ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reconfiguring the Coast

An enormous amount of funds (government, multilateral and non-government) flowed into the coastal areas hit by the tsunami of December 2004. But what has been the quality of rehabilitation and what lives do the survivors - the fishers - lead? A case study of one village in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu yields disturbing findings about government intervention, NGO activities and the reconfiguring of the coast in the name of development.

TSUNAMI REHABILITATION THREE YEARS AFTEREconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 19, 200835Ajit Menon ( is with the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, Subramanian Karuppiah ( is an independent researcher interested in coastal and water management issues and Johny Stephen ( is an independent researcher working on the socio-ecology of coasts.Reconfiguring the CoastAjit Menon, Subramanian Karuppiah, Johny StephenMany NGOs entered the rehabilitation arena completely ignorant about the socio-economic issues relevant to coastal communities, and consequently blamed the shortcomings of delivery on poor implementation and local political and social dynamics.2 But such explanations are partial. In order to understand developments in Koodal Kayal (and other fishing villages), it is necessary to delve into the chequered history of coastal management in the context of changing priorities along the coast. This history will also help highlight the challenges ahead for integrated coastal zone management. Enough Money, Wrong PrioritiesKoodal Kayal is a coastal fishing village in Tirunelveli district located about 22 km from Nagarcoil and 65 km from Tirune-lveli. The village has a fisher population of approximately 14,000 (including the tsunami colony). The village comprises mostly paravars (referred to as Fernandes locally), and also a few dalit and nada households. Only two people lost their lives in the tsunami due to the fact that the impact of the tsunami was not as severe along the southern coast as it was in the Nagapatti-nam area. Even then more than 150 houses were damaged and many fishers lost boats and nets. Besides the physical damage, the tsunami left an indelible imprint on people’s minds – a fear of the unknown, a fear aggravated by dependency on NGOs and the government, a fear which did not exist earlier. Post-tsunami relief and rehabilitation efforts have not suffered from a lack of funds. More than Rs 3,000 crore has been spent by the Tamil Nadu government alone. In addition to that a host of INGOs have pumped in money as well, mostly through local NGO partners. Our calcula-tions, based on the figures obtained locally from the village development com-mittee, suggest that Rs 17 crore has been spent in Koodal Kayal alone.3Both state government departments and NGOs have been active in Koodal Kayal. The district administration has been chiefly responsible for infrastructure An enormous amount of funds (government, multilateral and non-government) flowed into the coastal areas hit by the tsunami of December 2004. But what has been the quality of rehabilitation and what lives do the survivors – the fishers – lead? A case study of one village in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu yields disturbing findings about government intervention,NGO activities and the reconfiguring of the coast in the name of development.From the terrace of the community hall in the tsunami colony of Koodal Kayal,1 a fishing village in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, a synop-tic view of the horizon is possible. To-wards the south, the Koodankulam nu-clear power station dots the landscape. Directly east of the colony is the aqua blue sea and the thorium-rich coastal landscape dotted by a few shrubs. Fur-ther north-east is the main village with a big church as is the case with most fish-ing villages in this part of the country. Directly below are the rows of new tsunami houses that were constructed in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami of December 2004.This picture presents almost all the pieces of a puzzle that help explain the dynamics of post-tsunami relief and rehabilitation. More than three years after the devastating tsunami hit the shores of Tamil Nadu, fishers have fallen deeper in despair as their concerns have become even more complicated than before the tsunami. In Koodal Kayal, many in the fishing community are unhappy with their new housing colony, the quality of their new boats and nets, the mining of sand nearby and the proximity of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant. Some of this is not a new story. Many internal assessments of post-tsunami relief and rehabilitation, undertaken mostly by international non-governmental organi-sation (INGOs) and local NGOs, highlight the significant gaps that exist between goals and achievements as well as recog-nise that the felt needs of local people have been inadequately addressed [ADB 2005; Medico International et al 2006; UN et al2006]. While many including fishers would argue that initial relief was quite effective, though restricted to the villages near the main roads, rehabilitation has been haphazard with no clear goals both for the rehabilitator and the rehabilitated.


