‘New’ Kerala plan under fund crunch; social, ecological damage needs assessment
News analysis

‘New’ Kerala plan under fund crunch; social, ecological damage needs assessment

The trail of disaster the flood left behind is yet to be fully ascertained. From anywhere between Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore, the damage has been very high, much more than what the State at the moment can expect to raise to rebuild a 'new’ Kerala.

But beyond roads and structures, the social and environmental loss suffered does not come under all this calculation. And this much higher and difficult to compensate.

While Ministers are set to go out abroad on a mission to fetch flood relief, Finance Minister Thomas Isaac has said the State hopes to get World Bank aid to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore. He expects the loan repayment to be spread over a 30-year period and the interest would be in the range of 3-4 per cent. A similar loan from any other source would carry an interest of at least 8 per cent, was his comment. And even getting this amount would need the Union Government's clearance. But given the loss estimated, this amount would be insignificant.

In these times of crisis, one is forced to forget that it was his party which a few years ago had on ‘ideological’ grounds opposed a deal with the bank and even staged violent protests against the World Bank team that came to the State then.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has gone on record saying that given the strict norms laid out, Central support would be limited which means that in the present situation the going is to be tough.

Already, plans are afoot for a belt-tightening exercise. According to finance ministry, austerity measures would be in place soon. From purchase of new vehicles to fresh appointments, there would be restrictions and this will not mean much.

The whole budget plans have gone haywire. Isaac has admitted that several schemes would have to be done away with. Only agriculture, healthcare and education schemes would be spared. Other schemes would have to be reworked with focus on flood-related reconstruction projects and departments have been asked to submit the proposals in a fortnight.

Even as talks about building a 'new' Kerala is heard alongside the debate over whether the flood was man-made, people have not been engaged in these discussions and things still remain at the bureaucracy level.

Money promised at Rs 10,000 to each member in a relief camp is yet to reach many. The big Central aid, though not much as Pinarayi has admitted, is still awaited. A report from the State is yet to be submitted for this. The UAE aid proposal that created much furore is suddenly not a point of debate.

More than two weeks after the worst-ever disaster, several people are still in relief camps and a good part of Kuttanad is still under water.

Sadly, while all these discussions revolve around the damages caused to roads and houses and bridges, human-made capital, as Prof Madhav Gadgil put it, there is still no effort at estimating the social and environmental damage suffered which is most vital.

Long back after a successful struggle of local villagers against a corporate behemoth Coca Cola in the remote hamlet of Plachimada in Palakkad, a team was formed to work out a compensation package. A notable aspect of the report prepared by the team headed by K Jayakumar,who later became the Chief Secretary of Kerala, was the compensation to be paid for children in the area who had to miss school for a few years. Jayakumar created history by looking at such a social aspect. But nothing came of that report and people are yet to get any relief.

Unfortunately, no such social aspect of the flood loss has even been raised. Legislators during the special debate on flood in the Assembly a few days ago were seen engaged in a blame game and the Government was seen blaming the rain for the disaster.

Fund crunch, lack of a social vision and people being kept out could make redevelopment a distant dream.