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In the face of shortage of money, the Kerala government devised a rehabilitation package to help Cyclone Ockhi victims that goes far ahead in terms of scope and extent of coverage in the state’s history. Photo: PTI
In the face of shortage of money, the Kerala government devised a rehabilitation package to help Cyclone Ockhi victims that goes far ahead in terms of scope and extent of coverage in the state’s history. Photo: PTI

Cyclone Ockhi: How cash-starved Kerala raised a Rs120-crore relief fund

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's government has put together Rs120 crore, as per the finance department, compared to Rs133 crore given by the centre

Bengaluru: When Cyclone Ockhi slammed Kerala’s coast on 30 November, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan asked the state’s inmates to generously donate to his disaster relief fund to help the victims.

He flexed the muscles of his Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM, an organisation which has a firm grip over the state. Separately, government officers, trade union leaders, among others, met to discuss how they can help.

Nearly a month later, Vijayan’s aggressive campaign seems to have become a roaring success, cobbling together Rs120 crore, as per the finance department, a significant sum, considering that it is close to the entire grant extended by the centre so far.

The Union government has given about Rs133 crore so far and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 20 December said he will consider the requests for more funds, pending an ongoing assessment of the damages. However, last week the Union government moved an amendment to Union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s supplementary demand for grants, without including a major central compensation package for Ockhi victims, a move sharply criticised last week in Parliament by Kerala MPs such as Shashi Tharoor.

The relief, recovery and rehabilitation works, apart from safe-guarding against such cyclone impacts in future, would cost the state Rs7,340 crore, the Kerala government told the centre, while seeking a relief package this month.

The state’s coffers are severely short of money, as the shock from goods and services tax (GST) continues, according to Kerala finance minister Thomas Issac.

In the face of shortage of money, the Kerala government devised a rehabilitation package that goes far ahead in terms of scope and extent of coverage in the state’s history. The package includes awarding Rs20 lakh to the kin of 74 killed so far by the cyclone, handing out compensation for loss of equipment for affected fishermen, such as boats and nets, apart from promises to address re-employment, education and rehabilitation of the affected families.

For the first time, the government is paying every adult and child in an affected family who could not go out for work due to Cyclone Ockhi—they will be paid Rs65 and Rs40 per day, respectively, in December, in addition to a month-long free ration fishermen’s families.

Also, Vijayan and his cabinet colleagues, along with governor P. Sathasivam, have donated their one-month salary. Senior government officers have pledged their 2-3 days of salary, while junior officers have pledged a day’s salary. Money also poured in from opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, public sector units, NGO Union (a pro-CPM union of state employees), among others.

“Initially, there was a bit of resistance from the officers to pledge salaries. But state government puts its foot down, and they obliged," said a government official, on the condition of anonymity.

Voluntary donations came generously from individuals too. For instance, 87-year-old Sheela Antony, who gave Rs50,000, which her children living overseas had given her to enjoy the Christmas holiday season.

“Government employees contribution shall be credited to the (relief) account during the first week of January. It may come to around Rs50-60 crore .Together, it will cross Rs120 crore by the 1st of the next month," said state finance department in an email, replying to a request by Mint to provide details.

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