Thiruvananthapuram: Over the past few decades, Kerala has been a beacon for India in terms of social advancement in different aspects: It clearly led the nation in literacy, life expectancy, maternal health, sporting achievements and much more.
Along the way, it also branded itself as “God’s own country”, becoming a successful tourist destination, besides sowing the seeds of the IT sector.
Yet, it only took a week-long torrent of water from the skies, dams and cloud-bursts last month to wreck the hardware of the picture-postcard state, ruining its roads and bridges, schools and libraries, business and commerce, and thousands of homes and acres of fields.
A month after the inundation, as the state takes stock of the damage, it is clear that Kerala needs not just money but expertise to rebuild the broken infrastructure, money to compensate victims as well as to reconstruct what has been damaged, a leadership that will stay unflagging to the cause of rebuilding, and most of all, a plan to put the state back on the rails.
Raising a Rs300-billion kitty
The state finance department estimates that it will take Rs300 billion to provide succour for those affected by the floods and to rebuild the infrastructure damaged in the floods.
Of this, one plan is to raise Rs100 billion from the people of the state, of which Rs38 billion is proposed to be raised by requesting people to contribute one month’s salary or pension to the reconstruction effort. Government employees have an option to contribute a month’s salary from their provident fund accounts, or surrender 30 days of their earned leave. Another option is to donate a month’s salary to the Kerala Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund in 10 monthly instalments.
Besides the funds from the people, the state government will turn to the central government, banks and voluntary donations from all quarters. The last, from individuals and corporates alone, have already crossed Rs13 billion. Discussions are on with the World Bank for funding the reconstruction effort.
Rebuilding roads & bridges
One of the enduring visuals of the floods was that of Idukki dam’s waters gushing over the Cheruthoni bridge in Idukki district, damaging the side approaches of the bridge. Numerous other bridges and roads across the state have been wrecked by the gushing waters.
The public works department (PWD) estimates that it will take Rs100 billion to repair the roads and bridges. Kerala’s Public Works minister G. Sudhakaran says the roads will be classified into “those that need minimum repair, those that need bitumen tarring, and a third category that needs to be rebuilt to international standards”.
The plan is to complete the works by 2021.
Teams led by chief engineers are presently undertaking a study of roads in each district to assess the quantum of repair and reconstruction work be required.
The state-owned Kerala Financial Corporation (KFC) has offered to lend contractors who take up road and bridge construction work as much as 80 per cent of the funds required by them. KFC will also extend loans to top-line contractors for buying advanced construction machinery.
The agriculture sector, particularly paddy farmers took a major hit, and the initial estimate of the Kerala Agricultural University puts crop losses to be around Rs200 billion. That includes total or partial crop damage and loss of livestock.
To add to farmers’ woes, chances of pest and disease incidence in the crops that survived can lead to further losses. Besides the damage caused to spices, pepper, cardamom, coffee and tea, poultry and livestock farmers have also been hit. Some fish farmers had to stand mute witness as their fish ponds overflowed, with the waters carrying away all the fish.
Homes — where it hurts most
While the floods have been featured across world media, highlighting the damage that the state suffered, tens of thousands of ordinary people who have taken big blows are often forgotten. Assuming a modest 100,000 houses have been badly damaged and each needs an average of Rs1 million to be reconstructed, that alone will cost Rs100 billion.
The state government has promised Rs400,000 to partially damaged houses and Rs1 million for those who have suffered total loss of homes, but the victims are not sure when they will be compensated.
Besides that, home owners need to replace their vehicles and almost all appliances like televisions, washing machines and refrigerators.
Business and industry have been directly hit as consumers are rendered financially crippled. Many stores and business houses, from Ranni to Paravur and Kozhikode to Chengannur, are delaying repair to their establishments so that insurance formalities and government procedures can be completed.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) estimates the loss caused to tourism, cash crops and trading at roughly Rs200 billion.
On the positive side, there is likely to be a boom in consumer durables’ demand several months from now, as family budgets get back to normal.
Kerala’s economy is heavily skewed in favour of the services sector, which contributes more than 60 per cent of the gross domestic product. The setback for sectors like tourism will reflect both in the earnings of tourism operators as well as the state government. A quick rebuilding of the infrastructure is the way to put the services sector back on track.
Need for transparency
The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in Kerala has won praise for the manner in which it handled the crisis, but there is also criticism that the floods were accentuated by poor dam management.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recent departure to the United States without handing over clear charge to any of his cabinet colleagues, and the government’s decision to include flood relief donations with the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund has also attracted criticism.
There are protests in different parts of the state over flood victims not getting the Rs10,000 announced as immediate relief, even as some village officers are accused of giving bigger amounts to those who have not suffered any damage.
Transparency in sanctioning funds is the need of the hour, if the state leadership is to get support from all quarters.
Awaiting a plan
For all the talk about ‘Nava Keralam’, or creating a new Kerala, a master plan is yet to evolve. The state government, corporates, and a number of NGOs and even individuals have already launched themselves into rehabilitation and reconstruction work, but an overall plan that lays down the rules of the game for constructing a new Kerala appears elusive.
The state government has roped in international consultant, KPMG to draw up a comprehensive plan for the state’s reconstruction. KPMG is expected to submit it in a week’s time. The report will shed light on projects to be undertaken, potential sources from where aid and loans can be got, the likely hurdles while carrying out the reconstruction and the solutions to such bottlenecks.
The proof of the pudding, however, will be whether the entire reconstruction work will be undertaken in the light of the severe warning that nature gave — regarding encroachments, exploitation of natural resources like sand mining and quarrying, and haphazard constructions of all kinds.
■ Cost for government to reconstruct state: Rs300 billion
■ Damage suffered by industry, estimated by Assocham: Rs200 billion
■ Agri sector losses: Rs200 billion
■ Voluntary donations received: Rs13 billion
■ Contributions expected from ‘salary challenge’: Rs38 billion