TSUNAMI REHABILITATIONEconomic & Political Weekly EPW april 19, 200837Yet, developments in Koodal Kayal suggest at times a lack of coordination between different institutions. This is at least partly explained by the overlapping jurisdictions of different actors. Housing is a good example. As in most tsunami- affected villages, new housing projects required land. Ironically, money to pur-chase land was provided by the Koodan-kulam nuclear power authority. The government provided land. Responsibility for constructing houses belonged to ACCESS. Today people are not sure to whom to turn to regularise their pattas. On paper that responsibility belongs to the revenue department, but people feel NGOs should assist. The problem is that local NGOs inhabit a somewhat undefined space. NGOs, such asACCESS, obtain a space to function through INGOs who themselves have to patronise the state. In other words, groups such asACCESS are invited in and can be thrown out equally easily given their financial dependence on donors.An equally important concern raised by some people in Koodal Kayal was the lack of transparency with regard to the process of local consultation. Unlike in fishing villages in northern Tamil Nadu, where caste panchayats are robust, in the south it is the Catholic church that plays a much more important role. While church leaders might be well respected, discussing local concerns with a church leader is not the same as having a discussion with the entire village. In Koodal Kayal, many fishers told us that decisions about relief and rehabilitation were discussed only amongst a few people. Of course, it is an entirely different question as to whether dynamic local consultations would have resulted in better programmes and policiesgiven the fact that what to do was oftendecidedbyINGOs well before consultations.For Whose Development?Though better implementation and more effective decentralisation targeted at all the victims of the tsunami would have gone some way in improving the quality of post-tsunami relief and rehabilitation, some major stumbling blocks would still have existed. For many years now, a number of interlinked environmental and social priorities have emerged along the coast that have shaped the nature of development there. The first of these was the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) notification. In 1991, as a result of concerns first expressed by prime minister Indira Gandhi in the 1980s, theCRZ notifi-cation was issued in order to regulate human activity on the coast. Coastal areas were classified asCRZI-IV based on their physical/ecological characteristics, but also partly on the nature of existing human activity. Koodal Kayal is located in a CRZIII area. According to the originalCRZ notification, only certain types of activities and con-structions were permitted within 200 metres from the high tide line (HTL), mostly related to livelihood activities of coastal communities, basic infrastructure for these communities and the generation of non-conventional energy sources. Fishing communities were largely satis-fied with theCRZ notification. The only problematic area was that of housing. No house construction was permitted within the 200 metre zone and only reconstruc-tion of houses if they were authorised. Although many houses in Koodal Kayal are not legally authorised, the CRZ notifi-cation said nothing about removing these unauthorised habitations and gener-ally respected the traditional rights of fishing communities. TheCRZ notification has been amended 19 times since its inception mostly to spur development activities. These have had an impact on fishing villages such as Koodal Kayal. Under notification SO 329(E) dated April 12, 2001, the department of atomic energy was permitted to build nuclear power facilities along the coast, making way for the Koodankulam power project. Amendment SO 550(E), dated May 21, 2002, has made mining of rare minerals permissible within 200 metres of the HTL inCRZIII areas, allowing for the mining of thorium near the tsunami colony in Koodal Kayal. That same amendment also allowed for non-polluting industries within special economic zones to be located near the coast [MoEF 2005]. The way has been cleared, in other words, for much more development activity along the coast that could either result in the displacement of fishing villages and fishers (something aggravated by the fact that many do not have title to their houses) or to increased pollution along the coast because of effluent discharge likely from more economic activity.The tsunami must be seen in this changed context. With safety a paramount issue from the government’s perspective, enforcing the letter of the law with regard to CRZ was an easy option. Remember no reconstruction of unauthorised houses within 200 metres from the HTL is permi-tted. But if safety is a major concern, then why sanction other activities along the coast – a question asked by fishers in Koodal Kayal. This is perhaps the biggest paradox of post-tsunami rehabilitation. Fishers, who have lived with the vagaries of the sea, are being moved away while industrial, commercial and tourism interests are fast emerging.The M S Swaminathan Committee Report of 2004 accentuates this contra-diction. The committee has recommended that instead of coastal regulation zones, coastal management zones be adopted and that areas are classified according to vulnerability criteria. While all the right noises have been made about preserving ecological diversity, cultural heritage and the rights of fishing communities, little has been said as to how this will be done. Moreover, in the same breadth the report states that coastal development should contribute to the nation’s economy and prosperity. Specific sectors such as aqua-culture and tourism are given importance although the Supreme Court has ruled forcefully on the dangers of intensive aquaculture. Finally, the report suggests that the coastal zone should include the seaward side of the coast up to 12 nautical miles into the sea [Sridhar et al 2006]. Lessons should be learned from the blue revolution when mechanised fisheries resulted in artisanal fishing com-munities being marginalised. Imagine the situation if international trawlers are further encouraged. Disaster Capitalism?Naomi Klein has written about disaster capitalism or the manner in which the international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund use disasters as a means
