Thiruvananthapuram: It has been a decade since a terrifying tsunami tore through Kerala's coastal districts of Kollam and Alappuzha and killed 170 people. Contruction of sea walls to protect the people began promptly but is still going on at a snail's pace.
When the tsunami waves struck the coastal region on December 26, 2004, a total of 142 people in the Alappatu panchayat in Kollam and another 28 in the Arattupuzha panchayat in Alappuzha were killed.
A long-standing demand of the villages, from where the sea is a stone's throw away, has been construction of sea walls (parallel to the sea) and pullimuttu (constructed into the sea from the land) as these have been scientifically proved to prevent erosion of soil by waves.
"The sad thing is that around 50 percent of the construction is still left," Alappatu panchayat president R Raja Priyan told a news agency.
"Even though the central government released Rs.1,400 crore for tsunami-related relief work, for some reason that money was used elsewhere," said Priyan, who won the local bodies election on the Congress ticket.
The panchayat is 17.5 km in length and has a width of 35-150 metres. It can be best described as an island with a population of 26,000 people, who are mostly engaged in fishing.
"A decade back when the tsunami struck, the average width of our land area was 60 metres. Today, in some places, it has come down to as low as 35 metres. If the work is not speeded up, our land area will shrink further," he lamented.
He said there was only a single road that ran through the village council and it has only been repaired here and there all these years since the tsunami.
"Through a central government scheme, all procedures are now over and we will soon get a proper road built at a cost of Rs.13 crore," Priyan said.
However, the panchayat chief said, the government has also done good things for the village -- in the form of two new bridges and more than 3,000 new homes.
In Arattupuzha, things are not very much different, according to its panchayat president K Karunakaran, a member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
"It's sad that the authorities haven't learned anything from the major disaster and is still going ahead with constructing safety measures even after a decade," Karunakaran told a news agency.
He said 14 wards in the panchayat were sandwiched between the sea and the backwaters, while four wards are surrounded by water on three sides.
"Hence pullimuttu and sea walls are our primary requirements, and still half of the work remains," he said.
Here too, the major development work after the disaster was a new 650-metre-long bridge, which helps in the smooth flow of traffic, and 2,000 new homes.
The nearly 37,000 population is hoping the government will speed up the safety measures.
"On December 26, there will be a meeting at the tsunami memorial building which will be attended by leading political leaders," said Priyan.
State Fisheries Minister K Babu told a news agency that a production centre built by his department in Alappatu as part of tsunami rehabilitation and meant for local women to start fish products has however not opened due to opposition from the local temple authorities.
"Initially, the temple gave permission, but now it is against the centre, saying it will affect the temple's sanctity. Hence it has not opened. If there's a consensus, we will open it," Babu said.
He said an estimated Rs 500 crore of development work has taken place in both these villages.