Rehabilitation of victims and reconstruction of flood-hit areas are top on people’s agenda
Paddy fields on both sides of the road to Chambakulam lie barren and dry after a bumper crop. Crumbling compound walls and watermarks bear testimony to the devastating floods that hit the region more than seven months ago.
At Chambakulam, sitting on a concrete bench, 78-year-old Antony Scaria says he has been enthused by elections all along, but not this time. ‘‘The polls will come and go, but the pain of last year’s floods lingers on,’’ he says.
While electioneering for the Lok Sabha election is gaining momentum elsewhere, flood-ravaged places in as many as seven Lok Sabha constituencies in south and central Kerala are yet to feel the poll heat. The people are more engaged in rebuilding their lives. But the August 2018 floods, the State’s worst in a century, and the present heatwave conditions present a dominant theme centred on climate change for the electoral discourse in the region.
‘‘After the floods, the only solace is the bumper paddy harvest. But, things are again changing, as Kuttanad is now facing a drought-like situation. If the place is to survive the perils of climate change, political parties and candidates should come up with sustainable ideas,’’ says, Gopi, K.C., a local farmer.
‘‘I don’t think political parties are going to raise it as a poll issue. Several measures mooted after the floods have been put on the back-burner. The people should raise the issue and then only will the politicians take it up,” says John Mathai, former vice president, Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad.
Ramachandran Nair lives in a house with cracked walls and leaky roof at Nadubhagam. His biggest concern is about the safety of the building and the thought of another flood is giving him sleepless nights. ‘‘The place will be wiped out,’’ he says.
The rehabilitation of flood victims and reconstruction of flood-hit areas are on top of the people’s agenda. “But it is not even discussed here, though it should have been the mainstay of the poll campaign,” says Pradeep Kunnukara, a social worker from Kunnukara grama panchayat in Ernakulam.
“Most of the flood victims were allotted the first instalment of ₹10,000 each. Nothing much has happened since then,” says 50-year-old Jameela.
According to a UN report released last year, the State would need about ₹31,000 crore for recovery and reconstruction.
But for political parties, it is a different take. In the words of Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala: ‘‘The man-made deluge has drowned the hopes of thousands of people and they are sure to drown the electoral prospects of the ruling front.’’
But former Water Resources Minister Mathew T. Thomas is confident of a positive voter response to the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) for the professionalism displayed by the government during the floods.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is highly critical of the LDF government for its gross failure in dam water management.
As the State goes to the polls on April 23, the voters in the most affected constituencies of Pathanamthitta, Mavelikara, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Idukki, Ernakulam, and Chalakudy are starting to see the effects of climate change in real time. It is no more an also-ran campaign issue. The dynamic has shifted. But how will the political class respond?