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Highlights of the Info/ Exch Meeting between Civil Society Groups and the T.N. Government (16/01/2005)
Highlights of the Info/ Exch Meeting between Civil Society Groups and the T.N. Government (16/01/2005)

Here is a quick summary of the intense 2 1/2 Hours long Q & A yesterday between diverse groups in attendance (including NGOs, community and women's groups, donors, corporates, and several fishing community members), and Mr. C.V. Sankar, OSD Relief and Rehabilitation, Govt. of Tamil Nadu

NOTE: The following summary has been prepared by Bhoomika for the convenience of the participants, and for the benefit of others not in attendance. We share it with the IMPORTANT CAUTION that our observations should in no way be construed as the only authentic interpretation of what transpired at the meeting.
Govt. Order No. 25 & 26. Click here for details.

Questions/ Comments Posed to the Government at the Start of the Meeting, re: GO Nos 25 & 26, dated January 13, 2005

District Level Committee (as defined in the GO) has NO Civil Society Reps to ensure equity in allotments and transparency of process
The role of Technical and Facilitating Organizations is unclear in the GO (optional to Donor Organizations?)
There is a minimum threshold defined for Donor participation (i.e. Rs 75 lakhs), but NO maximum specified, either in terms of Rs, or no of villages they may work in (to ensure wider participation by Donors/NGOs)
The Panchayats (i.e. affected communities), seem to have no real say in the final arrangements ('after-the-fact' approval of Collector's decision)
Will there be subsequent GOs to address these and other important issues, such as NON-FISHING communities; a Grievance Redressal system, independent Ombudsmen, etc.?

Major Areas of Questioning by the Audience
Extreme level of dissatisfaction with respect to the quality of temporary shelters being erected by various agencies was expressed, including the direction they face in some areas
What is the government's process for screening NGOs/Donors to ensure that their intent to help rehabilitate communities is 'genuine'?
What are the government's intentions with regard to the CRZ? Is it willing to do a comprehensive audit of violations by ALL parties?
Fears were expressed that there may be attempts to use this opportunity to evict fishermen from their ancestral habitats to unfriendly and inconvenient locations
Fishermen from along the ECR were especially strong in their views that they will not accept relocation to the West side of the highway (safety and other considerations)
Strong opinions were expressed about the structure of the Public/Private Partnership as envisioned in the GOs 25/26, which seem to seek private parties to invest 100% of the funds for rehabilitation (except land), but does not appear to allow any role for them in the screening and approval and oversight process. The GOs appear to be 'supply driven,' observed some. The role of PWD in the committee was questioned by others
Lot of discussion about counseling and adoptions, and there was a call to investigate reports of 40 orphans 'missing' from Cuddalore. (Bhoomika has no independent verification of this report.)

Mr. C.V. Sankar's Responses to the Above Questions (summarized)
CRZ and Location of Permanent Shelters
  • The government would like to assure the fishermen that NO decisions will be made with respect to the location of the final settlements which do not meet their aspirations
  • The ONLY consideration of the government at this point in time is to relocate them to relatively safer places, and the issue of enforcing CRZ was simply not a major consideration
  • He assured the ECR fishing communities that the government will take note of their desire not to be on the wrong side of the highway
  • Collectors are already identifying potential lands for permanent settlements. Land will be the property of the government, but the houses will be owned by families
  • Material banks, to help avoid inflationary prices of construction material, will be looked into
  • He observed that the fishing communities were extremely keen to get back to their livelihoods and they may not be as keen to actually participate in shelter construction (this distinguishes this disaster from recent others, he said)
Temporary Shelters and Communities being missed out in Relief
  • He noted the level of dissatisfaction w.r.t. the quality of temporary shelters, and asked that specific complaints be brought to his attention. He seemed to leave the room open for the type of shelters that were originally proposed by the NGO Coordination Cell in Nagai and SIFFS: bamboo and keeth roofing structures. [We heard that a model of such a shelter may have come up at the Nagai NGO Coordination Cell, and there are several such shelters already erected by private parties in Tharangambadi and Devanampattinam.]
  • He invited specific information about any community being left out in relief and assured that the government will immediately investigate and take corrective measures. [Many NGOs, including Bhoomika, and the NGO coordination cell in Nagai, are also keen to serve such pockets, if authentic information about their needs is quickly made available.]
Permanent Shelters and Rehabilitation (GOs 25 and 26)
  • These GOs are only the starting point for engaging with potential donors and there are sure to be a series of GOs as the government evaluates initial responses, and receives input from all sectors of society. He left the room for NGOs to collectively send in their comments and views about GOs 25 and 26 and issues to be considered in future GOs
  • The government will simply not allow the top-down adoption model by donors (e.g. renaming of villages or trying to change the way of living), and it was keen not to repeat the mistakes made, for example, in the Gujarat E/Q, where many donor-built communities remain unoccupied as the communities were not consulted
  • As for the District Committee as defied in the GO, and the groups' request for civil society participation, there was no commitment on his part, but he reiterated that the Collectors may choose to consult with reputed organizations on the ground. (He also made the point that it is inconceivable that Collectors would proceed without active community consultation.)
  • As for the role of the Panchayats, he opined that the government did not want to create any misunderstandings between the formal Panchayats and informal Panchayats in the fishing communities
  • As fort he role of PWD: He clarified that they were on the District Committee as the largest government building agency, but he said that they should not be seen as having a major role in implementation
  • As for the minimum threshold of Rs 75 lakhs: he suggested that smaller groups keen on participating could pool in resources and submit a combined proposal. In response to questions about the quality of construction, he made specific references to the minimum standards that had been referred to the in the GO: IAY Indira Awas Yojana. [This clarification was received from the Auroville Tsunami Coordination Group, subsequent to the meeting: "Guidelines for the Indira Awas Yojana: Most of things that we are saying are already there in the guidelines. Important thing is contractors have no role. The whole approach is owner driven. More info on http://www.rural.tn.gov.in/iay.PDF]
  • Government will not ignore the situation of non-fishing communities, and other GOs addressing this issue may be expected soon
  • He expressed the government's concern that there be no uncontrolled attempts by outside agencies to adopt orphaned children, and that the preferred approach was in-community rehabilitation [We note that the Nagai Collector has placed an newspaper advt, which does not ban adoptions, but does emphasize the community's consultative role, and outlines the procedures to be followed by prospective adopters.]
  • He also expressed the government's concern for mothers who have lost heir children and/or husbands, and called on all to focus on the major task of rehabilitating such women-headed households.
Other items
  • He noted that Anna University was taking the lead in mapping and GIS, and assured that other parties such as ESRI from Auroville who are working on this issue [who had made a brief presentation earlier to the group] should be able to coordinate with Anna University.
  • He requested that any party with expertise in specific areas (e.g. mangroves along the coast and salt-tolerant crops that could be supplied to those whose land has been inundated with seas water, etc. to contact him with details.
Several people in the audience appreciated the patience and clarity with which Mr. Sankar answered all the questions raised at the meeting and the fact that he left the door open for all parties to continue to send in their views to the government. Bhoomika too thanks him for his participation in this important dialogue.
For Bhoomika Trust
Raju Rajagopal
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