In April, residents of Krishnaprasad village in Odisha’s Puri district received a steady stream of politicians arriving to seek votes for the simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections that were being held in the state.
But two weeks after Cyclone Fani barrelled into coastal Odisha on May 3, wreaking destruction in its path, not a single politician had visited the village to take stock, said Majhi Barik, 35, a fisherman.
The last day of polling in Odisha was on April 29.
Left to fend for themselves, residents of several villages in Puri district have been flagging down trucks and cars passing by, in the hope of getting some relief supplies. “Every day, we see several relief trucks passing by, but not one stops for us,” said Chandrashekhar Pradhan, 65, a farmer from Siara village in Puri’s Brahmagiri block.
Siara village, which lies on a spit of land near Chilika Lake, is barely 25 km from Puri city. With around 1,000 inhabitants, it is one of several villages in the panchayat cluster of Krishnaprasad, which is mostly dominated by fisherfolk and farmers.
The cyclone made landfall in this region, just south of Puri.
Two weeks after the cyclone struck, debris lies uncleared in the open, electricity is yet to be restored across Puri district, and residents are still waiting for the government to assess the damage.
Though the government said it had removed fallen trees from most major roads within 48 hours, it is yet to re-erect and repair fallen electricity poles.
Puri’s Jagannath temple received electricity only on Wednesday evening while the rest of the city and the district’s villages and hamlets still do not have power.
The restoration of the electricity supply, however, is just one priority. The state government is also faced with the mammoth task of feeding and providing shelter to people whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed in the cyclone. It must also work to prevent the spread of disease.
The Cyclone Fani toll is 64 so far.
Fourteen districts, 52 towns and 18,388 villages came in the path of the cyclone, according to a report by the state administration. Of these, nine towns and 1,294 villages are in the worst-affected Puri district.
The affected areas in Puri include Satapada, Astaranga, Nimapada, Kakatpur, Brahmagiri, Satyabadi and Kanas. Most of Khordha district, where Bhubaneswar is located, has been badly affected too, as has Jagatsinghpur district’s Biridi block, and Cuttack district’s Niali block.
The state, in its daily situation report dated May 15, said that it has distributed to identified beneficiaries in Puri 91.7% of the cash component of the chief minister’s relief package, 96.6% of its rice component and 77.8% of its polythene component.
But people in villages say they are finding it difficult to get food.
Residents of Siara village are among those stopping passing vehicles in the hope of being given some relief supplies. So far, people in this village have got by with rice and dal donated from a nearby religious ashram, which is being cooked collectively and distributed.
In Pandapokhri, a fishing village in Panasapada panchayat, village residents have started cooking the rice supplies stored in their local school for the mid-day meal.
On May 11 and May 12, the government distributed the sanctioned relief of Rs 2,000 and 50 kg of rice per family to people in Siara and Pandapokhri. But this only went to families who possess ration cards, despite the fact that the Odisha government announced that ration cards were not mandatory to receive relief in Puri district as it was badly affected.
“We were saved [during the cyclone] somehow, but the situation afterwards has become worse,” said Parbati Behera, 67, of Pandapokhri. “We hoped that after the cyclone, the government would help us in some way. But we still have no food.”
Besides food, some residents of this district are desperate to get medical attention for injured livestock.
Lakhmana Maharana, 55, a dairy farmer in Pandapokhri, had 12 cows and a calf before the storm. His calf died after a wall collapsed on it during the cyclone. Eleven of his cows are badly injured and have barely received any medical attention.
“Every time we see an animal ambulance on the road, we try to stop it,” Maharana said. Only once did the veterinarians stop and give first aid. “Now, the ambulance stops only to remove dead animals.”
With the cyclone having destroyed or badly damaged most kuccha homes in the district, villagers are anxious about what will happen when the monsoon starts next month.
“People are able to manage now only because the monsoon has not yet begun,” said Barik from Krishnaprasad village. “The state of houses is such that we don’t know what we will do when the rains start.”
Before the cyclone, the government asked people to shift to cyclone shelters, he said. “But they do not seem to have thought of where we will stay after the cyclone.”
The state has sanctioned up to Rs 95,100 for people whose houses have been completely destroyed in the affected districts.
In Biripadia village in Pratapramchandrapur panchayat of Puri district, Dalits said they were turned away from three public shelters by members of the upper caste community even as the storm raged outside on May 3.
These families – about 85 people in all, including the elderly and children – were forced to take shelter near fallen trees.
Trinath Mallick, 48, and his family were among them.
Mallick and his wife have four daughters and one son. They have sent one daughter to stay with a relative as they are unable to care for her at present. The family has not received even a tarpaulin sheet from the government to shield them from the sun and have sought shelter under a massive fallen tree.
On Tuesday, an Army battalion came to distribute food to Biripadia village for the first time in 15 days. Everyone in the village received the relief – except for Mallick’s family and one more family that was not in the village when this reporter visited.
Mallick said he and his family did not receive any relief because they did not have a ration card. “I have a BPL [Below Poverty Line] card, but when we went to make ration cards, my name was excluded,” said Mallick. “We haven’t received rice under the public distribution system for four years now.”
As Mallick and a few other families do not have land titles either, they are unlikely to qualify for housing assistance in the coming months.
Puri is a district of fisherfolk. The cyclone has caused considerable damage not only to their homes, but also their livelihoods, restricting their ability to provide for themselves anytime soon.
“The cyclone ripped the roofs off our houses,” said Kanduni Behera, 65, a resident of Pandapokhri. Now, they live under the open sky. His family’s boats are also damaged and they will be unable to resume their livelihoods till they are repaired. “We don’t know if the Fisheries Department will give us anything by way of nets, boats or other compensation.”
Farmers too are affected, including paddy farmers whose harvests have been damaged in the rain during or after the cyclone.
The region around Chilika Lake is noted for its cashew production, and cashew farmers are staring at losses too.
“We get the largest portion of our cashews, around 30%, in the month of May,” said Sumant Pradhan, 45, a cashew farmer from Siara. “Because of Fani, most of our cashew trees have been destroyed.”
For now, several youth in villages have started taking up manual labour to earn some wages. “This year, many more of us will have to leave the state to find work,” said Shubhranshu Pradhan, 25, who works in Goa as a fisherman, but took leave to return to Odisha when he heard of the cyclone. He is planning to return soon and expects that more of his neighbours will follow him.
Does the state have funds?
Older villagers were apprehensive that the state did not have enough money to rehabilitate them.
As Scroll.in reported in March, Odisha had borrowed Rs 734 crore from its contingency fund in January to fund part of its KALIA scheme, an income transfer scheme launched in January that promised to pay farmers Rs 5,000 per season.
“Now, when we really have need for this money, the state might not have it,” said Chandrashekhar Pradhan, from Siara village.