in their villages.

Highlighting that the affected community had emphasised unity of society across castes and classes, the report said any attempts by political or other groups to communalise the situation must be condemned.

The report also made a series of recommendations to the government, which included a relook at the early warning system for cyclones and other disasters, measures to ensure safety of the fishermen venturing into the sea, expediting finalisation of issuing death certificates to missing fishermen within 30 days, addressing debt burden of the community, increasing immediate relief of Rs. 5,000 given to all families and withdrawal of cases filed for the protests launched by the community.

The inquest team included B.G. Kholse Patil, retired judge of the Bombay High Court, Saba Naqvi, senior journalist, Shiv Visvanathan, Professor, Jindal Law School, D.J. Ravindran, former Secretary of the UN International Inquiry Commission on East Timor and Nanchil Kumaran, former Additional Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu.

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