Op-Ed: Of Fani, Coconuts and Fishing Woes

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Cyclone Fani has laid waste huge coconut plantations in Puri district. The destruction is visible as one drives along national highway 306 from Bhubaneswar to Puri. Acres of coconut plantations have been flattened by the gale that wreaked unprecedented havoc on this land for more than three hours on May 3.

Enjoying tender coconuts on their way to Puri has been a habit with tourists visiting the temple town. One can still see piles of green coconuts along the roadside as one approaches Puri but they have lost their taste. Sellers, though, are desperate to get rid of their stocks which have begun to rot.

Coir industry, too, has been hit by the cyclone which has robbed a big chunk of the rural populace in Puri district of its source of livelihood. People in areas like Satsankh and Satyavadi are a desperate lot with their houses damaged and chances of employment looking bleak.

Things are no better in Puri town where a massive reconstruction drive has been mounted by the state government. But given the enormity of the task it may take months for the situation to normalise. The biggest casualty in the town has been tourism, its major source of revenue.

There is no reason why a tourist would like to step into the town at this juncture when things are in a complete mess. Large areas are still without power and water supply in apartment buildings remains a problem.

Hotels are struggling to re-organise themselves. The loss has been massive. Almost all the beachside hotels are lying closed with mattresses and pillows drying in their balconies and lobbies. There is little that the owners can do about it.

With the sea  beach  still  wearing   a  forlorn look shell-ware vendors, who used to ply their business there, appear to have taken mass casual leave. The few one happens to meet while taking a stroll on the beachside road blame their fate more than the local administration for the delay in normality being restored in the town.

Even local fishing community members look downhearted. The catch from the sea has been falling for the past few years because of a variety of reasons, the most important of them being the increasing roughness of the sea. With  the catch going down a large number of them have shifted to other trades. While some like Mohan Rao, who once used to be a prominent leader of the community, have taken to beach photography a small group of them have donned the role of lifeguards.

If Rao is to be believed some of these impoverished fishermen are also working as labourers on construction sites in and around the town to earn a living. Fishermen complain that local administration has been indifferent to their plight. “ We don’t even get loans when we need them,” whined a member of the community which has been loyal to the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) eversince its formation. But the local fisher-folk of Puri are now beginning to get disillusioned. If the government fails them now they will be alienated forever.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)