Survey pegs Cyclone Nisarga losses in Maharashtra at Rs 1,000 crore. Plantations uprooted, houses flattened and fishing boats damaged

A joint survey by the National Fishworkers’ Forum and Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti has recorded extensive damages in the coastal districts of Raigad and Ratnagiri due to the Cyclone Nisarga. But, timely warning and evacuation helped save lives

Nidhi Jamwal
Deputy Managing Editor| Updated: June 18th, 2020

Photo: Kiran Koli

Two weeks back, on June 3, coastal Maharashtra was hit by the severe cyclonic storm Nisarga, the the first-ever cyclone in recorded history to hit the state’s coast in the month of June. This cyclone had another unique feature — there was very little time between the formation as the cyclone and its landfall — less than 24 hours. The cyclone made a landfall in Diveagar, Raigad district, about 175-km south of Mumbai, and caused extensive damages in the coastal districts of Raigad and Ratnagiri.

Both the National Fishworkers’ Forum, a federation of state-level trade unions in India, and the Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti have just completed a field survey of the coastal areas in both the districts and pegged the losses due to the cyclone at Rs 1,000 crore.

“We have surveyed the coastal belt of Raigad and Ratnagiri districts where Cyclone Nisarga made maximum impact. As per our estimate, the damages to fishing boats alone is Rs 25 crore,” Kiran Koli, secretary of Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti told Gaon Connection. “If we consider total damages to houses, plantations, farming, fishing nets and gears, power supply and communication infrastructure, then the losses are at least Rs 1,000 crore,he added.

Team surveying the Cyclone Nisarga affected districts. Photo: Kiran Koli

Meanwhile, official survey by the Raigad district collector has estimated Rs 200 crore losses due to Cyclone Nisarga in 13 tehsils of the district. These include damages to 1.4 lakh houses, 1.6 lakh trees uprooted, and over 20,000 hectares farmland affected.

“Even after two weeks, there are villages, such as Bharadkhol, Junabandar and some other surrounding villages in Ratnagiri, where the power supply has still not been restored,” Ulas Vatkare, the Alibag representative of Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti told Gaon Connection. He was also part of the survey team. “A large number of houses of fishers, who live on the coast and are the first ones to face the storm, are roofless,” he added.

According to Koli, fishers are not the only ones affected by the Cyclone Nisarga. “People living along the coast of Raigad and Ratnagiri have suffered huge losses. Majority of the houses are roofless, some houses have suffered wall and slab collapse, too. A large number of plantations of coconut, betel, mango are flattened,” he said. “There are farmers whose only source of income is coconut or betel plantations. Even if they plant new trees now, they won’t get any fruit for the next six to seven years. How will such farmers survive?” he asked.

Both the Central government and the state government have finished their survey and made big announcements of relief package. But so far, affected people have received nothing, claimed Koli.

Both fishing boats and fishing nets destroyed. Photo: Kiran Koli

Never faced such a storm’

Vatkare, a fisher leader from Alibag, is 56-year-old and has witnessed several storms. “But, never have I ever faced a strong storm like Nisarga in Maharashtra. The wind speed on June 3 was so high that it blew away whatever came in its way — electric poles, mobile towers, houses, trees. There are farmers who own five acre plantation of betel and have lost 2,000 trees,” he said.

For instance, in Junabandar village, almost 90 per cent houses are roofless due to the cyclone. In Alibag koliwada (fishing village), 60-70 per cent fisher houses are roofless and damaged.

“The place where landfall of the cyclone happened, all the trees are gone, as verified during our recent survey. The winds had such strength that electric poles were bent and fell down,” said Koli. “If such a storm had hit Mumbai, which was the initial fear, several tall buildings in Mumbai would have collapsed and death toll would have been very high,” he warned.

According to Vatkare, because of the timely warning of the weather department [India Meteorological Department], and evacuation of the people by the local authorities, no lives were lost in Cyclone Nisarga. “Had evacuation not been carried out, many people would have died in both the coastal districts, as the cyclone winds would have swept them off,” he said.

So far, local people have not received a penny of the promised financial relief. Photo: Kiran Koli

Relief only on paper?

The state government has announced financial relief to the cyclone affected districts and people. Apart from an immediate relief of Rs 100 crore for Raigad, Rs 75 crore for Ratnagiri and Rs 25 crore for Sindhudurg, cyclone-hit families whose houses have fully collapsed will be given Rs 1.5 lakh instead of Rs 95,100 as per the existing National Disaster Response Fund norms.

The aid for partial loss of homes has been increased from the existing Rs 6,000 to Rs 15,000. Similarly, the amount of the financial aid for the loss of perennial crops is raised to Rs 50,000 per hectare from the existing Rs 18,000 a hectare. Cash compensation for losses of household material, like clothes and utensils, has been increased to Rs 10,000 from the existing Rs 5000.

But, Koli alleged these were just ghoshana (announcements). “So far, local people have not received a penny of the promised financial relief. They need to rebuild their houses and their lives,” he said.

Both the National Fishworkers’ Forum and the Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti have demanded Rs 25 crore as compensation towards the fishing boats damaged due to the Cyclone Nisarga. Apart from this, they have also demanded strict action against illegal fishing activities using LED lighting and purse seine nets. “In February 2019, the Central government had announced giving Kisan Credit Card to fishers in the country. But, the same have been not issued to any fisher in the state. This must be addressed,” reads the letter of fishers associations.

The National Fishworkers’ Forum and the Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti have demanded Rs 25 crore as compensation towards the fishing boats damaged due to the Cyclone Nisarga. Photo: Kiran Koli

Both the organisations have also demanded an interest free loan of Rs 5 lakh each fisher in the state for a period of two years. Since last September, fishing activities in the state have been affected due to the recurring bad weather, followed by the lockdown and the ongoing 61-day annual fishing ban.

“Last September, October, and November, there were rains and storms on the west coast because of which we could not fish. December, January and February are cold months and we not get much fish. It is only in March, April and May months that we get good fish catch. But, all that was lost due to the lockdown,” Dhanashree Dhakle, a fishing boat owner from Versova fishing village in Mumbai told Gaon Connection.

India has at least 16 million fishers and fish workers who are dependent on fisheries sector for their livelihood, half of which are women. “Since the beginning of the lockdown, we have been requesting the Central government to announce a special relief package for the fishing community. But, in spite of several letters, not even a penny has been released for the traditional fishers and fish workers,” T Peter, general secretary of National Fishworkers’ Forum told Gaon Connection.

Cyclone Nisarga has added to the woes of the fishing community which was already finding it extremely hard to remain afloat.