TSUNAMI REHABILITATIONapril 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly38to open up markets in disaster-affected countries and promote the interests of private capital. Reconstruction, as she puts it, has become a “tremendously lucra-tive industry” [Klein 2005:3]. Without a doubt, money has poured into post- tsunami relief and rehabilitation. Also, as highlighted above, much of this money has come from international agencies such as the World Bank and the ADB whose agendas include amongst other things public-private partnerships, often the first step of reducing the role of the state and encouraging private sector involvement.People in villages such as Koodal Kayal question where the money has gone. Quite a bit no doubt has been spent in the village, not necessarily for the things people would have wanted, but none-theless on relief and rehabilitation. There are, however, signs that much has also been spent on development outside the village. If one drives towards the coast in a south-east direction from Tirunelveli town, one cannot help but notice that the highway has been financed (at least partly) by tsunami money. Villagers in Koodal Kayal also question the usefulness of the planned 10 km highway from the village to the power plant and then to another nearby village, a highway that they argue is meant to facilitate movement to the power plant and not to help villagers. Nonetheless, attributing the short-comings of post-tsunami relief and reha-bilitation to disaster capitalism would be too simplistic. State development pro-grammes across sectors have for a long time now been funded by international donors. The opening up of the economy, the welcoming of private capital and most importantly the re-imagining of the coast not as a zone in need of regu-lation but development, started far before the tsunami. The tsunami has just provided an opportunity for this in-vestment to be increased manifold and for the state to promote its developmental agenda further.The bigger (and newer) worry perhaps is the role of theNGO sector. While there can be no disputing the fact that NGOs played an important role in the immediate relief period after the tsunami, their role in the rehabilitation process is more in doubt. Are NGOs merely meant to be ser-vice providers? Are they meant simply to carry out tasks delineated by the state or by internationalNGOs that fund them? Though generalisations cannot be made about NGOs, developments in villages such as Koodal Kayal suggest that the advocacy role ofNGOs and their support of fishers’ rights are much less prominent than one would have expected or at least hoped for. Issues seem to have been forsaken and development visions compromised in the process of tsunami relief and rehabili-tation. Agendas appear to be set by the state and INGOs, the latter themselves precariously placed given their need for state approval in order to be able to “practise development”. These concerns are important to remember when thinking through inte-grated coastal zone management (ICZM), the current “buzz phrase” to ensure sus-tainable development along the coast. ICZM should not be only about sustaina-ble development, but also about what type of sustainable development and for whom. Developments in villages such as Koodal Kayal suggest that coastal management today has forsaken the “for whom” question. As a result, it will most likely also forsake sustainable development unless a hard look is taken at what is transpiring along the coast today. The tsunami should have provided such an opportunity, but it appears to have done exactly the opposite. It is not disaster capitalism alone that is the main culprit, but the state’s vision of coastal development that much preceded the tsunami and which has opened the door for the coast to be reconfigured. Notes 1 Koodal Kayal is not the actual name of the fishing village, but a pseudonym. 2 Almost all reports on tsunami relief and reha-bilitation focus mostly on poor implementation or on ways to improve service delivery. Very few reports talk about the problems of development and coastal management. 3 Much of the financial data with regard to invest-ment in Koodal Kayal was obtained with discus-sions with members of the village development committee. 4 ACCESS is not the real name of the NGO, but a pseudonym. 5 We were told that almost 500 families did not have ration cards. Whether this is true or not (something we were not able to verify), the more important point is that people felt that not all entitled beneficiaries were actual beneficiaries.6This kit was distributed throughout Tamil Nadu. The important point to note here is that fishers felt that the government had not adequately consulted them with regard to their own needs.ReferencesAnon (2006): ‘450 Houses for Tsunami Survivors Inaugurated’, The Hindu (on-line edition), November 23.ADB (2005): Status Report on the Asian Tsunami Fund, Asian Development Bank, Manila.Bidwai, P and M V Ramana (2007): ‘Home, Next to N-Reactor’,Tehelka, June 23.Klein, Naomi (2005): ‘The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’, The Nation, May 2.Medico International and Rural Education and Devel-opment Society (2006): Tsunami: Competition, Conflict and Cooperation, Frankfurt.Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) (2005): CRZ Notifications and Amendments (up to 2005), New Delhi.Sridhar, A, R Arthur, D Goenka, B Jairaj, T Mohan, S Rodriguez and K Shanker (2006): Review of the Swaminathan Committee Report on the CRZ Notification, UNDP, New Delhi.United Nations, World Bank and Asian Development Bank (2006):Tsunami: India Two Years After, Chennai.PhD Programme in Public HealthThe Institute of Public Health -BangaloreThe Institute of Tropical Medicine - AntwerpThe Institute of Public Health, Bangalore invites applications for their PhD programme in Public Health. This four year programme is in close collaboration with the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium. The programme will focus on health policy/healthfinancing/strengthening health system/health management. A generous fellowship is available for the selected candidate.Applications & Prospectus can either be downloaded from the IPH website (, or requested through an email to Filled applications should be submitted latest by the 31st of May 2008.

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