Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Third law #5: Its Vardah's first stormiversary - How did Chennai bounce back?

Believed to be the second most expensive cyclone of all times that had cost over Rs 22,500 crore for the government to provide rehabilitation and relief, it's a year since Vardah had made its landfall in Chennai. Though the loss made by Vardah was pan Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh, it was Chennai, to be more specific, the biggest victim of Vardah.

As said by netizens, Chennai is really that one peculiar city which could fight any disaster and rise again. In 2015 year-end, it was floods that affected the city, while in 2016, it was Vardah cyclone that had hit the city at a speed of 130 kmph.

The city administration invested the utmost efforts from the day after the cyclone to rehabilitate Greater Chennai. As the city witnessed a lot of tree falls across all major areas, it was electricity and network operations that were severely affected. Power supply and network issues persisted for over a week in many areas. The restoration work was taken up by the city Corporation with assistance from the police and fire personnel, forest officials not to forget the help of a lot of volunteers.

The Corporation took up relief work on a war-footing. It deployed 15,000 labourers who were brought from various parts of the State to get the city back on its feet.

As many as 54 high power transmission towers fell during the cyclone of which the city administration fixed 38 immediately while the rest were reinstalled a week after Vardah.

Similarly, Vardah had also felled 29,907 electric poles and 4,500 transformers in the city that were later fixed by the Corporation, assisted by the Tamilnadu Generation and Distribution Corporation. The recovery team also set right electric lines running through the city for a length of 16,200 kilometres.

With this, Tangedco was able to supply 2,966 MW of power to the city that needed 3,000 MW per day in the early stages of the cyclone's destruction. However, within a month of the destruction brought about by the cyclone, the city’s full power demand was provided.

Regarding health issues, the city was recovered quickly from the effects of Vardah according to the officials of Greater Chennai Corporation. As many as 545 medical camps were set up immediately after Vardah for which at least 5,000 medical practitioners were deployed. A total of 7,580 civilians were given medical assistance in these medical camps and saved from infections.

Similarly, a total of 3,337 workers were employed by the civic body to work on precautionary measures to fight spread of malaria and dengue. As many as 41 vehicles with 420 high pressure sprayers and 245 hand-operated sprinklers were used to spread anti-malarial agents into the city atmosphere.

But, the economic loss was quite staggering. Assocham, the chamber of commerce of Tamilnadu, said industries of the State had to bear a loss of around Rs 6,749 crore due to Vardah.

The incessant rain and heavy winds caused air and rail network to come to a standstill. Major flights to and from Chennai city were either delayed or cancelled, thereby causing huge financial loss to the transportation industry.

The agriculture sector was also badly hit by Vardah which damaged banana plantations, papaya groves, rice fields and food products.The destructive winds led to a loss of approximately 20,000 banana crops and 17,157 trees in Chennai and its suburbs.

There are many farmers who are yet to recover from this body blow.

Also, the felling of trees, let to considerable rise in temperatures during the summer months, as there was no protective greenery.

In the rest of Tamilnadu, as many as 136 trees were uprooted. A study by the Agriculture Ministry found approximately 250 acres of land with banana crops were damaged in various parts of the three districts of Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur.

Vardah claimed 18 lives in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts. The government broadcast through various media, asking people to not venture out between 11 am and 4 pm. This was one of the reasons for the low death toll, considering the ferocity of the winds.

Apart from this, six cattle and 5,000 poultry were also killed in the three districts. Many poultry farm owners were affected by Vardah, which demolished their livelihood.

Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had urged the Prime Minister to sanction Rs 1,000 crore from the national disaster relief fund. Following this, a nine-member team, led by Home Ministry Joint Secretary Praveen Vashista, met Panneerselvam and senior officials in the Secretariat and started inspecting the affected areas. Earlier, during his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Panneerselvam presented a memorandum on the damage caused and stated that funds for relief and reconstruction work was estimated at Rs 22,573 crore.

Though, the initial demand of Rs 1,000 crore was for immediate response, the total demand by the State government was made after estimating the overall loss caused by four disasters including the floods, oil spill, drought and Vardah cyclone.

Having suffered these four disasters in a stretch 17 months, the Tamilnadu government had demanded a whopping Rs 76,004 crore from the Centre as relief. However, the Central government had sanctioned a mere 5.25 per cent of the amount, of which only 2.5 per cent was released initially during May 2017.

For Vardah alone, the state, in its demand report, submitted a total loss of Rs 22,573 crore, but the relief amount sanctioned from the Centre was Rs 266.17 crore.

There was also a lot of delay in terms of logistics repair. Traffic signals that were mauled by Cyclone Vardah a year back are still to be repaired. Though the traffic police confirms that about 90 per cent of the signals were replaced, there is still a delay in replacing the damaged and fallen CCTV cameras at the signals. However, the police refused to give the statistics on it in detail.

Trees fell like ninepins, poles collapsed, even walking on the road was impossible - the city was in a shambles. But the Corporation, and other government agencies, with the help of those legendary volunteers of Chennai, brought the city quickly to its feet.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, Dec 12, 2017.

This column, 'Third Law' will feature current affairs that break out to be the news of any day. In this column, I will try to figure out and put to the public debate, the reactions of any incident that might cause some serious effects on the society. Because, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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