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Chellanam:

Roseline 42, and her 86-year old mother were alone in her house the day sea turned rough. She realised that sea water was entering her house only when it rose to the level of the bed in which both of them were sleeping.

“Water rose to the level of the bed in which she was sleeping. I panicked because I was alone in the home. I had to run outside the house for help,” says Roseline, a homemaker and resident of Chellanam, a sea-side village bearing the brunt of Sea Erosion. The story that Roseline shared is not an isolated one. Visit any houses in this village, you can listen to similar narratives of miseries.

Chellanam is a coastal village located in the outskirts of Kochi. The name “Chellanam” in Malayalam means a “place no one goes.” A majority of the populace belongs to the fisherfolk community and depends on the sea for their livelihood.

Things took an ugly turn, some 3 years back when the ill-maintained sea walls slowly started crumbling and could no longer protect its houses from marauding waves. Since then the village had been demanding the proper construction and maintenance of sea-wall.

The situation worsened after the place was hit with Ockhi cyclone in November 2017. Two people were killed in the calamity, validating the decade long fear of Chellanam residents. The threat suddenly became self-evident and palpable. Following which, this year, the residents strongly pushed for the construction of sea-wall before the onset of monsoon.

Numerous protests and strikes followed. In May 2018, after a two-day long protest, the collector agreed to construct and maintain a sea wall for Chellanam residents. The protest had turned tense with police arresting the protestors back then.

Finally, the government sanctioned for an eight crore project to replace traditional sea walls with geo-textiles tubes. The project was sanctioned in January and was expected to complete by April, this year. The government had promised that it would install 145 geo tubes across 5 regions which were bearing the brunt of the sea. However, the serious neglect from officials has resulted in another season of torment for the residents of Chellanam, Companypady and Bazaar areas.

This pushed West Kochi Coast Protection Council (WKCPC) to stage another set of protests at the place.

Geo tubes, made of polymer, is 25 meters in length and are 4.5 meters wide. A unit of it can be 6 feet tall and 9 meters wide and is filled with sand. The project failed as the contractor who took it up lacked expertise says Chellanam residents. Not a single tube could be completed. Two of them were partially constructed, however sank-off. The residents also accuse that the Panchayat is not providing them with enough sacks and sand.

“We need not have faced any of these difficulties if they finished their work on time. They won’t understand our difficulties. Our lives are not valued. So much of our things got lost in Ockhi and all that we were paid was Rs.1500. Does it equal the loss we had? How many strikes were conducted? Did anything change at all?” Roseline asks.

Though the government is installing geo bags, residents testify that it is of no use. “We don’t need geo bags. As the sand erodes, the bags fall, tear down and starts floating along with the dirt,” says Sowmya, a resident of Chellanam.

The maintenance of the sea wall was stopped for almost a decade owing to the non-availability of granite boulders, according to officials. Meanwhile the protestors of “Kerala Samsthana Janakeeya Prathirodha Samithi” says, “The real estate mafia in mainland-Kochi is not experiencing any lack in the supply of stones. Look at the number of buildings in Kochi. From where did Lulu get ample stones to build their convention centre. The problem is selective.”

“But what they should perhaps understand is this Sea-erosion will slowly engulf whole of Kochi. Hence, it is not just our necessity, but of each and everyone who resides in the place. We will continue our strike until there is a permanent solution,” they added.

This year, unlike the other people had refused to move to relief camps. “Every year we are moved to relief camps with fake promises. We don’t need anything from them. We don’t need their food, clothes or money. All we are asking for is a proper sea wall. We are not seeking for charity,” Roseline says.

As of now, 350 houses are facing the issue. The number might increase if the official apathy continues. As we went to the shore, we could see policemen reviewing the situation along with sub-collector. The sandbags were being filled by students from St. Theresa’s college and Chellanam residents. Police confined themselves to the role of onlookers.

Meanwhile, district collector K Muhammed Y Safirulla said instructions had been given to speed up the geo tube project at Chellanam.

“Irrigation department has been asked to complete the geo tube installation near Companypadi and Velankanni church soon. We are closely watching the situation and will take necessary measures,” he said.

“For 3 days my house was filled with water and dirt. How many police vehicles came here accompanying the officials.No one asked us how were we. No one helped us. What is the point of them being there,” asks Sarada, a 70-year-old woman.

Xavier, another resident of this sea-shore village says that long term solutions can only save them. “Destruction has become an everyday story. It took us many months to return things to normal after Ockhi. But this was worse. Equipment, almirah, utensils, books everything got destroyed. Kids can’t go to school. We have to start from scratch,” he said.

Day to day life of Chellanam residents is affected hugely by this menace. The toilets, kitchen and remaining areas are filled with sand. They can’t cook, drink clean water, can’t send their kids to school, can’t properly sleep.

The fisherfolk community of Chellam had come to help Kerala during the floods. They were celebrated with the title “Marine army of Kerala.” And in return what they now receive is the indifference of state and civil society.

“We don’t need celebrations, nor charity. We need safe houses. We want to sleep peacefully,” Roseline said as we were leaving.

All they want to get out of the constant fear of waves and wind. They want is a peaceful sleep in a safe home after a hectic day. They want things to go back to normal.

After all, is it too much to ask?

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