Coastal residents live in fear of sea ingress

Sea wall in poor condition in Chellanam and Kannamaly areas

For a few months of the year, residents of Chellanam and Kannamaly live with the fear that the Arabian sea in their backyard will once again barge into their homes like an unwelcome guest.

The fear birthed anger against all the authorities whom people in the area have approached for help to construct a sea wall and groynes that can hold back the sea ingress.

“Parts of the sea wall were weakened or destroyed after Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, and no long-lasting steps have been taken so far to address the issue of sea ingress that begins in June every year,” said Mariamma George, the 73-year-old chairperson of the Chellanam-Kochi Janakeeya Vedi, a protest group which, on Saturday, marked its 510th day of a relay hunger strike to draw attention to the matter. The group, which has over 20 units spanning the length of the coastline in the district, plans on boycotting the upcoming polls, said Ms. George, a resident of Companypady.

For 59-year-old Joseph Babu, a resident of Kannamaly, the floor of his home remains buried beneath the heaps of sand that the waves deposited last year. “We removed some of it, but it just isn’t possible to clear it all up,” said Mr. Babu, who was a fish worker till a few years ago. They have abandoned the rooms where sand was deposited, and the walls have developed cracks, and the nine-member family now sleeps in a single room, he said, adding that there was not enough money to rent another house.

But fleeing to homes of relatives and burdening them is not feasible for several weeks of the year, said Philomena, a resident of Kannamaly. “We had seawater in the house twice in July and once in August last year. We moved to a family member’s home in Kumbalangi in July, but in August we decided to stay, wading in waist-high water to get to the kitchen,” she said. Residents like Baby Stanly have attempted to keep the water away by constructing a barrier made of concrete at their door.

Though they did not want to move from the area they have lived in all their lives, Philomena’s family has applied for the State government’s rehabilitation package for people living along parts of the coast prone to erosion. “We get ₹10 lakh to purchase land and construct a home, or buy a house. The amount is hardly sufficient, but we were left with no choice,” she said.

Others like Francis, a fish worker in Kannamaly, say they will not apply for the rehabilitation package considering the low amount that is being offered. The Janakeeya Vedi is demanding measures to protect the coastline rather than rehabilitate coastal residents.

While no political front has done anything worthwhile for residents along the coastline, Mr. Babu says he is duty-bound to cast his vote. Mr. Francis is inclined towards Twenty20, to give another front a chance instead of the two regulars who failed to do much, he says. Matilda Cleetus, a resident of Saudi and a part of the Janakeeya Vedi, says that both the LDF and the UDF have had the opportunity to address the issue of sea ingress, but have chosen to ignore it, leaving people with no choice but to contemplate the idea of boycotting the polls.

A 52-year-old member of the protest group who did not want to be identified, said, “Residents of the area might have voted for Chellanam Twenty20 at the panchayat level. But these formations have no concrete ideas or solutions and cannot make much of a change.”

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