| A Nicobarese carries a tin sheet to build his makeshift home
New Delhi, Dec. 25: Two years have passed since a monstrous wave came and gobbled up Jaya Prabha’s home. But the 58-year-old still does not have a permanent roof over her head.
Jaya is among several residents of the tsunami-ravaged Campbell Bay — and, in fact, the entire Andaman and Nicobar islands — who are waiting for the Centre to make good its promise of providing permanent houses within a year.
Not a single permanent house has been rebuilt on the islands, and the residents have to make do with tin-roofed shanties.
The situation has forced officials to recognise a major “planning disaster”.
Jaya, who heads Campbell Bay’s panchayat samiti, went all the way to Delhi recently to talk to officials of the ministry of urban development. But to her dismay, many of them were away on vacation.
Sitting at his desk nearly 2,500 km from Campbell Bay, which is near India’s southern tip, Indira Point, a ministry official goes through plans for the next stage of reconstruction work for the islands.
The furrows on his forehead reveal more than mere concentration. “Our inability to build even a single permanent house has led to thinning patience,” he admits.
Money isn’t a problem, nor is political will. Then what is stopping the ministry from implementing its plan'
Most officials say the problem is the plan itself, which has gone wrong horribly.
While Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa — the states hit by the tsunami — took charge of reconstruction themselves, the responsibility of rebuilding Andaman and Nicobar, a Union territory, fell on the ministry.
The states have built about 80 per cent of the permanent houses promised. The ministry’s performance, in contrast, is hardly flattering.
“We have made a major blunder by not involving the local community and the Andaman public works department more,” said a joint secretary in the ministry, echoing growing concerns that the Rs 800-crore package announced for the reconstruction of the islands may have been utilised poorly.
The central PWD is building 7,889 of the 9,714 houses, the Andaman PWD 1,066 and the rest are being constructed by NGOs.
“We aren’t even consulted about the materials to use for building houses here,” complained Sudip Deb, an officer in the Andaman PWD.
Residents of earthquake-prone islands traditionally use wood to build homes, and using the same material with earthquake-resistant reinforcements would have saved time, according to officials.
Instead, corrugated iron sheets as roofs on reinforced cement is the permanent housing model here.
“In tropical conditions, the roofs will rust in no time. There is no corrugated iron here. What are the people to do then'” asks Deb, born and brought up in Little Andaman.
The reinforced concrete, too, is being brought from the mainland. “What will we do when the house needs repairs' It’s like having a car without spares,” says Jaya.
“Local tribals — most of whom come from families engaged in carpentry for generations — have also not been involved at all in the reconstruction,” she adds.