Kranti & Anr. VS Union of India & Ors: Seeking proper application of relief and reconstruction funds for the benefit of tsunami victims

The tsunami that affected Andaman & Nicobar Islands caused unprecedented damage and destruction in the region. The magnitude of loss of houses, boats, agricultural land and livestock was devastating for the people of the island. Overnight they were converted from proud independent communities to people dependent on government for their survival. In response to this tragedy, people from India and abroad donated crores of rupees and millions of dollars for relief and rehabilitation. In addition, a World Bank loan was taken by the Central Government. How this money has been utilized is not known and is of concern, because the conditions of the people are reported to be miserable. Thus, the petition seeks the proper application of relief and reconstruction funds, for the benefit of tsunami victims. An extensive study was conducted, of the conditions of the Tsunami survivors in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. According to official figures a minimum of 3513 persons died, 10,000 houses were fully damaged, over 1700 boats were damaged, over 10,000 hectares of land were affected, and about 2 lac livestock were killed. Though crores of rupees and millions of dollars were available through donations and World Bank loans, one year hence, petitioners found that there were still hundreds of families without temporary shelters. The list of persons who had died and the complete list in respect of loss of property are still not available. Whatever lists were prepared by the Authorities have not been disclosed and appear to be incomplete and full of flaws often calling for re-surveys. Consolidated and verifiable database is essential for the package of measures, announced by the Central Government to be implemented in a fair and transparent manner. Despite a years passing, basic amenities are scarce on the Islands. There is no availability of textbooks or teachers or schools. Due to the contamination of the wells during the tsunami, people were forced to drink contaminated water from stagnant pools resulting in illnesses. Where tankers were supplying water, it was often grossly inadequate. Also, water is not being provided for the toilets. Even today, the government has not provided many tsunami survivors with a certificate, which entitles them to benefits and concessions. Often, only due to the whimsical attitude of the authorities, victims are denied this certificate. The livelihood options of the people of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been completely ruined. The plantations of coconuts and areca nuts have been completely destroyed. The Administration admits that 9107 hectares of plantation crops are washed away. Many tribals and farmers had more than 1000 coconut trees. The Administration has provided them with a few saplings. This token can only add insult to injury. Government policy in respect of compensation for lands destroyed is unclear and compensation remains to be paid. The inhabitants largely depended on boats and fishing nets, for their survival, which were destroyed in the tsunami. The Government has come out with a "Rajiv Gandhi Rehabilitation Package for Tsunami Affected Areas", but this package has not been implemented. An exploitative situation is that, the fishermen are being forced to take loans, though the package allows for a full subsidy for country boats. Coupled with this is the absence of fishing nets and the forceful option of fiberglass boats which are anyway unsuitable for the sea .Out of the 21.05 crores allocated for the fisheries sector only 3.98 crores have been spent as on 16.12.2005. Another matter of concern for the fishermen is the inadequate fish landing centers and cold storage facility, without which, fishing at sea is not possible. The rehabilitation package envisages the repair of cold storages and also fish landing centers, and ice plants. Unfortunately, except Port Blair, none of the other islands have the required facilities. Though the Government assured assistance to the unemployed and identified 6313 families that needed livelihood assistance. Not one of these families has been provided employment as promised.Also, compensation payable in accordance with the rehabilitation package has not yet been paid to many persons. Government employees who were the victims of the tsunami, though entitled, were denied such relief and compensation. Similarly, many were wrongly left out of the rehabilitation package. In circumstances when livelihood is completely destroyed, purchase of food items is beyond the reach of most people and no employment exists, it was most cruel for the Administration to announce that the free rations, being provided to the people as part of the relief and rehabilitation package, would be discontinued from October 2005. On filing of the petition the free rations have been extended up to March 2006, but the question still remains as to whether this decision is justified.