When the 2004 tsunami wreaked havoc in the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu, Cuddallore, besides Nagapattinam, was a district which was badly affected. Gagan Singh Bedi, the then district collector, however rose to the occasion and brought much-needed succour to the people of the district.
Even former US president Bill Clinton, during his visit to Cuddallore in 2006 as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, praised Bedi for his efforts.
Interestingly, in early November when rains and flash floods devastated Cuddallore, the same authorities struggling to cope in Chennai put Cuddallore back on track.
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So, what went right in Cuddallore and wrong in Chennai?
In this exclusive interview to HuffPost India, Bedi, currently TN Secretary for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj and In-Charge of Relief and Rescue Operations for Cuddallore district, says the extraordinary measures taken by the government after the November 10 flash floods partly helped Cuddallore withstand the trauma of recent rains.
Q: We understand that Cuddallore has also been badly affected by the rains during the last few days. What is the situation on ground zero?
A: Yes, Cuddallore has been affected but not very badly. I would like to say the damages here are not as mind-boggling as that in Chennai.
Q: If Cuddallore had received the same amount of rains, the damages would have been extensive, right?
A: You’re right. The entire Tamil Nadu receives about 920 mm rains annually. But, you would be surprised to know on November 10 Cuddallore alone registered 450 mm rains. The highest rainfall occurred in Panrutti and Neyveli. While rains were pounding Chennai during the last three days, rainfall in Cuddallore was to the tune of 150 mm.
Q: The rainfall of 450 mm is quite substantial. What was the extent of damages then?
A: Nearly 20 persons lost their lives in rain-related incidents. Almost all the panchayats were blacked out. Of these panchayats, nearly 250 were very badly affected.
Q: What measures were taken to restore normalcy?
A: Immediately after the first rains, the government did quick work and moved 2350 electricity board officials to Cuddallore from different districts. They replaced 2,000 electricity poles, 75 damaged transformers and carried out fresh wiring wherever needed. So, we could restore power supply within 2-3 days and within a week’s time life became normal in the entire district though there was another round of rains on November 15.
The rains affected the district badly, because, a total number of 94 breaches involving canals, ponds and tanks were identified. The government moved two chief engineers, besides a battery of other engineers immediately and carried out repairs to bridges and drains in record time.
Q: What about other damages?
A: On the farming front, our team found that 38,000 hectares of crops had sustained damages. We’ve enumerated the losses and submitted a report to the government and payment of compensation is now under process. Similarly, there was a cattle loss of 1000 cows and goats for which we’ve already paid compensation.
Q: How did you prevent the outbreak of epidemic?
A: We organised health camps across the length and breadth of the district and over 70,000 people were screened and provided with free medicines wherever it was required. We also organised veterinary camps and offered free fodder to those who were in need.
Q: In Chennai, we have seen that hundreds of people were going without food and drinking water during the last three days. What was the situation in Cuddallore?
A: Not very. To tide over this crisis, we set up about 15,000 mass kitchen centres and distributed food packets to over 10 lakh people which included breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Q: Do you think the rains in the last three days did not affect Cuddallore as much because of effective government intervention after November 10?
A: Partly, yes. The fact that Cuddallore district did not receive the same amount of rains that battered Chennai is also another reason.
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